>Ninety Miles Around Tahoma – Sept 4

August 29, 2010 at 3:01 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.


Tahoma from Summerland


September 4. Another perfect sunrise.

I am on the northeast side of the mountain, and the descent into the parklands of Sunrise is one of ecstasy. I am captivated by the rolling meadows, crossed with streams and boulders and flowers and smells of life. I see the fire lookout on Mount Fremont and wonder if I am being watched. On a clear day, like today, the Space Needle can be seen from there. It is not difficult to see Mount Baker and Glacier Peak to the north.

After an hour I stop and eat a roll with peanut butter. This has been my pattern. First, two packets of instant oatmeal (peaches ‘n cream type), then peanut butter an hour later. As always, I drink water. Lots of water colored with little iodine tablets. It occurs to me that maybe I’m not putting enough of the buggers in. I fear that between the warm tadpole feces water and insufficient iodine and turbid lake water and debris-filled streams that I’m definitely a candidate for giardiasis. Oh well. More little pills for that.

At least my food stays fresh. I eat fiber bars and health food conglomerations, cashews, sardines. I had kippered snacks in Cajun sauce once and the empty can stunk up my pack. Cous-Cous soup with semolina wheat granules or Nissan Cup O’Noodles make up lunch. Dinner is Top Shelf: glazed chicken, chicken Acapulco, sweet and sour chicken, BBQ ribs (make Sylvester the Cat noises here), spaghetti, lasagna, beef roast.

Sunrise Lodge is just a couple of miles away. I ditch the cursed Jansport at the crossroad to Second Burroughs Mountain, and I feel like I’m floating. It’s nothing at all to make this steep ascent with only my camera and water bottle. The sun soaks into my bones; the wind is cool. I wave to whoever is in the fire lookout on the next ridge and I go up, up, farther up than the down I have just come. I can nearly touch the Winthrop Glacier. The nearby Emmons gives birth to the White River, a thin, bright etching of foil far, impossibly far below. I will be down there within hours.

Standing on Second Burroughs, at the trip’s highest point of 7400 feet elevation, I am at the gates of Heaven. I have seen five people since dawn. I masticate jerky and look down on the slope at Skyscraper Mountain, where I spend the night. It occurs to me that climbing the summit of a mountain is a typically male thing, to be on top of something. The woman’s way is to admire intimately, to observe from all sides, to experience the soul of the other in this way.

I failed my summit attempt six weeks earlier because I could not do it the macho way. Two of us women stayed behind at Camp Muir as the party went up by headlamp at 2 a.m. We got up again to watch the sunrise and count volcanoes: Adams, St. Helens, Hood, Jefferson. We congratulated ourselves for making it this far, the 10,000 foot level, and validated our decisions to stay behind. But we wished the unspoken: that we had tried harder. Our party returned eleven hours later. Some reached the summit on their knees. Two got left behind in sleeping bags on glaciers, to be picked up on the descent. There had been little time for pictures. No time to drink in the beauty, the splendid sunrise, the awesome achievement. Hell, the guides wanted to clock out of Paradise by five.

So I did it the woman’s way. I walked around it. And I admired Tahoma as I would a beautiful sculpture, a Venus de Milo. For Tahoma is indeed female. One of the Indian names for her means “breast of milk white waters.” Another means “the mountain that was God.”

So God’s a woman.

Tahoma, the breast, gives life to dozens of rivers and creeks, hundreds of streams. It nourishes the entire Puget Sound basin, this one lone nipple piercing the clouds. Her sisters, too: Adams (Pahto, son of the Great Spirit), St. Helens (Lah-we-lat-lah, person from whom great smoke comes), Baker (Koma Kulshan, white steep mountain), Glacier Peak. All birthing, continually creating.

From a jetliner, these are merely white bumps on rippled fabric. From the perspective of a creature on its skin, a mountain is a living being. Especially these – Cascade volcanoes. And so I have to think of myself, merely an ant, a creature foreign to the landscape yet not entirely out of place. Who am I to think myself insignificant? Who am I to think my life touches no one? I have only to look at the glaciers, and the hawks and chipmunks, marmots and flowers, butterflies, pikas, the ants. We are all related. Mitakuye oyasin. “No man is an island, entire of itself…” How easily we forget our place.

Matthew Fox says “The mystic (which is in every person) is keen on the experience of the Divine and will not settle for theory alone or knowing about the Divine.” How can one not experience the Divine in a place such as this?

I came down from Burroughs Mountain, again waving at whoever is in the Mount Fremont lookout. I heft my painfully heavy pack another mile-and-a-half to Sunrise Lodge and gobble a pitiful hamburger as if it were a gourmet meal. I write two cards as I eat, bum stamps to mail them with, get a permit to continue the trip, wash hair and socks, and slurp a vanilla ice cream cone on the steep trail to White River Campground. The White River looks to be days below. But an hour and a half later I meet the river.

This is a car camp and I wait for Tim to come with food and clean clothes. When he does I ditch the tent, five pounds of Canon F-1 and the telephoto lens, the Huichol rattle, and extra clothes. Good weather is predicted for the next three days and there are shelters at the next three camps.

It seems safe here. But the mountain has the final say.

In 1963 an enormous avalanche fell off Little Tahoma Peak onto the Emmons Glacier. The barrage of rocks and ice careened four miles into this river valley, coming to rest a mere half mile from here. Some of the boulders it brought are as large as buildings. Some scientists believe volcanic heat had something to do with it. Had the avalanche occurred in summer, many hikers may have been killed.

I sleep tonight on a picnic table.

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