Mountains call to me. At least that is what I say, because it kind of feels that way. I see them, usually on the horizon, and this thing rises up inside of me that wants to go. It is like a conversation between us, and even though most times I cannot just drop everything and go, the mountain still watches over me like a protector. Mt. Yonah is one such mountain. I see it every day from just about anywhere in town. The mountain in my neighborhood is another. My house is tucked-in right at the foot of it and so it is like my overseer, watching my comings and goings and just generally being a steadfast presence in all of my days. I know it sounds odd. I totally get that talking to trees and hearing mountains makes me weird in the eyes of many. But it is the way I relate to the natural world around me and it is what it is. I might be more worried about this mountain fascination I have, except that I know that I am not alone in it. Outdoor/tree/ mountain people find one another because we are drawn to the same things. I regularly question my sanity in this, but I assure myself that I am not crazy because of the fact that I talk to people too…not just trees and mountains. 🙂
As my plane was on the approach to Seattle for my visit with Hannah, I looked out the window and saw a stunning sight. The clouds were calm and smooth and appeared as water under us. I might as well have been on a ship. In the middle of this serene lake of clouds was an island which jutted up through them. A magnificent mountain appeared rising above the sea of white. It took my breath away. The twilight sun was setting somewhere close by and the snow cap on the top of the crest was slightly pink. The non-sun side was blue-gray as the shadows lengthened giving the mountain a depth that caught the attention of most every passenger. As our flight continued, the clouds also began to blush, and right when I thought it couldn’t get any more beautiful, a new color would appear adding a whole new dimension. Pinks, purples, blues…and right in the center of it all was the mountain towering in silent strength. Looking out the window (around the heads of the other passengers) to see that exquisite sunset painting…I had a mountain moment. I didn’t even know what mountain I was looking at, but that didn’t matter because realized there was a mountain watching over my girl. The Mountain Maker whispered to my soul “Peace. Be still.”
Once I arrived we had to decide what to squeeze into my short 3 days. We knew we had to spend a day in the city sightseeing and one couch shopping (among other apartment kind of things), but the third day we had some choices to make. There is so much natural beauty in that area we just couldn’t make up our minds about which direction to go. Cascades or Olympics? Sea or mountains? US or Canada? City or parks? We were riding a ferry when the mountain (which I had learned was Mt. Rainier) called to me across the water. It showed itself, which I understand to be a rare occurrence this time of year. Over the next two days, I caught it watching us several times.
One day, I said to Hannah, “We have to go to that mountain.” She agreed and so we loaded up our trail mix and headed for the Cascades. I cannot tell you how beautiful the drive was. The day was cool but clear with a bright blue fall sky. The leaves of what hardwoods we saw were at peak color. The evergreens, which were everywhere, stood at attention like soldiers, and when we went through the gate of Mt. Rainier National Park it was like crossing into Narnia or some otherworldly place from a fantasy. The moss covered trees towered over us and the road wove through them like a ribbon in a tapestry. As we went further up the temperature dropped, and the rocks, trees, and waterfalls cried out their praises to the Mountain Maker.
I was giddy like a child, itching to get on a trail of some kind. The nice park ranger lady at the information center had given us a map and suggestions on trails to take. I might should have taken note that the first part of the journey started out on Dead Horse Trail, but I was so in the moment that I missed that little detail…until we were actually on said trail and I couldn’t breathe. So this is where the horses died I thought…can’t say I am surprised by that fact. Straight up at 5,000 feet above sea level…the name of the trail was accurate. Yet, the mountain was calling and so we kept climbing…and stopping to rest…and climbing again. It was supposed to branch off to an easier less steep trail shortly, but shortly didn’t come soon enough! Finally we found our “easier” trail. I guess easier is relative when climbing a 14, 410 mountain! Seriously though, it was a much more gradual climb. It took us from the paved straight-up path to a meandering-goat-trail so we could see the glaciers and where the water was running off of them to create waterfalls.
There was no way to take a bad picture on this hike. On the trail had been amazing, but off trail took it up a notch. Like when we were in Alaska, the views were spectacular in every direction. Open vistas and meadows, surrounded with towering spruce and cedar trees on the edges of the rocky volcanic terrain were stunning. Above the tree line, the glaciers were over us and we could hear the water tumbling down the slopes where the runoff splashed and became a river, which then cut through the mountain on its way down. I just wanted to keep going because of that feeling that pulls you. You know, the one in your head that says, “What’s around the next curve?” However, knowing my knee would be limited on both distance and climb Hannah regularly checked in with me, “Mom, do you want to keep going? Can you make it back?” That second question is always a good one to ask me and it is the one that hinders my hiking the most and brings me back to reality…getting back. Ah…yes, we want to make it back out of the wilderness before sunset, especially in this rugged place. I have hiked enough in my life to enjoy the mountain but also to respect it. If only they had helicopter pick up! And so we turned around and enjoyed a completely different view all the way down stopping to rest my knee every little bit. Feeling like I was a hindrance, Hannah reminded me that not too many folks with knees like mine would even attempt such a climb.
From the climbs at the top, we found our way to a trail in the valley called the Grove of the Patriarchs. If you know me at all, you know my love for trees. These trees were some of the most amazing I have ever seen. They were huge…Hannah said a couple of them were close to the size of the Redwoods…and they were magnificent. I couldn’t help but imagine the stories they could tell. They were all standing on the edge of a glacier fed river that was clear as glass. The reflections of the trees, the colored stones that covered the bottom of the stream…all of it added up to one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever looked upon. It was truly an amazing day.
People sometimes ask me why I hike in such places. After all, they are somewhat dangerous for someone with my kind of knee issues. I must admit when doing mountain trails I always look for how a rescue team could get in to pull me out in case of a bad fall. I repeatedly tell people I am not crazy to answer the mountain…though I am not too sure they believe me when I say it. But the way I look at it is this… When will I ever get a chance to hike a mountain again with my daughter by my side? How often, in your lifetime, to you come across days in which everything aligns to do something like this? And if I don’t take the chance when it is presented to me…all limitations considered…won’t I regret it in the future? If I have learned one thing in my life, it is you have to live in the moment…and live fully. I will never have another day like that one. Even if I hike Mt. Rainier again in the future, there will only be a first time once. The mountain called to me to come explore. The Mountain Maker aligned every detail for that moment. Who am I to say no?