It has been a long time since I’ve published a post and you’d think I might have given up hiking. That couldn’t be further from the truth and I’ve stuck to the trail while screen time has taken a backseat. The last couple post had a tinge of sadness but since then I’ve spent many hours on the trail and moving forward. This post is about the push to always be in motion and not only when things are great but when times are tough and the initial instinct is to curl up and insulate yourself.
I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.E. B. White
After the middle of July I really put the boosters on and took full advantage of all the sunlight that was provided. I took to hiking after work while the long summer evenings illuminated the path ahead late into the evening. I finished in the dark several times and while it can be spooky it’s an incredible raw and eye opening experience. You’ll discover you’re capable of things that you just didn’t you had.
I’ve come to the realization that hiking has ruined my life and it’s for the better. I used to be able to make excuses and be okay with them. I used to be able convince myself that it’s okay to stay stagnant. But the world is a real big place and I happen to live in one of the best states for natural beauty and there’s simply no reason not to capture every view I can. Hiking long stretches alone allowed me the one thing I’ve struggled with my entire life and that’s believing in myself and having confidence to step beyond the comfort zone. The coolest thing about it is that all I did was start walking. That’s all hiking really is.
I like other aspects of hiking like studying maps, testing gear, exercise both mentally and physically and the hours long drives to get to the trailhead. But that’s just other niche parts of my personality being fulfilled while I don’t lose focus on what I’m doing and that’s just walking. Mile after mile of walking and you’ll start asking yourself some questions. If you’re like me you’ll have been asking yourself since you put it in drive. But you’ll keep walking and asking and you’ll get the answers you seek. You’ll get answers to questions you didn’t think you ask.
And while it is just walking it’s not always easy. Sometimes even the toughest among us fight the urge to stay immobile because it’s the least effort and that’s all you have to give. I’ve been there many times and while in the past I chose to idle by, I’ve taken a decidedly different approach and trudge up the side of a mountain even when I feel the urge to give up. This feeling can last for miles. But eventually it dissipates and all you feel is the sweet release of endorphins as you trek along.
This is just a small showcase of the massive amount of beauty that lies within one place. I’ve spent the latter part of the summer and fall healing through the power and positivity that hiking offers. And I’ve been to some real gems in the process. From Burroughs Mountain to Church Mountain, Maple Pass and Blue Lake, To Blanca Lake and Dog Mountain and the incredible Skyline Trail.
Hiking around Rainier is often crowded and with easy paved trails to epic views it’s not a mystery as to why. For me crowds crowds can be a huge deterrent that I’ll opt to bypass altogether by driving hundreds of miles to the furthest regions of the state to escape and find the solitude that I seek. But there are just to many great hikes with killer views in the Mt. Rainier National Park that crowds aren’t enough to keep me away. I hiked to a lake on a sunny Sunday in August and I had the whole place to myself. Who needs a pool when you have an entire lake to yourself?
During my first real summer of hiking in 2019 my main focus was to tackle the hardest and steepest hikes that I could find without any mountaineering hurdles to reach the top. Like a true peakbagger my goal was to reach the top as straight forward as I could. I didn’t care about anything but the summit. I didn’t focus on anything outside of that small window. And I suspect that’s why I thrived and why I felt comfortable. My focus was so tight. I didn’t think anything from the real world could touch me as long as I could keep going. But like anything in life, no matter where you are or what you’re doing, life always comes knocking.
Life had thrown some curve balls. I was hungry to climb mountains but this summer delivered some punches to the gut and kept my desire for the bigger peaks to a minimum. I just wasn’t feeling as inspired as I had the previous year and feared for a short time that I had lost my drive. The truth is that even if you lose your best friend or a lover, especially if the common bond is the outdoors, you can still maintain the love and passion for your hobby without them. The longer you live the greater the possibility is that some things simply haven’t gone the way you had hoped and that with the pleasures in life come pain.
I only set out on one solo backpacking trip over the summer to Snowgrass Flats and Goat Lake. I had planned for a different spot altogether but after driving for a few hours I came across a locked gate miles from the trailhead. At the time I was borrowing my friends dog Cookie so her and I set out in a new direction fully anticipating a night in the woods.
But nothing about this day was going as planned. I ended up driving on a washboard road for miles and miles for over an hour. And when we arrived at the trailhead it was completely packed and people had clearly gotten creative with their parking spots. We were getting a very late start in the day and as we set out on trail I worried a bit about available camping sites.
As the trail transitioned from forested canopy to a more expansive canopy and meadows started to appear so to did tents. I started to see them everywhere. I’d see side trails and get excited about a hidden gem only to find another tent. I came upon what I thought was the perfect site only to have a lady come out between the trees and kindly tell me to find some place else. I had no intention of invading her space but I simply hadn’t seen her beyond the dense trees.
I started to feel a bit discouraged but I knew I had a few miles left before the lake. That’s when I came across an exposed ridge that had a faint trail headed up. It was steep so I decided to drop my back and check out the digs. It turned out to be quite a perfect perch above the valley and it was all mine. I quickly set up camp so Cookie and I could hike to the lake. The one thing I hadn’t anticipated was the wind so I made sure to place rocks over the guy lines before we left.
I saw other hikers coming back from the lake and decided to ask them about tent locations just in case my windy ridge perk proved to be to windy. Deep down I wasn’t totally sold on the idea of sleeping on an exposed ridge but I had told myself it was the best location. There were a lot of open meadows but camping on them is prohibited. That’s when I saw what I thought was the perfect campsite situated in the valley 100 yards down off the main trail. Cookie and I set back out for the ridge and packed up as quickly as we could to set up at the new spot.
The new location had easy access to water and was a good distance from the trail and the biggest advantage was that I had no neighbors. I set up quickly because I was still determined to get to the lake before nightfall and it was a 2 mile trip up a steep hillside trail. Once Cookie and I arrived at the lake the entire scene changed. The temperature dropped significantly and it was bone chilling cold with a severe wind. We stayed long enough to see three mountain goats. There were tents at the lake but there are no fires allowed so I didn’t plan on staying.
Once back at the campsite I was overcome with emotions because my last backpack trip was just a few weeks prior with my girlfriend at the time and I did not want to get into the tent alone. I was grateful that I had Cookie with me but I just couldn’t bring myself to lay my head down in that tent. I had cooked dinner as soon as we got back but I decided right then and there to pack it up and leave. We had 7 1/2 miles to go and the sun was setting. I ate as I hiked back. I spent over 7 hours driving and hiked 15 miles, set up camp twice only to head back to my car. I felt guilty about it for a while but then I realized I gave it my all and while I didn’t achieve my goal I definitely succeeded in trying.