Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Tolkienesque landscape deserved its name and reputation. The Enchantments. When I first saw this word written on a map, I did a small eye roll. I mean, really?

Really.

To enter this magical zone of wilderness, one first needs to confront the intimidating Aasgard pass, which grants safe passage up and over Dragontail peak. These mountains loom up from the lake like guardians of a sacred treasure. Once the challenge is met, however, the terrain takes on a different feel- one that is difficult to put into words. It’s almost mystical. Colors seem brighter. Sounds, sharper. The panorama is too much to take in all at once, and I find myself gaping, slack jawed. First one thing catches my full attention, which is then met by another, and another, and another until my mind is just swimming and any sense of comprehension was left behind at the foot of the mountain.

The few hours I was able to spend in this exquisite setting were some of the best I have ever had in the mountains, and they passed by all too quickly. Most people take a full three days to traverse its length, whereas I had only a single morning. But still- it was spectacular. Eating lunch at a local pizza place, I sat on the veranda trying to figure out what had just taken place. I felt different, somehow. Cleansed.

This is definitely a place I’ll come back to.
This is the first lake you come to. The water was the prettiest shade of teal that I think I've seen. Aasgard pass goes up and to the left of this photo.

This was incredible! This is what my version of heaven would look like.

These goats were everywhere. By the end, I started yelling at them- "get off the trail, goat!" so that I could keep moving.

Water stop

This was my lunch break. Notice the goat sitting over my left shoulder. Like a puppy begging for food, he just sat there for about 15 minutes while I ate my sandwich.

I got off-route a little bit and ended up down-climbing these ledges (the actual trail goes way off to the right of the picture). At one point, I had to leap off a cliff into the top of a pine tree and shimmy down. That was a new experience!

I didn't take this picture, but I wish I had. The dramatic skyline formed by Prusik Peak is the last thing you see before dropping into the canyon (or jumping into trees) to hike out.


*****

I am a teenager, hiking the John Muir Trail with my family. Me, Griffin, and Donny have a good lead over the rest of the group when we are confronted with a wall of snow. Forester pass. Switchbacks zig-zag up the steep incline, and I can see a party ahead of us with ice axes ready to arrest any mishap. Up until this point in my life I had never even seen an ice ax up close, and I scoffed at this precaution as overkill. For the record, it was. But it inspired me. Reaching down, I grabbed two sturdy sticks. Rather than make the grinding slog up the trail, I began making my own route- straight up.

Kick, kick, stick, stick. Kick, kick, stick, stick. It's silly, really, but I still remember thinking the words- saying them over and over again in my mind until they were just sounds with no meaning. Kick, kick, stick, stick. As long as there was mountain in front of me, I just kept moving. Kick, kick, stick, stick. The whole world seemed to revolve around this rhythm. Around my movements. My lungs. My heartbeat. At the same time, any sense of myself had faded into the backdrop, and I was simply there, in the moment. If my body was tired, I didn’t recognize it. I was in the zone. “Flow,” I think, is the contemporary term, and it is one of the most rewarding mental states to be in. Finally, as I crested the top, I remember looking back and seeing my hiking partners far below. How did I get here?

I was hooked.

Since that time, climbing has become an autotelic pursuit for me. I have tried to explain to others what the draw is. I have even tried to explain it to myself. At its surface, it makes little sense. And yet, to those who “get it,” it makes all the sense in the world.

Why do I climb?

Because I like it.

From left to right: Griffin, Me, Donny, Tyson. This isn't Forester pass, but it's the only picture I could find of the trip. These were formative years. Good times.

*****

A few weeks ago, Rachel and I were in Leavenworth. While there, we were wandering through an art exhibit when I saw this picture:


Mt. Shuksan- one of the most photogenic peaks in the world. Immediately, I knew I would have to visit this place.

Well, the time came a lot sooner than I expected. The day after my Enchantment trip, I got another early morning start, and was soon watching the sun rise from one of the best views in the Cascades.




Summit!
As far as the climb went, I left early enough to beat most of the guided groups (who usually take 3 days for the route). When I reached the summit pyramid, the route description has you working your way up some 4th class chimneys. On arrival, this area was crowded with people, so I opted for the more exposed East ridge instead (lower 5th class). Man, am I glad that I made this change, as the aesthetics of this section were probably the best of the trip.

*****

After coming down from the mountain, I treated myself to a nice lunch at a local grill, and then made the long drive home so I could work the next day.
*****

As far as Rachel and the kids- I'll let her write about things when she gets home. She has spent the last several days in Utah with her family, and might go visit my sister, Courtney, later on. I talk to her most days on the phone, and I think she's had a good trip. 

Have a good week!

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