Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Mountain Gnomes Drank All My Booze!

Well, not really. That's just something my husband likes to say because he plays Dwarf Fortress---and in that game the mountain gnomes really will drink all of your booze. The Cascade mountain gnomes did end up playing a trick on us, but more on that later. Let's start at the beginning:

 We left late. We hiked 12 miles, some of it by moonlight. We were afraid we would miss the place where we go off trail and start feral hiking---but somehow we found the turnoff, made camp and collapsed into our sleeping bags. The moon was huge. We joked we have eschewed sunbathing for moonbathing because our last couple of camping trips have been under a full moon so bright a person practically needed moonglasses to handle it. And good thing too, because my husband brought a flashlight with dead batteries :0

The air was full of smoke from a large wildfire burning to the west, but the days were hot and bright. I can never get enough of this landscape, this Tolkien-like tableau. The mushrooms were absolutely glorious this year, more than I have ever seen before, these are just a few:

The day after we got there, we went back down to the trail to get water from a small lake. Half an hour hike at the most. On the way back, we both noticed that it was taking longer than it should have. But still we walked on, until finally my husband said  "We passed it. We missed the turnoff."
"Ah, no" I said "how could that be? It's fairly obvious, how could we both miss it?"

Well we did miss it. By at least a mile, if not more. The turnoff has a fairly obvious landmark, but still, both of us missed it. Now, how could we have found it by moonlight the night before, in a state of utter exhaustion, but overshoot it so wildly in the daytime? I suspect the mountain gnomes. Really. It was a warning to us both that even though this is a place we love and visit often, we were not being present, just walking along with our heads in our thoughts and not paying attention to the moment. Which can be dangerous out there and a little bit disrespectful. So, lesson taken, we made it back to the turnoff and back to our camp where we settled in with some tea and snacks.

We then climbed the boulder rubble on the flanks of the mountain to the first ice field we could reach. I poured out, for the mountain, a good splash of the mead we brought along---the rest we drank later, watching the moon rise over the fire-smoke cloud.

 Turns out I had two encounters of a surprising nature. The first occurred on the first night. Snuggled down in my sleeping bag and looking at the remnants of stars (their light mostly overtaken by the glory of the moon) a large shape suddenly loomed over my head. It was a giant moth! I could see its feelers. It hovered there a moment, checking me out, and then flew off. The second encounter happened on the second night. Near dawn, just after the moon had set behind the saddle of the mountain, an unfamiliar bird suddenly circled our sleeping bags. I could have reached up and touched it. It landed in a stunted pine tree near by. I said "And who might you be?" It didn't answer me, but circled our bags again before flying away.

The moon setting behind the saddle of the mountain, around 4:30 am

I can't fully describe to you the massive boulder fields on the slopes of this ancient, weathered volcano. It is it's own micro-climate, distinct from the forest below it, drier, colder and just echoing with the spirits of wind and rock. We poked around a bit longer on the slopes then headed back down.

Wow, is our windshield ever dirty!

On our way home we could see the massive plumes of smoke from the Deception Creek Wildfire complex.

This was a short trip, but absolutely what I needed to clear my brain and prepare myself for the slow turn into autumn. I am so fortunate to be able to take these trips, living in the great Northwest as I do, where the mountains, the ocean and the desert are all just a few hours away.


  1. Hello Tilda,

    What a strangely magnificent landscape this is. You are certainly much more adventurous than we should ever be, but how marvellous to be in such intimate contact with Nature. As you say, thus is just the remedy for clearing the head and regaining some balance in life.

  2. The Pacific Northwest is a magical landscape, indeed. Have you ever been here?

  3. Meep sorry if this is a double-post, couldn't tell if my post went through. Love the photos of your hike! Want to explore that landscape!