August 28, 2022
Campsite at mile 2256.7 to campsite at mile 2277.3 with an amazing view of Mt. Adams
The morning is cool and misty, the kind of mist you imagine when you picture the forest in Washington. Are there vampires running loose in these woods? I don’t know, but there are mushrooms. Loads of them. Jumbo points out a gorgeous red and white spotted mushroom, what looks like amanita muscaria. Today’s going to be magical.
I walk with Jumbo for the first five miles. Our conversation starts with discussing whether our younger selves would have ever imagined us doing something like this trip, and then, as so many of our conversations do, we return to school, how Jumbo hated it, and how I loved it. By then we’re at the first water source. I’m almost out, but Jumbo has enough and feels good, so he keeps going. I fill up and then continue through the lush woods.
The sun has begun to come out by now, so it’s getting a little warmer. This stretch of four miles is so easy that it seems to go by in the blink of an eye. I run into Jumbo parked on a shitty little clearing in the sun. He says he couldn’t see anywhere better to break, but I have a hunch that there might be something a little better up ahead. It turns out that I’m right; there’s a trail junction with a huge shady, flat patch. Tribute comes along and he and I help Jumbo carry his stuff to this far superior break site. We settle in for a quality break. I have a next-level sandwich: summer sausage, hummus from a dry mix, and sriracha on a sourdough English muffin. I’ll take my culinary degree now, please.
It’s quiet at first, just the three of us and then four when Feather joins. Then Disaster and Big Oil, two hikers that none of us knows well but who keep popping up and are super friendly, park it and we chat while finishing our hot drinks. Then, as if by magic, Shaggy and his tramily come sauntering into the clearing from a side trail.
“Hey!” he booms in his erratic, open, cheerful London accent, with that grin that could power several small villages. “What is this! What a treat!” He goes on, thrilled to see us as though we were celebrities he’d been dying to meet.
We chat about our past few days on the trail and our plans for the rest of it. He says they’re going to a frat party in Seattle. He doesn’t know when or where this frat party is going to be, but he’s confident that he’ll be able to locate one. After all, he says, they went to one in San Diego. Apparently he’d heard about frat parties so much from TV and movies that he had to check it out. From the sounds of it, it was exactly what he was expecting, and he was not disappointed.
He asks if he can take a picture with us, which, duh, we agree to. Then, since we’ve been there for a while now, we continue down the trail.
There’s yet another uphill, and Jumbo and I walk it together. We stop at a water source part of the way up. It’s a small trickle and it requires some maneuvering to get my CNOC in, but on the bright side, there’s a very cute frog.
Towards the top of the hill, the trees start to thin out and the views get better and better. We hike briefly with Clash and Bruja, who ask us what our post-trail plans are. The question doesn’t freak me out anymore. After a week or so off at home, I’m going back to my part-time online teaching job that I love while I work on some creative projects and figure out what’s next. Jumbo is dreaming about moving to a new city in England and starting a different job. I’m remembering that the sense of adventure and excitement for the possibilities around every corner that I have out here don’t have to be limited to the trail. Am I sad this is ending? Absolutely. Of course. I dream of the desert and going back to the beginning every day. But the future is such an unimaginably large place. To put anything other than hope and thrill into the idea of it is mind-bogglingly reductive. Good things are here, and good things are coming.
Speaking of good things, the view at the crest of the hill is genuinely breathtaking. We’re technically in Goat Rocks Wilderness now, and we’re facing a ridge that contains several rocky peaks with names like the Goat Citadel. The scope of these mountains is Sierra-like, but with their own character. I stand there and take it all in.
It’s another mile to Cispus Pass, but it feels like much less because the ridge is completely exposed and there’s nothing but views. I enter a section in shadows and look up to my left to see a wall of rock that has the same hexagonal lava flow formation as Devil’s Postpile. Then, to my right, I hear the high-pitched beep of a pika.
I always hear them but never see them. I’m determined to spot one this time. It beeps again, this time closer. Then I see it! A little creature with big ears is scurrying across the rocks in front of me, carrying something green in its mouth. A tiny pika salad! It beeps again, then skitters across the trail and up the slope. It beeps, then another pika beeps in the valley below. They go back and forth for a minute. What are they talking about? Arguing? Warning about the hikers? Inviting one another to a pika party tonight? Who knows.
I make it to the top of Cispus Pass and wait for Jumbo to get there. Then we continue down the other side. Our brains are immediately blasted with so much visual information. There are rocky ridges in the distance topped with craggy snowcapped peaks. The rocky sides of the mountains smooth downwards into green meadows and wildflowers and creeks. Jumbo and I spot a herd of goats grazing on one of the green patches. When we get to the water, Bruja and Clash are coming down.
“Just look at this view and tell me what country this is,” says Bruja.
Jumbo answers immediately. “Switzerland.”
Clash starts to sing the goatherd song from The Sound of Music, and I finish the line, drawing the tune from some deep memory. It is insanely alpine here. How can you not sing?
Up on the hill there are two guys with a monocular looking at the herd of goats. They let us use it so that we can see them better. They’re so much hairier and more muscular than I’d imagined! I’m irrationally pleased that I got to see a herd of mountain goats in Goat Rocks Wilderness.
We walk almost in a trance through this wonderland. Everywhere I look, it’s more and more wonderful. There’s a patch of red paintbrush growing in the spray from a cold creek. Here’s a twenty foot tall waterfall that the trail crosses right past. A huge cliff makes its way down to a valley so far below. Trees cast huge shadows on perfectly green grass.
There’s a steep uphill after that, and Jumbo and I take it at a good clip because we’re determined to get a campsite. As we make our way up the steep, rocky slope, we get increasingly amazing views back towards Mt. Adams, its glaciers glinting in the dying daylight.
We find a campsite that overlooks the mountain and the rolling hills below it and claim it. Jumbo and I set up for cowboy camping together facing the mountain while Tribute takes a more substantial spot for his bivy below. I walk up the hill to catch a view of the setting sun over a ridge and see Rainier up close for the first time. Then I come back down to the campsite, snuggle into my quilt, make a cup of tea, and watch the end of the day settle like a blanket over the remote mountains and ridge lines of Washington. Pikas beep around us. Wind rustles the wildflowers. Goodnight, Washington.
I wake up in the middle of the night to pee, and the sky is on fire with stars. Comets shoot across the sky leaving liquid tails of light. The Milky Way dances in a vertical arc above me. I lie there staring up. I cannot take in the privilege of this life. To see the whole deep sky, to fall asleep in the mountains, to lie on the ground cradled by wild paintbrush and pikas and friendship. What even is this. What did I do to deserve to be here. I love this trail. I love this trail. I love this trail.