May 2, 2021
I hadn’t planned to go to a mountain today. In fact, though I had thought about it because it was the only available day in about ten with a favorable weather forecast, I had decided against it. I drove to Seattle and back for the Littles’ baseball games on Saturday and was there two days last week. I will be back on I-5 at 5:30 Tuesday morning for another two days in Seattle. I might be tired of the road. It’s the weekend, and the road to Johnston Observatory just opened: peopley. And I have garden work to do. They were lame excuses, I knew. The drive to St. Helens is lovely, I would be there before pretty much anyone else, and I would be home before lunch. Still, I didn’t get stuff ready to grab ‘n go. It was a firm decision.
I’m awake at 4:00. The half moon is shining bright. If I leave at 4:30, I can probably make the sunrise. I ponder, then throw back the covers before Lena arrives for a morning snuggle, because that would be a deal breaker. With a guest downstairs in the Airbnb, I squeak open drawers to get clothes after overriding the preset coffee pot (too early for a road latte), thaw a muffin for breakfast, slice an apple and get a trailbar out of the freezer for snacks, fill a water bottle. I slide the closet door open as quietly as I can for my warm hat and down vest. Gloves, hiking boots, poles are in the car, but I don’t plan to hike and I don’t take my knapsack. I grab my camera and am out the door at 4:25.
I roll south down I-5 and this time (unlike my adventure a couple weeks ago) take the right exit. I stop briefly at Elk Rock viewpoint, where I watched the sun come up last time then go on to Castle Lake viewpoint, briefly. I might be able to get to Loowit viewpoint or even Johnston Ridge before the sun is fully up, but soon after Coldwater Lake I’m suddenly in a cloud bank and visibility is about five feet. Maybe I will get above them, but wowzer it is a whiteout.
I do a u-turn and return to Castle Lake viewpoint and revel in the sparkle of the sun climbing above the ridge.
After a pit stop at the boat launch, I head back up the road, hitting the same cloud layer. In the blast zone, where after forty-one years there still isn’t enough forestation to block views like there is at Mt. Rainier, you can observe the cloud layers. I can see the one that stopped me earlier before I get to it, and the sky above it. Sure enough, I pop out out of it within moments. Shoot. I should have kept going before.
The mountain doesn’t stay in one place on this winding road. I see it in the rearview mirror then take a curve and it pops up through the windshield. It’s on the left side of the road, then suddenly on the right. It’s obliterated in the clouds, then dazzling white against a clear blue sky.
After a stop at Loowit, I proceed to the end of the road, from which you can’t see the mountain from the parking lot. I watch a photographer returning to his car slide several feet on the icy sidewalk. Hmm. I could put on my boots and walk in the snow alongside the walk, but the snow is deep up here. I would be postholing it. (That’s where you sink to your knees every step or two.) I don’t have crampons (I really should get some) and I really don’t need to fall on ice. I head back down the road.
At Coldwater Lake, I walk out the boardwalk, reveling in the silence, other than the squawking ducks, the shrieking geese, and the plop of the fish and the fishers. I am briefly sorry I don’t have my knapsack, I might have hiked the ridge above the lake, a favorite hike. But it’s cold, as in freezing, literally. I’m so lucky. I can come back virtually any day at a moment’s notice. I’ll get to the observatory another day before the tourists arrive for the summer, and maybe hike the ridge too, when the flowers come—but I have a lot of trails to hike. Stay tuned.
At 9:30 I’m back home, gathering up my garden tools. I’d seen about four cars on the drive up Spirit Lake Highway, photographers shooting the sunrise; but I met several as I went back down. They probably thought they were early.
Oh yeah, and baseball was fun! Elliot is focused. All the time. Adrian loves to run, but looking for ants is more interesting otherwise. He might be more of a soccer player.