>Ninety Miles Around Tahoma – Sept 3

August 29, 2010 at 2:41 pm (Uncategorized)

>This is the account of my solo backpack trip around Mt. Rainier Sept 1-12, 1990. I will be posting one journal entry each day.


Tarn near Mystic Lake – first light of dawn


September 3. At dawn I crawl from my tent and nearly jump out of my skin. Behind me is the tarn, and behind it in Widelux 3-D Cinemascope is Tahoma and the Willis Wall. The Carbon Glacier has been up my spine all night. Sun tints the snow pink and a lenticular cap hovers over the summit like a UFO. Tahoma is so close I cannot enclose it and its reflection in the tadpole tarn with my 28mm wide angle lens. I remember I accidentally drank that water last night, unboiled. What exotic germs, I wonder, incubate in tadpole feces?

I bathe with warmed tadpole water from my cooking pot. The sun is a miracle. My camp is soon sucked up into bags and pouches and I salute Tahoma before I descend to the valley. Tahoma disappears behind a ridge and at Mystic Lake is nearly obscured. Another gloomy tree camp, and I hear from its denizens about Ranger Randy, bed-checker and bad-direction-giver extraordinaire. Wonder if he missed me last night?

There is a washout just past Mystic Lake, and I slog for 45 minutes through mud, over trees, under trees, around trees. My ski pole walking sticks rescue me on this greasy slope. Finally I emerge and find myself in sunlight at the toe of the Winthrop Glacier. On the other side I enter forest again and glimpse the high moraine wall that parallels the trail. Another steep climb, and by god that pack is heavier than the day I started. I have to take a nap.

I do not fast on my vision quest. Usually seekers will find a place of power and they will stay there for three or four days and nights with only water for sustenance. I cannot fast on a trip such as this. Yet I have many of the same feelings a fast induces: “weakness, intensity, vacancy, fertility, openness, heaviness, lightness, disorientation, harmony and spiritual awareness.”

I sleep for an hour and a half. Then I force myself into my pack harness (I cannot lift it; I develop a rather amusing method of hoisting it onto my back, much like lifting a dead man onto one’s shoulders.) I slog upward. I am supposed to be in Berkeley Park tonight, in the northeast, below in a valley. The forest opens to a yellow grassy slope that ends in a ridgetop. I am nearly dead, and I cut across and collapse behind a small spruce. Two Clark’s nutcrackers frolic and an elk bugles to his harem. It is a primordial sound.

I check the map and determine I am at 6740 feet, at the base of Skyscraper Mountain. I drag myself to the cliff edge and to the north I see the enormous flat expanse of Grand Park, gold in the late afternoon light. Below are green meadows of Berkeley Park and Sunrise, and beyond are waves of Cascade peaks, blue and clean.

I rest, eat, write. Cumulus clouds flow over my ridge, around Burroughs Mountain where I will be tomorrow. This will be a good place to be scared out of my wits by a thunderstorm. Perversely, I WANT to be scared out of my wits. I want a rollicking storm with maximum effects. I also want snow sometime before this trip is over. I want to see a bear.

I do not set my tent tonight. The wind is from the east, gentle, and the sky mostly clear. I begin to read Matthew Fox’s The Coming of the Cosmic Christ. “A mountaintop is not just about beauty but also about its counterpart, terror. Lightning strikes mountaintops; great storms gather there; and clouds often shroud it. Immense silence and aloneness can be tasted at mountaintops.”

I read until the type blends into blots, then I use a flashlight. Rough clouds to the east are aflame; the moon rises. In the faded light I see a herd of elk coming down the far ridge. I am in their path. I hope they don’t step on me as I sleep. The call of the bull is resonant and throaty. He is king here; I am an intruder. I realize there is nobody around for miles.

Tahoma’s glaciers are silver and close. My wool hat is on and I am warm in my down bag, except where wind blows my cheek. The moon crests the hill and it is nearly full. There is no skin now between me and the Great Mystery.

I’m supposed to be in Berkeley Park, down in the valley. It is the place where angels gather. But God is up here, and I am with Him tonight. I have become very thankful on this journey. I have laughed a lot, smiled, too, cried some. I have thanked God numerous times for the perfection of this day. Even the exhaustion, the touch of altitude sickness, aching hips and swollen knees are perfect. They made me camp here, didn’t they? I take delight in all that I see, all that I am.

Steven Foster says, “Can it be that Death assumes the mask of an unrequited longing to be filled?” If I die here, it will be a good place. A good day. My mother can say “I told you so.” But it will be good. I will die whole.

I miss no one, though I think of them. I am at peace with the moment. I am one with the place.

Long, hard moonshadows ribbon the slope. Tahoma looks as if she will fall on me. Clouds cling here and there, afraid to be on their own. Let go, I tell them. Simply let go. It will be terrifying. But you must. You cannot go to other places if you do not.

It is not easy to sleep on a slope. It is not easy to sleep exposed to the stars and the stares of animals. Alone. There is a primordial trickle of horror that something out there wants to eat you.

I think I am awake more than I am asleep. I watch the moon traverse the field of stars, see the Big Dipper grow huge and set; Orion’s Belt comes up near dawn.

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