Tag Archives: PCT

Cold and Wet and Snow

Fire. Music. The moon smiling down. A clear, biting cold, starlight night.

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Surrounded by mountains bearing names of Copper and Buckskin. Dumbell and Bonanza. A ridge called Martin across the valley that I’d like to traverse one day.

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I can see a mountain pass I sat on near this time last year. Makes me think of other snowy, starlight nights. On top of other mountains not so far away.

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“What was it like to hike up here in November?” a question oft asked. My usual quip “cold, and wet, and snow”. And oh how glad I am that I’m not out there right now. But the answer doesn’t cover the whole of it. Nor the part of it.

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What was it like? I think as I wander back to my cozy village. Its lights twinkling in the valley below the bonfire. Warmth just a moment away through the woods along a gravel road.

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What was it like?

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It was stars, and layers of clothes that just barely kept me warm enough. It was puffs of cold breath, and feet that slowly found warmth through the frozen layers of gaiters and boots. It was rushing creeks flowing under thin layers of ice, and frozen tents and trekking poles that started to creak and break in the cold.

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It was snowflakes that I tried to catch in my mouth as I walked, and huddling under a poncho trying to prevent the wind from stealing all the warmth from the world. It was bobcat tracks, and following them through a whiteout on top of a mountain ridge. It was sinking to my hips wearing snowshoes, and curiosity at the endurance of the body. It was fighting for each forward movement, and humbled by the unforgiving nature of the great Mother.

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It was marching into a storm, leaving warmth and roads behind, because to not go would leave me with a life wondering what if.

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It was marching forward with a friend who wondered the same thing.

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It was trust in all that I think encompasses me, and believing in those parts that I only have hints of, in being capable to get me through. It was trust in my companion, that he knew all those things about himself too.

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It was knowledge, of what I know, and of what I don’t know.

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It was willingness to risk, and willingness to not risk.

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It was judgment, and calculations. It was listening to the wind, and watching the clouds move. It was counting fingers of daylight, and following instinct through mist.

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It was aptitude at falling. It was ability at balance when a fall meant more than I was willing to give.

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It was a specific goal. It was an unknown ending. It was finding a limit beyond exhausted, and going past it. It was remembering to look up, around, behind. It was life stripped to something so basic as the will to move to stay alive.

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It was awe. It was humility. It was sitting on the edge of a snow covered mountain understanding how small I am. It was a glimmer of knowledge of something vast and incomprehensible.

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It was still. It was silent but for the tramp of our snowshoes, and the creaking of our packs. It was a closeness to some great truth. It was standing in the amphitheater of some thing so much greater. It was magic.

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It was cold and wet and snow.

Dances with Pikas

Leavenworth, WA

‘We’re looking for the best place to find Ochotona Princeps‘ my friend Theresa says inquiringly to the receptionist at the Wind River Ranger Station.  Both the receptionist and I gape at her.

My friend got a degree in wildlife biology. She likes to use the fancy names occasionally, cause, well- why else do you spend all that time memorizing names of plants and animals.

‘Pikas.’ she clarifies.

‘I’ll go get our biologist for you.’

We spend a happy fifteen minutes pouring over a map of the trails around Leavenworth with the recreation manager and the biologist.  Maps! Pikas! Cool places to hike!  All four involved in this map perusal are pretty excited.

Theresa and I have a goal.  We are on a hunt for pikas.  But we promise we are only out to hunt them with cameras.

After discussing mushrooms (which we got about a hundred pictures of the day before. Only pictures we promise. We don’t know enough about them to eat any), how many people we saw out hiking, and where the best rockpiles are to go find pikas, we settle on going to Valhalla Lake.

Valhalla Lake is just off the PCT from Steven’s Pass.  But, there’s a shortcut that makes the hike in only 3 miles.  Awesome.  I am once again in awe of all the trails that connect in to the PCT and where they relate to other things and the larger scale of maps! After months of looking at a map that followed a narrow corridor, it’s nice to get perspective on the rest of the wild places.

Away we go to find our furry lagamorph friends.

What I have learned about pikas: They are in the rabbit family. They spend all summer making a haystack and eat the haystack all winter.  If you eep back to them you can have a conversation that probably translates to saying ‘danger’ several times. If you sit in a rockpile for 10 or more minutes, the pikas will start sneaking around the rocks and going about their business again.  Spend an hour in the rockpile and you’ll have 20 plus new friends.

Pikas