Trail Stories #1
Ever since I moved to Seattle, I have been an enthusiastic hiker, with many day hikes and multi-day camping trips to my name. Most of my outdoor recreation has been in the Cascades and Olympics of Washington State. However, one of my most memorable outings was in the Cabinet Mountains of Western Montana. Bear country (note: when somebody intones “bear country”, they mean Griz).
Our trip started on a Friday evening. “Radical” and I left work at one of the Lesser Satans, and set off on a six-hour drive with Messrs. “Snow”, “Dog”, and “Silver”, joining “Jack” in Spokane for some late Chinese. We expected a night’s sleep before leaving early the next morning. Relating the details of this leg of the journey would entertain but distract, so I simply note that although Radical’s minivan was totaled, nobody was injured. The Police cuffed and hauled away the drunk guy who managed to rear-end a parked vehicle in a cul-de-sac. The expected sleep didn’t really happen. We took “Jack’s” Suburban, hitting Libby for breakfast, then driving on to the Granite Lake trailhead.
Exhausted but functioning (biorhythms, caffeine, and in my case chicken fried steak), we were on-trail with plenty of time, but soon hit an obstacle. Official “wilderness areas” in the US are among the least maintained natural zones. The first major creek we came to was unbridged and had to be forded. I do not recommend combining exhaustion, slippery rocks, rushing thigh-high ice-water, and sixty-pound packs. We were pretty sapped after an arduous crossing so early in the day, and even managed to lose “Snow” for a few hours at another ford. Stupid, exhausted young men.
In Bear Country, one establishes two camps. One for cooking and another, at least 200 feet away, for the tents. In Bear Country I can hardly sleep, even when wiped out. Every sound, real or imagined, is Griz come to kill us. Still, even unrested, our first full day of day hiking and rafting was Class A. For me it got even better. It was late afternoon at the cooking camp, and I realized I had left something important in my tent. As I finally found that it had somehow slipped underneath my Thermarest, I heard an enormous “crack!”. Instinct ascribed agency to a Bear, spiking my pulse, but intellect said the sound was wrong for that. I leapt out and started looking around. The tent camp had a great view of the range just southwest of Snowshoe Peak, where some more enormous cracking noises attracted my eyes to an avalanche in the mountains above the lake. Snow pouring from one bowl to another, down, down, down, crack! crack! crack! I had never seen such wild drama. Suffused with the ecstasy of two days’ strenuous, sleep-deprived, magic-surrounded exertion, I achieved epiphany. Everything I knew about chemistry, physics, astronomy, geochemical cycles, biology, ecology, whatever, revolved in my mind’s eye simultaneously. Unfortunately for my companions, the woods obscured the view from the cooking camp, and by the time they followed my shrieks of “Holy Fuck”, the event was over. Although disappointed, they were excited that I had found what I was looking for, and were perhaps appeased as I shared it around.
The return drive also had its moments, but would also distract if related. Try driving across the Columbia to Vantage with high winds in a totaled minivan. Or don’t.