My eyes struggle to open as the chirping of what sounds like the loudest crickets on the planet wakes me from deep, dreamless sleep. It’s the alarm on my phone, 4:30 am. I slide myself out of bed trying to fully remember why i was too excited to sleep for this last night. I fumble to find the bathroom light, rubbing my eyes like I’m trying to adjust binoculars to look at the sun. The half assed shower does its best to wake me up but to little aid, in its defense i wasn’t doing my part. By the time I’m dressed and in the car I’m only slightly aware of my actions, it’s as if my body knows what i want to do but my mind is still trying to hibernate. As the wheels start to turn down the interstate so do the gears in my head. Energies slowly restoring as my mind settles in on todays goal, I’m heading north to climb a mountain.
After about an hour on the interstate the directions require me to head off down some old highways, leading through gorgeous green farmlands completely sopped in with fog. This quick one lane road, snaking around the feet of seemingly endless mountains while being boxed in by wooden farmhouse fences and dense in fog, makes for a very distracting journey. Seventy miles later and the fog is beginning to lift about the tree line, revealing an abundance of fall colors cradling the roadside.
I leave the highway for Forest Service road 37, a rocky, pot hole infected, dirt riddled route. 37 winds three thousand feet up the mountain through gorgeous moss-covered trees and over a couple misty waterfalls before reaching the parking area for the Skyline Divide Trailhead.
As I take my backpack and camera out of the car, I realize i am the only car here and on some level it fills me with pride. The cocky-ness is soon destroyed by the 1500 feet of elevation that the trail gains within the first two miles. I breathe heavier with each step up, the cold air burning at my lungs and freezing down my throat. I’m surrounded by both nothing and everything at the same time. Huge pine trees block out any morning sun, leaving the forest floor damp and mossy. The wind lets your hear so much but also again nothing at all.
Three miles in, air temperature is about 40 degrees but I have stripped off my sweater and I’m down to a t-shirt and still sweating as i trudge up the hillside. Each step getting a little easier as my legs wake up more and more. At once i break out of the trees and into a slanted meadow of golden grass and sunlight, glorious warm sunlight. I begin to get a feel for the true height i have reached as i start to see mountains in the far distance.
Mile four and I’m reaching the top of an amber-colored hill, i can sense that the view and terrain is about to change dramatically due to the fact that at this point all i can see is cloudless blue skies playing backdrop to this mound of golden grass. As i crest the hill i am stunned, now fully awake i feel as though i am dreaming.
To the left in the distance are dry, rocky mountain peaks, grey and dispersing behind a much closer peak to the right lightly covered in snow and extremely harsh looking. Dead ahead is Mount Baker, an eleven thousand foot snow-capped mountain, it looks like the angry parent of every melted snowman ever neglected.
As i am taking everything in i was a small hawk circle in the valley below, as it comes over the ridge i witness a much larger bird come out of nowhere and dash down in the hawks direction just as the hawk disappears into the trees. The large bird proceeds to fly in my direction, as i get a better look i realize that it’s a Golden Eagle. The giant predator loops around the ridge line a few times as if its checking me out and then flies off down into the valley.
Baker pulls my eyes in and absorbs my full attention while i continue down the trail in its direction. I can see the trail heads straight for the massive beauty, following a formidable ridge line up to a few peaks where the trail disappears out of sight. With each peak conquered on hand and foot, i gain a new perspective on the surrounding landscapes and the mountain draws more near. As i reach the highest peak on the ridge, I stare out at the mountain contemplating hiking the few more miles to make into Mount Bakers snow line. I decide it’s too late in the afternoon to add an extra eight miles to this already fourteen mile roundtrip hike so i pack up and head home.
It’s an odd feeling, wanting so badly to move on to the next peak for no other reason than to see if there is another peak behind it that you could possibly move on to. It’s all so extremely repetitive while at the same time not at all, each peak is nearly the same as the last and also nothing like anything else. I hope i never stop wanting to find that next peak.