Before I get to the real substance of this blog post, try saying “South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve” five times fast… It takes some practice, so good luck!
Once you have mastered saying “South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve,” you can move on to the remainder of this post.
Okay, games aside… For this week’s blog, I have answered questions related to science policy that can be seen below in bold.
Now that you’ve been on the job for several weeks, how has your view of science policy changed (if at all)?
My views on science policy haven’t really changed, though working for a state-run organization has given me a better understanding of the resources available to organizations like the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve (SSNERR). I’ve also heard more about what it takes to get additional funds through grants for various projects (and it doesn’t seem easy).
Do you have a better understanding of how policy organizations work?
One of my goals for this summer is to have an in-depth understanding of how the SSNERR is run. As of now, I have not had time to learn more about how it works on a macro-level, but I have definitely developed a better understanding of how the SSNERR team works on a micro/local level. I have had the opportunity to work with both the science and education teams this summer; as a result, I feel I have a solid understanding of how similar programs may be organized. I also have a better understanding of what positions are necessary to run a state-guided science organization.
Have you had a chance to attend any agency-level meetings?
I meet frequently with the education team, but have not yet attended an all-staff meeting or meeting of higher status. I will be attending the next all-staff meeting in order to learn about how the meetings and agenda-setting work, though my role at the South Slough (given my limited time) has not made it imperative for me to attend such meetings. I believe I will get to attend a National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) meeting this summer as well, which will help me understand the larger system as a whole.
Does your agency have ties to other states, and/or to national-level organizations?
The South Slough was the first location designated as a National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) and is affiliated with the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS). This system functions under NOAA. As seen on NOAA’s website, “The National Estuarine Research Reserve System is a network of 29 coastal sites designated to protect and study estuarine systems. Established through the Coastal Zone Management Act, the reserves represent a partnership program between NOAA and the coastal states. NOAA provides funding and national guidance, and each site is managed on a daily basis by a lead state agency or university with input from local partners.”
Mission: To inherit the knowledge of every place and people I call home.
There’s a first for everything. First job, first road trip, first time meeting the people you now cherish. Being a Summer Scholar promises to be full of firsts: this will be the longest that I have been away from home (Seattle, WA), is my first time doing human dimensions research, is my initiation into the world of working for the government and policy-related work, and is my first internship. I am incredibly grateful that the Oregon Sea Grant in association with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife trusted me to do this work and brought me to where I am today.
Also, thank you mom, dad, loved ones, and my extended family at the University of Washington for all you have poured into me.
Me on Nye Beach at sunset
For the next ten weeks I will be working with the ODFW’s Marine Reserves Program on the Human Dimensions Research Project. This type of work is fascinating, but ultimately I selected this project because of who would become my mentors. Tommy Swearingen is the project leader and is a one man show of expertise, initiative, and charisma. He oversees at least 15 different studies that assess the socioeconomic impacts of marine reserve implementation. He has had a Summer Scholar under his wing every year since he was brought onto the team. Being a mentor to him means more than just supplying interns with work–he wants to understand where they come from, and how he can best help them become fully immersed in the work and contribute to their future goals. He is a researcher, but also a teacher. In only the first week under his tutelage, I have gained a comprehensive understanding of the history of Oregon’s coastal communities and of the scope of the Human Dimensions Research Project.
Fishing vessel at dusk approaching the Yaquina Bay Bridge
To ensure the marine reserves are not adversely affecting coastal residents, Tommy and his associates have collected socioeconomic data on the scale of communities to individuals. Seeing as the reserves only make up 3% of Oregon’s coastal area, these effects are difficult to disentangle from larger trends. This is where studies on the individual level–specifically of well-being, world view, and feelings–become crucial. For this, you need an anthropologist.
Specifically, you need Elizabeth Marino. Beth is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at OSU-Cascades, and every now and then she will be driving down from Bend, OR to conduct interviews on fishers and to mentor me. I am inspired by her outlook, knowledge, empathy, and dedication to her work. Just to give you an idea of her background, Beth is the author of Fierce Climate, Sacred Ground: An Ethnography of Climate Change in Shishmaref, Alaska. This documents her decade-long research on some of the first climate refugees, the Iñupiaq people, who are running out of time while their home is engulfed by the sea. Needless to say, her work has real-world consequences.
I am humbled to be working under these incredible researchers and people. By the week’s end, I now know where I fit into the Human Dimensions Research Project:
First and foremost, I will be conducting interviews of fishers on their knowledge of the local ocean–which can span back five generations–and on how marine reserves might be affecting their livelihoods. Giving them a voice just might reveal effects that quantitative data fails to do alone.
Secondly, I am already in the process of coding (aka categorizing) open-ended responses of a well-being survey of coastal residents. This converts qualitative responses to quantitative data, which could reveal how geography, community culture, and economic well-being all correspond to people’s feelings. It also speaks to what people value and how much they are willing to give up for these values.
Lastly, I will be trained on how to maintain an ongoing database of the economic status of coastal communities.
I am beyond excited to see where this work takes me.
Other snapshots from my first week in Newport, OR, my home for this summer:
(Almost) every OSG Summer Scholar working at the Hatfield Marine Science Center. From left to right: Me, Abby Ernest-Beck (EPA), Dani Hanelin (ODFW), and Taylor Ely (ODFW-Marine Reserves). Not pictured + photocreds: Anna Bolm (USDA).
The expanse of Nye Beach, the first beach I visited upon arriving in Newport, looking at Yaquina Head.
A lush beach-side cliff of salal. Coming from a background in both terrestrial and marine science, I am seeing from daily excursions how the ecology of coastal Oregon is not very different from that of western Washington. It feels like home–except with massive beaches of soft sand.
Some of my new friends on the Sea Lion Docks in South Beach.
Yaquina Head Lighthouse, which we visited the very next day.
I cannot take credit for that phrase; unfortunately, as it is quite commonplace here in Curry County. As it should be, though – this place encourages a relaxed-yet-somehow-also-adventurous lifestyle with its numerous hiking trails, secret coves, breweries, thriving rivers, and gorgeous sunsets. As stated in my last post, Dustin and I are here staying at the Port Orford Research Station to shadow two photographers from Portland, Justin and Erik, as part of the South Coast’s media asset building project. South Coast expert Dave Lacey (owner of South Coast Tours) took us around to his favorite spots to partake in various outdoor activities for Justin and Erik to photograph. We essentially ended up being their outdoor recreation models while also shadowing them throughout the trip. It was a fantastic learning experience, as we got to ask them all the questions we liked about photography and the industry, equipment, freelance work, life, etc., all the while paddle boarding in the clearest creeks and over bait balls in the ocean, jumping off boulders into the Chetco river with steelhead fry swimming underneath us, catching newts, tide pooling, drinking local beer, and chasing sunsets. It was definitely one of the best experiences I was fortunate enough to have. I ALSO SAW A RIVER OTTER FOR THE FIRST TIME ON THE VERY FIRST DAY OF SHOOTING. The trip could’ve ended there and it would have been a-okay.
Staying at the Research Station has been fantastic as well. There is something special about staying in a place that is primarily used by scientists, especially one on the coast near a marine reserve. To put it simply, this is the kind of thing I signed up for. For example, there are rockfish illustrations adorning the walls and books about Oregon coast hiking and marine biology filling the bookcase in my room. There’s also a frozen marbled murrelet in the freezer that has, according to Erik, been there waiting for an Audubon guy to pick it up since Erik was there last. Gross, but it honestly warms my heart. For science, right?
When expressing my interest in sperm whales, the station manager, Tom Calvanese (who is also a marine biologist, diver, rockfish researcher, and the Port Commissioner) lent me Bryant Austin‘s book, Beautiful Whale. Austin created the first ever high-resolution, life-sized composite images of humpback, sperm, and minke whales, and the book chronicles the dramatic story of how he did it.
I devoured that thing in one morning (okay, it’s relatively short, but still). I want to include a passage from the book here because it describes my sentiments about the species so precisely. When describing how it feels to meet the gaze of a whale within six feet, Austin says,
“It is disturbing, because this whale is challenging me to reevaluate our perceptions of intelligent, conscious life on this planet. And that which is challenging these perceptions may also disappear in our lifetimes. What compels me most of all is the thought of losing over five million years of evolving culture and communication in the largest brain ever to exist on Earth, and never to have understood it.” (He’s talking about sperm whales, whose brains are the largest of any creature and have been evolving for over five millions years). “Carl Sagan once said, ‘We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.’ We, being the self-aware cosmos, will lose a significant part of ourselves should we allow these creatures to go extinct.”
Tom also told me about a group of whale researchers who will be staying at the research station for the rest of the summer starting tomorrow. They will be tracking whales along the South Coast as part of a larger research project concerning whale excretion, prey, and ocean acoustics; I will hopefully get to meet them this summer. After seeing James Nestor’s Bioneers speech about Darewin and sperm whales a few months ago, I’ve been reading his book Deep and have been very interested in the creatures since. The plan is to someday become a free diver, join James and Darewin, communicate with the whales, and change the world. Just kidding. (But maybe). Also, sperm whales have learned to take sablefish (black cod) off of commercial long lines in the Gulf of Alaska and other places with their extremely dexterous jaws. This depredation is a huge problem for fishermen as black cod is an extremely marketable (and declining) species of fish, and it has caused significant economic loss for fishermen. Watch this eerie video of it happening. The clicks you hear are the whales.
The whales have begun to learn that the acoustics produced by the engine slipping in and out of gear while the fishermen haul the lines up mean that they get a free meal. Southeast Alaska Sperm Whale Avoidance Project is a group of scientists, fishermen, and fisheries managers working together to understand this issue and develop solutions to decrease the interactions while maintaining both whale populations and fisheries.
Being at the research station has been so enriching – learning about whales, getting to know the fellows next door at the Port Orford Sustainable Seafood office, receiving professional and project management advice from Tom (thanks Tom), running early on the beach, cooking delicious meals (thanks fully equipped kitchen), and posting up at sunset upstairs to catch the view.
Above & below: the view from my room.
We also got to know a BEAUTIFUL retired British couple who lives in Port Orford; Rowland is kindly donating some gorgeous wildlife photographs to our project. They took Dustin and I on a wonderful hike and they had us laughing the whole time while they lovingly bickered, told wild stories, and skillfully identified species of plants and insects.
I’d love to live here someday. I didn’t get the chance to see everything, but the people, the views, and Olivia the toothless cat at Tasty Kate’s were enough to get me hooked. Until next time, Port Orford! Here are some more pictures of the adventure (and four rolls of film in the near future. I don’t care what you say Rowly, film is better).
I couldn’t think of a better last day than having it be the last Shop at the Dock. I spent Thursday making some baked goods to thank all of the fishermen who participated in the program (and tolerated our presence on the docks). Through all of the events, the best part was getting to see how grateful participants and fishermen were and I’m lucky to have been a part of it.
I am unbelievably proud of this.
With the program over, I’ll look forward to spending some time with my family, getting in some traveling, and finding a job. I’ve always been interested in science and education. Helping with Shop at the Dock and being a part of Sea Grant has solidified my interest in pursuing both. It was really great seeing what a powerful tool education can be and I’d like to find a career where I can incorporate education and outreach with science.
So long Sea Grant
I wanted to finish off by thanking the village of people who worked so hard to make this summer happen. So thanks Haley, Mary, Sarah and every other Sea Grant employee who made the Summer Scholars Program possible. I am eternally grateful to my mentors, Kaety Jacobson and Kelsey Miller, for the wealth of information, the never-ending guidance and support, and for being a constant source of inspiration. Also huge thanks to the rest of the Shop at the Dock crew- Jess Porquez, Amanda Gladics, and Mark Farley- for teaching me about Newport, fisheries, different career paths, and how to be understanding and gracious towards others with conflicting opinions.
Thank you to my fellow Summer Scholars, who made this summer unforgettable. I’m so grateful to have been surrounded by such incredible, kind, and caring people and I will miss you all dearly. Cheers to the many outdoor adventures, the endless sass and sarcasm, the great meals and conversations, and everything in between.
And finally, thanks very much for reading and (hopefully) listening along with me. I’ll finish this post with my final song of the summer from Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros called Home. Partly because I’m happy to be headed home for a bit, but mostly because I’m so grateful to have found a little piece of home along the Oregon Coast. Newport, you will be missed.
Communication is easy these days… but it also is not.
With the plethora of electronic devices and media sharing platforms right at our fingertips, we are bombarded with information about so many different things that it can be tough to retain the full message.
Something that struck me about my research this summer was that of the 600+ individuals who responded to my ocean awareness survey, a good majority of them indicated the Internet or social media was their preferred method of receiving information about ocean issues. This got me thinking…
Social media can be an enjoyable way to get a quick glimpse into an issue or topic relating to science and I’ll admit I’ve learned a thing or two scrolling through Facebook. But I’m not convinced something like Facebook is the best platform for the kind of communication the public needs. It’s a quick click and that’s it, since many of us don’t take the time to fully read through an article. But you can’t blame social media, because that’s what it’s there for: a convenient offering of information that we would not take the time to look up otherwise.
As sort of a theme of this summer, science communication is a crucial step toward any effort in conservation. When it boils down to it, really the objective of my summer was talking to strangers to gather useful information relating to science communication. And I found that you learn a lot just by talking to people. One thing I learned is that people generally seemed to care and be interested in the subject of ocean threats, and that was encouraging. But when they were asked on my survey whether it is easy to obtain information about the topic of ocean issues, I frequently heard individuals say something like, “I’m sure it is, but I haven’t taken the time to look!
In a way, I think I kind of stood in as the social media here. While my role wasn’t to directly educate the public, I was offering a glimpse into several ocean issues that some people had not heard about before. More often than not, those who filled out my survey told me they were going to go home and do some research on these issues because they are eager to learn more. And that was really cool to see the impact of my work.
So my simple solution is this: talk to strangers. There is such an abundance of information presented in many different ways out there on the Internet, but if we get some real conversation flowing, I think progress can be made. At the end of the day, you’re going to remember the interactions you had with people much more than those with your computer. So why not pose a question to a stranger about an environmental issue? The responses are not always going to be positive, but I am hopeful that it’s a start to getting people thinking in ways they hadn’t before.
You can’t live in the Pacific Northwest having never surfed. Okay, so it’s not really like that. But most days, you’ll find the beaches here packed with surfers either on their pre-work wave riding routine, taking a quick “lunch break,” or catching the evening swell before the sun sets. If there’s any truth to the statement above, I guess I can leave here with the pride of an Oregonian.
Waves breaking at sunset. Photo: Justin Dalaba.
Since a young age, I’ve always loved watching waves and felt drawn to them, but until now I never really had a means of riding one. Having a surfboard might have helped, but there’s a difference between learning to surf and putting yourself at the mercy of a big breaker with no clue how to either escape or ride the wave. Fortunately, living within walking distance of popular surf spots this summer made my goal of learning to surf much more attainable.
Jess Vaccare (left), our instructor (middle) and myself (right) heading out to surf. Photo: Skyler Elmstrom.
There are two things you learn right away about surfing the central coast of Oregon. First, the water is cold. And that pretty much never changes. It helps coming from a background of coldwater diving, but you’re still never really prepared for when that first wave breaks over your head, sending brisk seawater down your wetsuit. Second, expect the conditions to change pretty quickly at any point in the day. It rains basically half the year here and the accompanying wind and fog can be just as enduring. I learned how brutal paddling into the wind and waves can be during my second surf session when a sunny day was quickly consumed by wind and fog. So if numb hands and salty eyes don’t bother you, this is the place to surf.
Post-surf stoke. Photo: Skyler Elmstrom.
The hardest part about surfing (from a beginner’s perspective) is getting yourself in the water and learning to read the ocean. You can really wear yourself out quickly by paddling into waves and trying to get up on every one that looks worthy of riding, but if you’re patient and wait for the right one, there’s nothing that compares to the feeling of being on your feet with gravity in your favor. For me, that lucky wave came on my second attempt. Something just felt right as I rotated around, took a few long strokes and felt the surge of water tip my board down. Once I got into my stance, it was almost effortless as I let the wave do most of the work.
Evening swell on the Oregon coast.
I was stoked. All of my irrational fears about failing and tumbling down the wave had vanished. From now on, I’ll probably always associate surfing with my first experience here on the Oregon coast. I couldn’t think of a better setting with better people to surf with. But I think half the fun of surfing is finding new places and new buddies who can share their experiences with you. I don’t think this was just another bucket list item for me; rather this will be another outlet for me to explore what’s out there before it’s gone. Our ocean is such a great resource in many ways and in order to conserve it, we first have to appreciate it and find a love for it.
Whales are neat. Well, that’s my opinion at least and I hope you feel the same way by the end of these short paragraphs. Recently, I’ve become so attuned to searching for whales while conducting visitor surveys on the Oregon coast that the visitors at Depot Bay ask me questions about the whales as I stand there in my ODFW hat. I graciously answer to the best of my ability, making it clear that I am far from an expert on the topic and then let them know that I am actually studying humans (but maybe we’re more or less one in the same).
I’ve been envious of the visitors who share stories about their whale watching tour in Depot Bay. It just so happens that the REU students who live next door were going whale watching this weekend and they invited the Sea Grant scholars to tag along for a discount price. I had heard a couple of months back about a whale researcher in Depot Bay, named Carrie. As it turns out, Carrie Newell was the one who generously offered the Hatfield interns a discount on a private whale-watching excursion early Sunday morning.
Carrie and the Hatfield interns spotting whales.
As if Carrie’s energy and passion for her work wasn’t encouraging enough, something that her coworker Captain Dan said out on the water really struck a cord with me. As we approached a female whale in our zodiac, she flashed her fluke and dove down, leaving everyone in a moment of silent awe. Captain Dan then started explaining to us how this whale (Ginger was her name) seems to always fluke and each of the resident whales in Oregon has their own identifiable characteristic. He said he even has suspicion that at least one of the whales intentionally tries to sneak up and startle everyone in the boat. It was then that Captain Dan said, “You know, I’ve learned a lot from Carrie and from the textbooks, but no one can teach you about the personality of these animals until you’re out here with them every day.”
Carrie Newell and her first mate Kida.
I think what Captain Dan said resonated with me for a couple of reasons. First, whales are intelligent and social animals, just like humans. Humans tend to feel a strong connection to what they can relate to. Second, I am perpetually fascinated by how little we know about our expansive ocean and find it humbling to think about. Reflecting a little more deeply on the second thought, I realized individuality defines a lot more than a biology textbook could explain. If whales really are trying to playfully spook people in a boat as Captain Dan suspects, then perhaps they really are a lot more like us than we think.
Over the years, humans and whales have had a relationship that some might call “complicated.” I think now, more than ever, through the powerful influence of media and the efforts of Greenpeace, people want to save whales and dolphins rather than exploit them as a natural resource. If we could all take the time to connect a little more closely with the environment around us, I think we might learn a lot from those who share this planet with us.
As a child, my mother instilled in me her love of birds. I used to sit with her field guides and identify species as they landed on the feeders just outside our windows. My mom further encouraged my fascination by allowing me to incubate quail eggs and raise both ducks and chickens. Her only objections came when I set live traps with seed near her feeders. Nonetheless, I was destined to be a birder. Of all the bird species I have encountered, my favorite remains the long-legged bird I grew up watching hunt at the lake by my house: The Great Blue Heron.
Blue herons are large birds with wingspans reaching up to 6 feet. Adults display greyish blue bodies with long black plumes flowing off the back of their heads and thighs the color of pine bark. When they fly, their long necks coil back much like a snake ready to strike. These birds have specialized feathers on their chest that are continuously growing, similar to hair. Blue herons grip these feathers with their feet and use them like washcloths to remove fish oils and other slime from their feathers. Little known fact: there is a white color variant great blue heron found in southern Florida and Eastern Mexico. (See picture below) #NotAnEgret
These magnificent creatures are also deeply integrated into the fabric of the food webs they reside in. The blue heron’s predator-prey interactions have shown to be quite complex. For instance, in the Southeastern United States, blue heron nest colonies are commonly found above alligator infested waters. While this might seem unusual, this is a mutualistic relationship. By nesting in the trees above alligator territory, herons make it difficult for other animals to climb up and eat their eggs. Waterbirds typically hatch more offspring than they can feed. Runts are bumped out by larger chicks and become alligator food. Furthermore, the birds’ feces adds nutrients to ground below nests, leading to a higher abundance of fish and reptiles… food for both species.
*Pictured below is a great blue heron making off with a young alligator.*
In my mind, blue herons are the ecological masters of North America. What about bears and other predatory mammals, you say? While these types of creatures can overpower all they encounter and have no natural predators, they are not necessarily the best adapted species for the environments of our continent. In winter months, when food is scarce, bears are forced to hibernate and wolves must travel long distances in pursuit of infrequent prey. Blue herons, on the other hand, simply fly to warmer climates where food is abundant. Wings seem to be a necessary adaptation when conquering the environments of an entire continent. Wings allow blue herons to spend their summers from Alaska to Nova Scotia and their winters anywhere from the Galapagos Islands to the West Indies.
Wings are not the only attribute that makes the great blue heron note worthy. Birds of Prey, such as the bald eagle, also have wings, but these birds’ distribution and territory is limited by foraging strategy and diet. When bald eagles hunt, they perch on branches overlooking bodies of water and wait for a fish to present itself. In contrast, blue herons actively forage for prey in the water and feed on a wider variety of organisms, including: shrimp, crabs, aquatic insects, fish, snakes, lizards, frogs, rodents, and small birds. Their diverse diet is plentiful and evenly distributed, enabling them remain further north later into winter. This allows them to dominate territory with little to no competition.
I have a tendency to regularly encounter these birds. I have seen them spear sea trout on the flats of gulf coast barrier islands, perch along Appalachian Mountain streams, and pluck Dungeness from Oregon’s estuaries. Every time I see a blue heron, I’m filled with a sense of security and amazement that makes me feel like a child. I like to think of them as a good omen and a reminder that my home is greater than the state I was raised in.
I’m not exactly sure where my love for these birds comes from, but they seem to be a pretty common theme in my life. It might come as no surprise that the organization I volunteer for back home and the research reserve I was placed at through the Summer Scholars program share a particular mascot…
A lot has happened since my last post. This week alone I have worked on an ODFW lamprey assessment by electrofishing Winchester Creek’s headwaters, participated in a Sea Grant funded eel grass monitoring survey, and seined for juvenile fish with visiting scientists from OSU. Most importantly, I have successfully completed all of my crab sampling in the South Slough Research Reserve. After deploying 160 traps, I processed over 2,100 crabs in just 12 days. Of these only 86 were the invasive green crabs I was targeting.
Though I had wished to collected more data on the species, my mentor and her colleagues were pleased with my results. I found green crabs in locations they have never been found before. My data also indicates the highest abundance of these crabs in the Coos estuary in the last 19 years. I am currently collaborating with a professor from OSU to publish a report on the status of the European Green Crab along Oregon’s Coast. Please enjoy the pictures below taken on my last day of sampling.
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.
Hitting the trail early with a goal in view.
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.
Early morning wake up with headlamp.
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.
Looking down of Teardrop pool, Oregon’s highest lake, from the loose rock trail.
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.
Farther than it looks, the summit looms over this steep scramble.
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.
The final steps to the summit of South Sister.
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.
Stopped for a swim at Moraine Lake after descending.