Mt. Ellinor

I always have the same thought when I go hiking: “This is why I ride horses.”


Not to say riding horses is, per say, easier overall. Just ask my thighs, calves, & bouncing boobs at the end of a long ride. But it’s a different kind of work, & besides the few times I’ve landed on my ass glancing wonderingly at the sky, I’ve never had to pant like a dog while riding.


Last Saturday I summited a mountain. It wasn’t my first, that was Mt. Washington in New Hampshire during college. It’s the kind of climb where it always felt vaguely unfair to me that I had toiled up & up & up that rocky face, only to be confronted by a family who’d driven up the other side in a minivan, but I digress.


Mt. Ellinor is the most rewarding climb, which is what everyone kept telling me on their way down as I sat, sucking down Gatorade or panting at the edge of some switchback. I lost count of the number of times I almost quit, decided it wasn’t worth it, & went down to the comfortable embrace of the Emerald Queen.


I was alone, aside from the 200 odd other people on the trail that day, & the only thing I was accountable to was the picture in my heart of the view I’d seen, from one of the photographers I follow on Facebook, where they’d summited the mountain few days before. I wanted to see Seattle, Puget Sound, & the Olympics from a high I had to earn.

So after every switchback, rock scramble, & random bug slap, I seriously reevaluated my priorities, going through the stages of grieving, only “Jame’s stages of hiking.”


The first ½ mile or so is a jaunty, “look at me! I’m hiking!” easy moving out. This drop rapidly to a settled “fuck this all”-itis I carry more or less until the first viewpoint.

 Hiking sucks. Bugs suck. I could be holed up in a bookstore somewhere, not sweating like a pig & using my own two damn feet to get up this overgrown rock. Hiking is overrated. How much farther? A 1000 feet up that? I’m a crazy person. Why hasn’t somebody locked me up yet, for my own good. Oh look, look at the hot college students scampering upwards & downwards like puppies. Nod & smile & say some sarcastic remark, but take a breath first or else you sound like a mosquito. Why is everyone on this trail so nice, hiking sucks. You people are weird. How far is the car if I turn around now?


That’s when I looked up from my toil, realizing I was halfway there not because of any trail markers but because I was in a zone I’d always been fascinated with in college, the krummholz. It’s a subalpine zone where the trees still survive, but due to poor soils, erosion, & near constant wind, they don’t grow very high & they have a very dense, gnarled growth. It’s a sure sign you’ve almost reached tree line, & that was the first thing that kept me moving upwards at a glacial but slightly more determined pace.


The second was reaching the first real viewpoint at tree line, soon after watching a bachelor party tramping & chattering downwards.  I was able to stop & enjoy the view of the lake below, & just make out Puget Sound, but Seattle was hidden by a cloud bank that was rapidly filling in the waterways & valleys below me & chasing me up the mountain. It wasn’t the view (or the selfie to prove I’d earned the view) that I was set on, & besides, the real rock scramble had just begun.

 Also, for every single downwards hiker that flat out lied & said “You’re almost there! It’s so worth it!” Bless your hearts, honestly, cause I almost lost it halfway up the talus steps.


Now, I’ve been a happy tomboy a great majority of my life, & pink was the worst color to me for years (still kinda is, I mean, c’mon why does every girly thing have to be pink?) But the noises I made when I scrambled up the last sharp boulders, rounded a corner & saw this laid out before me after 3.5 miles & a 3000 foot climb, well, can only be described as not quite hysterical squealing.


So, I summited a mountain. I earned my right to sit on the couch half of Sunday, reading a book & petting the purring cat. The house is still a bit in shambles but it pretty much always will be, & it’s fine place to be.

To climb a…saddle?


My son continues to impress me each & every day, but last Monday was even more so as I saw him through other people’s eyes. I didn’t want to deal with the crowds camping over the holiday weekend, but I had an itch for a view. So I settled for a hike, but in my way of scattershot planning, picked one that was harder than I expected. The world’s longest suffering boyfriend headed back to the car after 2 miles of upward, slightly buggy heat, but the kiddo stuck with me even when we gave him every out possible.


And boy, did that kid kick ass. We headed up to the saddle near the summit of Mount Hamilton (we didn’t head to the summit as Kade is only 5, & that’s a steep cliff to sidle along). This is on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, which took us 9 miles, 2000 feet elevation gain & loss in less than five hours. Being in the brilliantly green, growing woods we can focus inwards and outwards at once, covering such topics as finding the best stick, what airplane is flying above (Tom would know), why Mommy goes to her boring job everyday, & the somewhat incomprehensible to anyone over the age of 8 games he plays at school with his friends. Kade earned his giant bowl of chocolate ice cream with whip cream & a cherry on top a million times over (we started naming what we wanted when we reached the car on the way down; ice cream, always ice cream).

So far this season we’ve done four major hikes together, but this one we didn’t start until later in the day & was by far the hardest I’ve ever asked him to do. Kade only faltered at the end, when the ice cream the boyfriend had grabbed for us in Stevenson had melted because it took us so long to get down (this was solved by a quick stop at the thank you a zillion times for being open on a Federal holiday Baskin Robbins!) I only carried him for about 50 feet, & he hiked the rest with me, hauling his little Deuter pack of snacks & a change of shoes. While we were on the saddle, taking pictures & stuffing said snacks down our gullets, a few very nice gentlemen offered to take one of my current favorite pictures of the both of us. They kept mentioning how big a deal it was that this little kid made it all the way up here, all by himself (well, with some hand holding & much encouragement from the mommy lady).

I’ve been hiking ever since my parents first kicked me out for a summer at a camp in California when I was ten (or was it eleven?), & hated it for a good long while. Oh, I loved the arriving somewhere, but the whole hauling things upwards I didn’t cherish (this is why we have draft animals people!) It’s only since Kade came along that I’ve learned to love it, even when I don’t stop to think how big a deal it is to other people to see a little kid hiking like he does.


We get so distracted in our daily lives trying to juggle the day job, the hobbies, the household, the cruddy adulting stuff that I push the hiking & camping as a way to focus just on this golden kid. He’s growing up & forming & becoming himself right before my eyes. He wrote his full name for the first time without help last week!


Choosing a trip to do, pouring over the maps, loading up & heading out gets us just that, out where we can both loosen up & just enjoy being together. At this point it seems likely I’m only going to do this kid thing once, & while I make plenty of questionable decisions & struggle to pay enough attention, getting outdoors with Kade is my way of being the best parent to the best kid, if only for a weekend & the price of a campsite & a tank of gas.


I keep wondering what he’ll remember, what the highlights of his childhood will be when he’s my age & older, & I know it won’t be the busy afternoons holed up inside with Legos or the iPad while we clean house. My great hope is that it’ll be those trips to the endless waterfalls, writing his name on the beach, seeing all the creepy crawlies & fliers the woods can hold, or conquering a freaking mountain with his own legs.


Always there

Pre-coffee morning thoughts…
I have a pretty drive, which seems weird as my commute is through the heart of the Portland Metro area. Coming down & around the Terwilliger Curves, sometimes Mt. Hood is just there, your huge, friendly neighborhood Mr. Perfect GQ level mountain. He’s perfectly backlit by the softest pinks & oranges of a gorgeous sunrise, the color that blesses a good day ahead & gently lifts the spirit to be living in such a beautiful place.
This same mountain on a different day, say a cold, foggy, drippy morning, he reminds you of all the sad, foolish or just unlucky people his glaciers & forests have eaten, that he’s a volcano of immense potential. Hood has an eons long bet with his brother to the north, Mt. Rainier, set in terms of body count. He reminds you to button up & stay snug by the fire, no need to try to bag his peak today.
He’s always there, either peeking out between the glass high rises of downtown or popping up in front of you on a clear day, close enough to touch those white clad sides. He’s always watching his passes and rivers, the planes swopping past, reminding me I’m home here, with countless adventures in his forests yet to come.