June 15, 2022 / Coldwater Lake, Mt. St. Helens /
5.1 miles / 36.1 of 101
Wednesday is forecasted to be the one “partly cloudy” day sandwiched between thick slices of cloudy-chance-of-rain artisan bread. I choose my hike and check the forecast at the trail: same. Tuesday afternoon I remember I have a haircut, smack in the middle of Wednesday. My hairdresser only works two days a week, I can’t miss it.
It takes me a long time to get grumpy about cool cloudy days, even when the calendar is knocking on summer’s door; it really does. Even after the second wettest May in recorded history, with the fewest days of sun, I was okay. But Tuesday afternoon, I hit the wall. There should be more than one day a week to choose from to go on an adventure. I’ve burned out on my extensive to-do timeline for promoting my book too, after barging through it the past two weeks. A day on the trail would have helped.
I wrote a blog post before realizing the Wednesday conflict; I made granola and muffins for Airbnb guests Tuesday morning to take my mind off the depressive gloom settling over me at my book inertia. The sun came out briefly and I cut the grass in my garden. My peas should start peaing soon; the lettuce is growing well, except for the romaine; it’s MIA. And the first edible flowers are blooming: rocket salad, just the name makes me happy.
Then I remembered my appointment. I napped all afternoon, officially blue.
I begin to wonder if I could go to Mt. St. Helens and be back in time for my 1:15 appointment. I usually am back by early afternoon, but it feels risky; and, more importantly, watching clock and being anxious is the antithesis of breathing space. I go to bed early, grouchy.
At half-past four in the morning, I’m scratching Lena, the still-darkish sky out my window after the gorgeous full moon shone bright as the sun late in the night, is obviously clear for once. I start plotting times in my head. If I’m at the trail by_____, and hike until _____, turn around and am back to the car by_____, home for a shower by _____, can I do it?
No. I’m not packed up.
Yes? I check the St. Helens’ forecast; still good.
No. My car needs gas.
Yes? It’s the only chance this week or next.
GO! I leap out of bed, throw water on my face and clothes on my body, feed Lena, fill my water pouch and bottle, thaw a muffin, grab a frozen trail bar, return from the car for a tuna snack kit I won’t need, and am at the espresso kiosk at ten after five. I forgot my camera, but don’t go back down the driveway for it.
I have just over half a tank of gas. It’s not my preference to leave home without a full tank, but it should be just enough, and there are no forest roads to be anxious about. It will be fine, I tell myself. Worse case, I’ll have to buy really expensive gas rather than wait until I get home and get merely very expensive gas.
The mountain is lighting up, sun on new snow. She is not supposed to have new snow in the middle of June. Yesterday morning, on the Rainier webcam, there was snow in the Paradise parking lot and last night the St. Helens’ webcam was a whiteout. But today, though there are clouds, it is beautiful. It’s all I need. Just one beautiful day.
I’m at the Coldwater Lake boat launch at 6:30. I set my timer for two hours. My hope is to get to the end of the lake, four or five easy miles, then turn back. It will complete (except for the steep and sketchy connector bit) the loop I started a month ago, the ridge above the other side when I rain into snow.*
The flowers are gorgeous: lupine, paintbrush, penstemon, strawberry, large-leaf avens (a new-to-me name), bleeding heart, something I identify as fumewort when I get home (also not one I’m familiar with), inside-out flower; even the noxious pest, Scotch broom, is pretty.
I pass a spur I didn’t know about that goes a mile up to the original post-eruption visitors’ center on the bluff. I’ll try that one next time. A bit over two miles in, I come to the waterfall I saw from the ridge last month. I wondered then if there was a bridge across it, thinking maybe it was good I couldn’t do the loop. It would not have been good to have to turn around from there. And the answer is . . .
no, there is no bridge.
The fall is running full and fast. I stand and ponder, looking at where rocks above water might form a pathway. I walk away, then go back and look and ponder again. I remember the snowfield on the ridge that I started across and halfway—too late to turn back—realized I should not have gone. A coulda-been-catastrophic bad decision. Another year, this water crossing would probably already be easy to ford, and will be later this season. But not today. I learned that lesson. At the very least, I will have wet boots. This is the turning point for me today.
I’m back to the boat launch with time to spare. I walk out the boardwalk and sit on the bench with my trail bar.
This long boardwalk would have been a really good place to bring my mother and her walker, or a wheel chair. I almost come to tears that I didn’t think of it. This and so many other things I didn’t think of—or couldn’t be bothered with—that might have brought joy to her dark world (and potentially made me briefly golden). I console myself with the conviction that she wouldn’t have wanted to ride in the car this far. And I did take her to other boardwalks. Still, I wish I would have offered, or taken her before she lost so much ground. So many regrets. You did the best you could in the moments, I remind myself, as I promised myself I would when I knew I would have regrets. (And I did, at least, bring her the summer before I moved here, when she could still see, still use her camera.)
I have plenty of time to go on up to the observatory (open for the first time in two years), to check the snow level on the trails, but I’m anxious about the gas level in my car. I’m back home hours before I need to be. I do not put the day in the misadventure column; it’s an against-my-grain spur-of-the-moment achievement.
* If you missed it, here is the post about my snow-venture on the ridge across the lake, In Which I Invoke All Three Great Prayers.