On a day preceded by a week of rain, and another rainy week forecast, my mountain day is a gift to be unwrapped and savored. It’s another new hike—it seems to be my year of new hikes. Maybe every year is: so many hikes, so little time. This is number 10, plus two repeats, along with the Redwoods…and my favorite girl, Paradise, which doesn’t count.
I leave home at 5:30 and am detained at the espresso kiosk by a spilled drink for the patron ahead of me that has to be remade. I’m afraid I’ll miss sunrise on the prairie.
My trailhead is at the White River entrance to Mount Rainier National Park, at the back of the White River campground. I target the campground as one to pitch my tent in next summer, as there are several trails within a few miles, including the Sunrise park entrance. Now that I think about it, I’ve been on most of them; but I could catch them at the rising of the sun, which would be a mostly new experience.
I read a book last month (Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude, by Stephanie Rosenbloom), in which the author talked about savoring, and the sensory distraction of taking photographs.
A search for the delectable, delicious, almost gustatory delights of the moment.
There are many savoring techniques, the author writes, but in general, they all have one requirement: that we focus our attention on the present moment. But there is a difference between savoring a moment and clinging to it…you have to learn to let go. Live in the moment, build the memory, then let it go. That’s where the camera comes in.
Putting the camera between you and the scene, risks squandering silence, solitude, beauty, using all the senses to “see” it. Susan Sontag said, “Photographs are a way of imprisoning reality, of making it an exotic prize to be tracked down and captured by the diligent hunter with a camera.” Professor Linda Hinkel calls it “the photo-taking impairment effect”: relying on the camera to remember for us. It affects not only the moment, but the memory of the moment.
Other studies have somewhat different findings, such as remembering better when we have a camera with us, even if we don’t use it; and the extra attention on zooming in on a particular part of the subject eliminates the impairment effect.
As for me, there is pleasure in composing a photo. I enjoy sharing the experience with those who can’t get where I can, and illustrating my words. I decide this time, though, to be more intentional with the camera. I’ll pretend I have a roll of 36 exposure film that has to be dropped off for development—that has to be paid for. I’ll get the composition right the first time, and not take ten more shots that might be better, but usually are not. I won’t take the shots I know won’t translate to the screen. I’ll savor the scene first: drink it in, close my eyes, smell and listen.
As I start up the beautiful forest trail, it’s too cold to smell the perfume through my nose, but it’s quickly apparent I’ve worn too many layers. The trail (re-located by Washington Trails Association volunteers) is punctuated by plank bridges over tiny babbling waterfalls that drop from far above and continue far below into the ever-present roaring of the White River, flowing out of Emmons Glacier.
I miss the sign to the half-mile spur trail above the moraine, realized when I see the railed-log river crossing far below. I’ll get it on the way down. The beautiful forest is followed by in-your-face views of a sun-drenched Mt. Rainier and the enormous glacier (4.3 square miles). The trail gets a little boring after that, when the mountain disappears; last month’s wildflowers might have jazzed it up. The last half mile to the wilderness camp gets my heart rate up and my calves stretched out.
All the camp sites are occupied, some occupants gearing up to hike, some sites already abandoned for the morning. The basin beyond is a little disappointing, with only Rainier’s summit visible above the ridge that includes, according to WTA, Mt. Ruth and The Mountain of the Wedge, neither of which I can identify.
There turns out to be no spectacular reason to hike beyond the “end of maintained trail” sign, but how am I to know? There’s time, there’s energy, it’s a beautiful day. I continue to a knoll about half a mile beyond the basin floor and get higher, which is always a bonus. Looking into the basin, I spot the tarn WTA mentioned, and would have forgotten about. And there are marmots!
I hadn’t been watching for them, and I’m startled when one pops up over a dip in the trail right in front of me. It turns its head to leave as I grapple my phone out of my pocket and bring up the camera function. I imagine it is the spirit of my mother:
“Oh, please, not the camera again,” her mind whispers, her eyes rolling.
“A late-learned lesson from you,” my mind whispers back with sarcastic love.
Still, maybe I could have just looked into her eyes and memorialized them on my heart rather than on my computer screen later.
Back in the basin, I find the path to the tarn. I take a single photo and move on around the far end of the pond and discover in heart-leaping joy, the reflection of the basin’s rim and the summit of Herself. I take 10 photos trying to get the best shot, not being able to get far enough away at the edge of a bank of vegetation.
I follow the path beyond the pond, and am surprised by the al fresco toilet, in use. I turn and tiptoe back the way I came.
I eat my lunch, then go check out the toilet myself, from the signed end of the path. Al fresco makes me think of Fresca and I get my every five years or so craving. I check the market in Packwood on my way home; they don’t have it, at least not in the cooler. My craving never extends beyond a single serving. I’m already over it.
I find the spur to Emmons Moraine (the valley formed by the advancing glacier, since receded) on the way down. It’s the highlight of the hike. Again I hike beyond the maintained trail sign until I’m looking down into the cave beneath the lower end of the glacier. It’s covered by a rockfall from Little Tahoma in the 1960s, making it not look like ice, and slowing the melting. Realizing it is ice is astonishing. I pay the price for my single photo vow, and the “best” shot is out of focus.
A grove of larches are turning orange on the ridge above the moraine. I’m not sure I’ve ever been close up to the autumn glory of that tree before. I pay more attention to the fungi on the way down, wondering how I missed the variety on the way up.
I return to the car, 9-1/2 miles and 1700 feet of elevation gain tired and happy. And wondering how the woman I met carrying a shoulder strap purse and wearing red flats with rosettes on the toes fared. I only take 130 photos. I know, I have work to do. Still, I savored the day, and I delete all but 36 photos. Bingo!