I had a hard week recently—out of harmony—that I attributed in part to not having been on an explore all winter. I’m not sure how that happened, but I mean to rectify it. Yesterday I set off for a destination I learned about on the Washington Trails website a few moons ago. Last fall, I was so itching to go that I started up SR 503 from Woodland on my way home from Portland one afternoon. After a few miles I gave in to the fact of the folly, that it was already mid-afternoon, that I needed a whole day, that I had to get home to cook dinner. But just those few miles of adventure off the interstate made me able to breathe again. That was the last time I’ve been anywhere other than the City.
I’ve been waiting for a day that was both available and beautiful. Yesterday did not disappoint. The day dawns socked in by fog, often a good indicator of a sunny day to come. As I drive south on I-5 with my road latte, the fog clears to blue skies, back to fog, back to blue. When I turn east at Woodland (halfway to Portland) toward Mts. St. Helens and Adams, the blue is here to stay.
I stop in Cougar to use the facilities at a country store and I chat a bit with the shopkeeper. I had plenty of contradictory internet directions—one said 37 miles from Woodland, another 60—to the Lower, Middle, and Upper Lewis River Falls, but somehow I had failed to look at a map. In spite of the fact that they are water falls, the picture in my head was that their location was…well, I don’t know what I thought, but it did not correspond with the reality that they are high elevation. As in above the February snow line.
I pass signs indicating that Ape Cave is closed. Of course it is, I think, it’s near the mountain and it’s still winter. But I wasn’t going nearly that far up. Wrong. “The ranger,” the shopkeeper tells me now, “was just in on his way to Ape Cave. But I don’t know if the road is plowed to the Falls.” Which is like 30 miles beyond the cave, I know now. “The Washington Trails Association website says it’s open year round,” I counter, hoping to prevent her from thinking I’m completely stupid. “It is,” she says, “if you can get there.” And “Ape Cave isn’t really closed”; she continues, “the ranger told me they didn’t want to take the signs down because they limit the number of visitors. You might have to hike the last bit, though.”
My destination adventure becomes a wander. I don’t mind. I am a wanderer at heart.
The Lewis River—with its several dams—is huge, as wide as the Columbia. I didn’t see that coming, either. I pass the road to Ape Cave (at 2.5 miles, the longest continuous lava tube in the continental US) and keep going. No snow yet; perhaps the shopkeeper was wrong; she didn’t say for sure the road isn’t accessible. The sky is Carolina blue with cotton-white clouds. I begin to see a few patches of snow along the road; and then more up the slopes under the trees. A bit farther up it becomes clear from the roadside piles that the road has been plowed, but it’s dry. It’s only a couple more miles to the turnoff for the falls; I’ve got this.
I round the bend to the FSR 90 cutoff. “Road closed by snow ahead.” Yep, I would say that is accurate. I do have all-wheel drive, but it’s still 10 miles I’m surprised (again) to see, and I’m pretty sure those tracks fade into oblivion just out of sight. Also I’m not completely stupid, evidence to the contrary. Spring will come, even to the Gifford Pinchot. In June, the falls will be running full and even more of an eyeful. I’ll be back.
I continue up Curly Creek Road for a half mile. I expect it is plowed on to Wind River, but I turn around at the (closed) McClellan viewpoint. The view of the mountain, even under her cloud hat, across the unblemished snowfield reaches down my throat and pulls my breath clean out. After I gawk for a while, I head back down to the Cave road (FSR 83). I don’t have any interest in cave exploration now (or later, really; though I don’t rule that out), but I figure I will just go down all the side roads I passed on the way up and see where they go.
I go down the road to Sno-Park until it ends in a parking lot of snow mobile trailers and pick-up trucks, two plows blocking the road beyond. The plowing on the road to Ape Cave ends at the Trail of Two Forests parking lot. It’s only a mile to the cave, and if I had snow shoes and a friend—and a pricey Sno-Park pass—I would hike it in a heartbeat. But I don’t have any of those, and the interpretive trail is under snow, so I sit down on a sunny boulder and eat my sandwich. A pimply-faced young man in a t-shirt walks up and asks where the road to the cave is. He’s doing a Tigger bounce in his excitement to go (though he’s price-whipped at the cost of the pass he bought in Cougar), and is astounded that I haven’t been. I smile at his enthusiasm, and at his easy assumption that I am capable of walking on snow for a mile.
On the way back down to Cougar, I turn off on another road that climbs high through a clearcut and looks out over the magnificent Gifford Pinchot National Forest and the teal blue Lewis River on its way to Lake Merrill and points beyond. Surely God’s spirit soars here, too.
At the beginning of yoga, my class does a single om to begin our practice. It is a cacophony of pitches, and grates on my nerves. We close our practice with a second om in which we are in harmony with one another and with the Universe. My southwest Washington ventures have the same effect on me.