>Ninety Miles Around Tahoma – Sept 7

August 29, 2010 at 3:21 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.

Mt. Rainier from Spray Park

September 7. A goat bleats mournfully from the hill behind me. I have heard it for the last two hours. Finally I see it, a baby, and he calls for his mother. The herd is below and he scampers off to join them. Is that why the she-goat visited my camp last night? Was she looking for her baby? I feel somehow responsible, for I am an intruder here.

After breakfast (sardines) gray clouds suddenly come in. I pick my way down the rock gully and make it to the shelter before the raindrops. Thunder rolls tenuously, and the shower seems half-hearted. I don my poncho and go out to pick huckleberries for Tim and Ryan. Everyone else has left; again I am alone. Finally the storm comes, a little salvo just to let me know my place in the scheme of things. I will later learn that Tim is working on the 15th floor of the First Interstate building in Tacoma, looking at Tahoma and thinking of me, when suddenly a mass of clouds roils up to the mountain like an explosion. It is cause for concern on his part. But the storm is brief, and when the sun comes out I wash my hair and bathe. My head goes numb from the icy water. An hour later the clouds return and it drizzles for awhile.

I find the logbook in the shelter and read about mishaps, wonderment, awe. There was a hailstorm, baseball-sized, two weeks earlier. I would have been here then, had not my parents flown in unexpectedly from Texas. I am glad they saved me from the summer’s worst two weeks of weather. It was also the last time I saw my father before he died of cancer. Someone writes in the log that he feels insignificant in a place like this. I know what he means. As for me, I feel somehow very significant. I know I am blessed, even chosen. I have been granted a great gift. I am being taught by my brothers and sisters, two-leggeds, wingeds, crawling things, four-leggeds, the plants, rocks. Tahoma. The Mountain that Was God; Breast of Milk-white Waters.

I make my entry into the book. It takes awhile; I have much to say.

After lunch I am on the trail again. It is seven miles to Nickel Creek, mostly downhill. I like to allow an hour for each mile, but I suspect I’ll make it to camp sooner. The climb out of Indian Bar is stunning. A different mood prevails; it is overcast, the rain is slacking. At the top of Cowlitz Divide, 800 feet above Indian Bar, I see Tahoma catching the clouds. Her chartreuse skirt is flocked with yellow hellebore and lavender herds of lupine. Ribbons of brown rivers and lake mendings are stitched randomly, precisely. To use N. Scott Momaday’s words, “It was beautiful all around.” It is a place I do not wish to leave.

I have seen four backpackers this morning, all men. I have not seen a solo woman on this trail. Descending Cowlitz Divide, I scarf huckleberries here and there. It is a fast descent through the forest, and I am lost in thought, content with the day. It has been perfect. I reach the Nickel Creek shelter by 5:30, and exchange trail chatter with the three people eating dinner there. I hear more about the beloved Ranger Randy of Mystic Lake and add another lucky star to my pack, that I didn’t meet this guy.

I leave to meet my husband at Box Canyon, a mile down the trail. Fog comes in while I wait, and at eight it is too dark to stay. I head back up, without a flashlight. There was a time I would have been terrified to do this. But I had embraced the darkness a year earlier, with the Huichol teacher on the Nisqually River, at the base of this very mountain. And in spring, I walked along Crescent Lake in shadows so deep I could not see my shoes. I stayed on the trail by feel alone. Now I hear loud crashing noises and I think “elk.” I hope elk, anyway.

I cross the bridge over Nickel Creek and grope around in the shelter for my flashlight. I tie up my food, for I’ve heard of the harassments of shelter mice. They scamper about all night, whizzing past my head like my frisky cat when she wants out.


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