August 7, 2020
In 2013, I strayed from the mountains close to home and spent a few days camping in Mt. Baker/Snoqualmie National Forest. I did my first hike since moving back to the PNW in 2012, other than Mt. Rainier’s High Skyline—the only trail I really knew—and it kicked my ass. Skyline Divide: 9 miles, 2500 feet elevation gain. High Skyline: 5.5 miles, 1450 feet. Seven years ago my lungs burned, my heart pounded, and on the way down, my legs shook with fatigue.
But Komo Kulshan and Skyline Divide stole my heart.
Since then, I have logged many miles on many trails. Would Skyline Divide still be as challenging, I wondered? Am I in better condition? There is no denying I am seven years older; 70 is looming. I booked a campsite on the North Fork Nooksack River.
Following my Sunday arrival, it was scheduled to rain on Monday. On the second try, after the wind died down, I created a pretty awesome kitchen fly using poles from a cannibalized backpacking tent I found in a cupboard over the guest room closet, a tarp, a bunch of bungee cords, and my Rogue. I was quite proud of it. Ready to make morning coffee without getting wet.
It didn’t rain.
I spent the overcast morning in my tent working on a writing project and the sunny afternoon on the river bank reading and watching for the occasional kayak or raft to sweep by on the galloping river. Maybe the one guy sideswiped a rock on purpose so he could roll head down and back upright.
I was up early Tuesday morning on what promised to be a glorious day and, after 12.9 miles on the worst potholed road I’ve traveled to date—it took me an hour—I arrived at the trailhead at 7:15. I felt confident—even as the trail headed immediately up at a steep tilt—the sun beckoning me forward.
To cut to the chase: I won’t say it was a piece of cake, but it was NO PROBLEM! Hiking is my super power. And I’m in the best shape of my life.
The knolls were spectacular! The flowers were dizzying. Great Goddess, I’m lucky. To live here, to be able to hike here, to be an early riser. I had the trail to myself all the way up. The occupants of three of the five cars in the parking area, it turned out, had over-nighted. Two of them leaving as I arrived at the knolls. I had the top of the world in near solitude. Just me, the mountain, and the gods.
I hiked out the level ridge as I did last time. And I hiked up and down the other knolls, which I was too tired to do last time. But really just the breakout from the trees is plenty enough gloriosity.
I hate to be judgemental, but hikers who start up an exposed 2500 foot elevation climb at noon on a warm day are frigging insane. I met plenty of people on my return, 34 cars in the lot. And more bouncing up the road. Nearly everyone masked up when they met me on the trail. Well, not the guy who told me there is no virus at the mountain. So if you have the virus and you go to a mountain, does it go away? Like a miracle? I’d been out of touch for a few days; I guess I missed a news conference. It beats injecting Lysol, if it’s true.
I was back to my book, the river, a beer, and my flower dreams at 2:00.
Wednesday morning, I rose early to do it again. The day didn’t go quite so well.
I read that the Yellow Aster Butte trail is exposed to the sun much of the four miles up and four back, 2550 feet elevation gain. Although the forest road was 10ish miles from my campground, rather than Skyline’s one mile, the pothole part is only 4.5 miles. For once I would be able to get to a trailhead really early. I didn’t want to do potholes in the dark, but even so I hoped to see the sun come up on the trail. I left camp at daybreak, after making coffee by lantern light.
And missed the turnoff to the forest road.
By the time I figured out where the road actually was, I’d gone a RT extra 35 miles of twisty road. And it was 7:00, rather than 6:00. Then I forgot to hang my pass on my mirror, and went back to do that. Also, too late to return, I realized I had forgotten my sunglasses.
Shit happens. Still, I did not get overheated; I did see the sun come up; I did beat the crowd, though the top was not solitary. I didn’t make it to the top top, and didn’t see the other what was on the other side of the tallest peak. Maybe where I was yesterday. But I felt complete.
Between these two hikes, I think I saw every PNW mountain wildflower I have ever seen, except bear grass. All blooming at once. Even a rare (for me) sighting of phase one Pasque flower, along with its old man stage! Simply one of the most interesting flowers going.
If loss of smell is a reliable symptom of Covid-19, I do not have it. It was like living in 1000-acre flower shop. It was beyond belief.
It’s a beautiful world.
And on the way home, these guys for a couple hours! Elliot has a new bike, virtually the last one in Seattle. Apparently there’s a national shortage of children’s bikes! They finally found one at Target, the last one! Fortunately, it was just right!