I don’t want to resort to the old cliché, “the mountains are calling and I must go,” but I answered that call this weekend. It’s been a while since I’ve spent much time rolling ankles over stubborn roots and scrambling over precarious rocks. Despite the fact that I couldn’t find a hiking buddy, I still found it easy to justify a weekend among the peaks where John Muir felt most at home.
Back in the East, I tackled mountains every weekend I could. I come from the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, where a two-hour drive to the highest peaks in New York State coupled with a breakfast of gas station coffee and a banana is a regular Saturday routine. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I live for the 4am mornings, finding my way on the trail under headlamp, but I’ve become so accustomed to that groggy early-morning feeling that it’s almost nostalgic.
Once I did some research on the Cascades of Oregon and heard you could summit Oregon’s third highest peak in a day, I was up for the challenge. My tent was already in my car so I smeared some peanut butter and jelly on bread, called it a dinner and hit the road. That night, I tossed and turned on my inflatable sleeping pad, anxiously going over the hike in my mind as if it were a documentary film.
Now is probably a good time to acknowledge the fact that this is my first time ascending to 10,000 plus feet of elevation on-foot, not to mention that I drove from sea-level. I’ve hiked a similar prominence before, but never to an altitude this high. My body wasn’t exactly thanking me for the elevation change as my lungs panted for air and my head pounded with an unforeseen headache.
Like most hikes, I had reached that low feeling on the climb where I questioned if I could persist to the summit. The strangest part for me was that I could see where I was headed throughout the entire hike, but never really had a sense of how long it would take me to get there. I’m so acquainted with hiking through dense forest until the trail spits you out above the tree line just a few hundred yards from the summit. This was different.
Perception is a funny thing. On a mountain, it can take your senses for a wild ride. Unsure of when the steep, scree-scrambling climb would end, I focused my eyes on my feet, switched to autopilot and let faith take me the rest of the undetermined distance to the summit. Then, as quickly as the questionable feelings set in, I was confident and pulsing with adrenaline as I lifted my eyes. The summit view was indescribable and clear enough to see as far as Mount Rainier. My head was clear too and I questioned why I even questioned myself in the first place.
In that moment, the summit is the quite literally the peak of the experience. But in the end, it’s about the journey and the people you meet. I was fortunate enough to make friends with a couple from Australia who became my hiking buddies as we followed the loose-cinder trail back down the south side of the volcanic peak. There’s something to be said about a cooperative crew of people on the same path with the same goal in mind.