My friend Lauren from work and I went on the March 26th hike together. We live really close to each other so we carpooled out to North Bend. My favorite thing about carpooling, other than having good company of course, is that you get to take the carpool lane!! The 405 is a ZOO during rush hour. The drive out to North Bend is quite a ways and if not for that lovely HOV lane, we never would have made it before everyone took off and left us. Although in retrospect, I’m not so sure what I was worried about. It wasn’t like I would be able to keep up anyway.
There were two choices for this hike. The Mt. Si trail is a 3200′ ascent with an extremely rugged trail and 7 miles round trip. The second choice was the Little Si trail with a 1250′ ascent and 5 miles round trip. One guess on which I chose.
So, we set off on the Mt. Si trail…….HA! Just kidding. Although I will get to type those words for real sometime soon.
We pulled into the parking lot and were greeted by Michael and a couple of the other uber hikers. The weather was cold and a bit windy but actually really good for hiking. Lauren and I hung out for just a bit until the other Little Si hiker showed up and then we headed up the trail.
It wasn’t straight up but it was pretty darn close. Within moments my thoughts of having someone to visit with while trudging up the mountain were dashed when I once again lagged behind everybody else. Although I had thought it would be cool to have company, I was also okay with being alone again on the trail. It gives me time to think. At least in between gasping for air and willing my legs to continue to move.
The uber hikers had still been gathering in the parking lot when we left and they soon caught and passed me. Michael was the last in line and as he jogged by, he told me this was the worst part of the trail. Silly me believed him too.
After a while of going straight uphill, the trail did actually level off and become while still not flat, at least not straight up either. This area was entirely different from the other place I had gone hiking, Tiger Mountain. This was a volcanic mountain range or something like that so the terrain was all odd looking rocks. It was also covered over by tall thick trees lending everything a twilight quality.
Everyone was far ahead of me so I had the trail to myself. Ocassionally, someone would come hurrying by. One man ran past me going up and a couple of others trudged on by but for the most part I was all alone. The diffuse light and complete lack of animal noise gave the whole place a forbidden forest feel. The trail was level for the most part with a few upward climbs here and there. The rocks, and there were some as big as small cottages, were covered in silky green moss. The trees were limbless until at least 20 feet off the ground and then the limbs stuck out at 90 degree angles. My cousins would have loved those trees when I was a kid. If they could have made it up to the first limb, they’d have used the rest like stairs until they were all the way to the top, touching the sky. I always seemed to be at the bottom looking up at them, too afraid to climb, too afraid I would fall.
At some point along the trail, I came across a bench. It was in an odd place, tucked off to the side and actually fairly easy to miss if one weren’t looking. It was just your basic wooden slatted bench, the kind you see everywhere, with a name engraved on it. It said it was in memory of Doug Hansen who had disappeared on Everest shortly after reaching the summit in May, 1996. He had trained on Mt Si and in the Cascade mountains. It said the bench had been placed here by his friends. When I got home, I Googled Doug’s name and found out that he was one of 15 people who died on Everest that year. He was one of many who paid a company to take them to the top of the mountain. In 1995, he had failed to make the summit so was determined to do it in 1996. His guide, Rob who was an experienced Everest climber, had practically dragged him to the top. He radioed the camp and told them they had made the summit and were headed back down. Hours later, Rob radioed in to say Doug was dead and he was in danger. The next day, Rob died on the mountain too. There had been an IMAX crew on the mountain at the same time filming a documentary and I remembered this incident from the film. Rob had been in contact with his buddies via his radio. They all knew he wasn’t going to make it and patched him through to his pregnant wife in New Zealand so they could say goodbye. It was heartbreaking. At the time I stood in front of that bench, all I knew was this guy had hiked in this mountain range. I imagined he had at least achieved his goal when he summited Everest. It would have sucked even more to die before you got there.
After a moment of silence for this unknown hiker, I headed out again. At one point, I was walking amongst all the trees, surrounded by giant house-sized rocks and just over to the left was a sheer rock face that went up at least 15 stories. A gash was slashed through the middle of it from a distant rockslide. Rocks of every size imaginable were strewn at the bottom of the wall. It was all so very surreal.
The terrain changed once again and the trail began going straight up. Several places required me to scramble up on my hands and knees. See, now this is why I don’t believe Michael anymore when he says some or other part is the hardest. The last two miles of the trail was more of a climb than a hike. I hauled my butt up tree breaks and through slits between rocks. I had to pause every few feet to catch my breath and curse Michael. This last stretch rivaled the trudge up the Cable Line trail I’d done at Tiger Mountain two weeks previous. It was truly tough.
At one point, I met up with one of the other club members on her way down. She joyful shouted “You’re almost there!” I noticed her perky attitude, her unsweat stained clothes, and her total lack of fatigue and wanted to deck her. Most likely, though, if I had done I would have missed and flung myself in a freefall down the trail I had just trudged up. So, instead, I smiled as best I could and breathed, “Thanks.” A few more feet up, I ran into my friend Lauren. She too looked way too unruffled for my taste but she assured me I was literally just steps from the top.
Sure enough, a few more turns and there I was. The way opened up and I was on top of the mountain. It was covered with rocks and the first thing I had to do was plop down on the rock and breathe for a minute. Then I was able to enjoy the view. Exalt in the view is probably more accurate. I had not seen anything that beautiful in a very long time. The valley stretched before me as far as I could see to the west and north. It was covered in pine trees with the ocassional roof peeking through. Over to the south and east was Mt. Si. And it was HUGE!! I looked up and up and up and was very grateful I had not chosen that trail. I would still be climbing that sucker.
As I stood there enjoying the view and all that beautiful oxygen going into my lungs, it began to snow. Soft, fluffy flakes drifted down around us. I turned my head up and caught some flakes on my tongue, just like a little kid. It was awe inspiring. I had to share the moment so I called my parents. I had laughingly and only half-jokingly told them that when I finally made it to the top of a mountain, I would play the Rocky theme song that I used as my dad’s ringtone. Unfortunately, I got a new phone not too long ago so I no longer had that ringtone. No matter, though. It rang through my head as I called my parents and told them that not only was I calling from a mountain top but I was calling them with snow drifting around me as well. (I am from Texas, as are they, and snow is an alien concept to us.) After I hung up with them, Lauren and I snapped pictures of each other and headed back down.
I find it interesting that my return trips are becoming so different from my ascents. It is, of course, so much easier going down so it goes more quickly. But also the last two trips, I’ve had company on the way down that I didn’t have on the way up. Lauren and I stuck together as we picked our way through the hard parts and then strolled down the trail. It snowed on us all the way down. The upper part of the mountain was somewhat open so the snow fell on us but once we reached the tree cover, it could no longer reach us. The leaves were so thick they created a premature twilight so it was almost like walking in a cave. Off to our right, where the rock face began to climb and there was no tree cover, the light was shining and the snow was falling. It was again very surreal.
We were almost at the end of the trail when my lack of attention caught up with me. My foot snagged on a rock and I fell down, landing smack in the middle of a mud puddle. I landed on my knee pretty hard but no damage was done. The only real issue was that now I was covered in mud. The import of that didn’t dawn on me until we got back to my car. I looked at my muddy self and my relatively new car that I’m trying to sell and wondered what to do now. Honestly, if I’d been by myself, I’d probably have shucked my pants and driven home in my undies. But I didn’t think Lauren would appreciate that and well, it’s just weird to see your co-worker without their clothes on.
An aside here about that. At the Starbucks headquarters, there’s a gym just for the employees. At first, this idea tickled me. However, after seeing a few people strolling across the ladies locker room without any clothes on that I then had to sit across at a meeting table, that enthusiasm waned. It’s hard to take someone seriously when you know what type of underwear they have on and that they have a Bugs Bunny tattoo on their ass.
Not wanting to freak out Lauren, I searched around for something to put down on the seat. I dug under all the various crap that seems to find its way into my car and discovered a raincoat that made a perfect mud tarp. It snowed on us all the way home. Even Lauren had to admit it was bizarre to have such a late season snowfall. I wasn’t complaining though. Well, at least not much. It was beautiful watching all that snow fall on the pine-covered mountains.
My schedule has changed now and I can no longer go hiking with the Starbucks hiking club. I’m really disappointed because I had looked forward to judging my progress by how much less I got left behind from hike to hike. I sent out an email to all my co-workers in the call center and only Lauren seems really interested in hiking with me. We’ll see though. I plan to keep going out on my own. And yes, Mom, I’ll bring my cell phone so at least I can be found by the GPS inside of it should I go missing. But really, it’s not like I’m going to be hiking Everest any time soon so I think I’m okay.