>Ninety Miles Around Tahoma – Sept 8

August 29, 2010 at 3:25 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.


Ancient Forest below Indian Henry’s – Hand-painted BW photograph


September 8. Tim and Ryan wait for me at Box Canyon, with five days’ food for the final leg. I hop a ride to Longmire, skipping 13 miles of the trail that parallels the Stevens Canyon Road. I have heard it is a long, boring stretch, devoid of wilderness qualities. The road trip was always part of the plan; I am still completing the circle. My family is with me for this segment, and it is appropriate for they have a place on the hoop of my journey.

We go to Paradise, above the fog. With binoculars I see Camp Muir, 10,000 feet. It looks like a precarious placement of dark brown buildings. Did I REALLY walk up there six weeks ago? At the Visitor’s Center I have a half-raw hamburger (real food, nonetheless), then we drive down to Longmire and I say goodbye at the Rampart Ridge trail.

It is cloudy here. The trail seems steeper than the killer one to Mystic Lake. God, it’s awful. Hikers fall out like canaries in a gas-filled coal mine. Then the trail descends to Kautz Creek, site of a devastating mudflow from the Kautz Glacier more than 40 years ago. In its wake were dead trees and a re-arranged landscape. Such glacial outbursts happen without warning. I cross with a touch of anxiety.

Up again, past Devil’s Dream camp, in the gloom (minimum impact, say the rangers, for their assignment of campsites.) I soon ascend into the mystery of fog and sunbeams until I reach Indian Henry’s.

There, in the meadows, the sun is hard and clean. Tahoma shows another facet, sharp, unrecognizable. The ranger cabin is positioned as the artist would have it, and the lady ranger cooks dinner on her porch. I tell her I want the most profoundly spiritual place to spend the night, and she directs me to the trail toward Pyramid Peak, where I will see many such places.

The sun lowers and I stop at Mirror Lakes. I expect a Kodak sign “Take Picture Here.” I am tired, hungry, but I am being called. I go closer to Tahoma, and the meadows get better. On the other side of Copper Mountain, just before sunset, I ascend to a flat bench overlooking the valley. The glaciers turn mauve as I cook dinner. I am wearing everything I brought.

A slight breeze is at my back; I have a feeling of being unprotected. From what? Animals, perhaps. The wind. My luck’s been too good; there’s surely a bear in this script. I move my sleeping bag into the conifers and still have a view of the moonlit mountain.

I wait for God to speak.

Yet I know I’ve already been spoken to. I know what I feel. God speaks in that “still, small voice.” I have come to trust it. And to trust the world, knowing much is beyond my control however much I wish to direct it, knowing bad things happen to good people, and good things happen more frequently than we give credit. I feel strong now.

This journey would have had a different outcome were it not for what Matthew Fox calls the via Negativa, the darkness, being emptied. “Facing the darkness, admitting the pain, allowing the pain to be pain, is never easy. This is why courage – big-heartedness – is the most essential virtue on the spiritual journey. But if we fail to let pain be pain, it will haunt us in nightmarish ways. We will become pain’s victims instead of the healers we might become.”

More: “Pain helps us understand other people in pain. There is no way to let go of pain without first embracing it and loving it – not as pain but as a sister and brother…. Liberation, he says, “begins at the point where pain is acknowledged and allowed to be pain.”

The noises of the night are magnified when one sleeps alone. The whistle of air through nostrils, the rub of eyelashes on nylon, the rustle of the sleeping bag as shoulders move with breathing. These noises are a bear in the underbrush. My heartbeat is a herd of elk.

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