12 July 2017

Finding a Friendly Place

When an old friend and I began talking about taking a hike together, I didn't realize it would lead to making a new friend of a strangely familiar place, but that's what happened on my trip to the Mount Adams Wilderness last week.

Looking up at Mount Adams from the Killen Creek Trail.
For some years, a friend I have known since elementary school and I have discussed plans for a hike. We grew up in the same area, playing sports and musical instruments and occasionally fishing together, and we thought a hike might make another good adventure to share. Eventually, we settled on Killen Creek Trail #113 near Mount Adams, an area I didn't know well but that provided a nice central meeting point.

Growing up in western Washington, I considered Mount Adams more of an acquaintance than a friend. Its placement in the eastern half of the Cascade Mountains meant I could see it occasionally (though partially obscured) from high points near my home. On the other hand, I felt a much deeper connection with Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens, the former in particular. I saw them regularly and built a kinship with them. When I see Mount Rainier, I instantly think of home.

Without much knowledge of the Mount Adams Wilderness, I went into the hike a little nervous. After all, my friend and I had to coordinate family schedules, bring all the right equipment, and find our way to a fairly remote trailhead. The trepidation proved unjustified, and I found myself looking over a new setting with which my heart felt a deep connection.

From the moment we turned off Highway 12 onto Forest Road 21, I began to like the area. Though dusty, the road enjoyed a canopy of trees that offered a warm embrace. I grew up surrounded by trees, so I love having them overhead, and although the ones leading to Mount Adams grew smaller as we moved closer to the mountain, they kept us company for the entire drive and hike. On the road and the trail, they provided shade against a sunny, warm day. In the clear air of the mountain meadows we crossed during the hike, they glowed green. Then, as I looked out from our stopping point just northwest of Mount Adams, I heard myself say with a smile, "Look at all the trees." They stretched out in a sea of varying green shades all the way to Mount Rainier, which glistened in the sun 50 miles north of our position, and I realized how much they made me feel at home in the shadow of a volcano I'd previously known only in passing.

Coming prepared for the hike added to the connection I felt to my novel surroundings. In May, I purchased a pair of trekking poles for added stability on hikes. They paid for themselves in just that one day on the Killen Creek Trail. Along with giving me extra points of control and taking strain off my legs while ascending and descending, the poles made the snow we encountered a source of joy rather than stress. The control they provided on an otherwise slippery surface allowed me to embrace the snow for its refreshing coolness. Even when I stepped through a weak spot up to my knee, I kind of liked it. Instead of resenting the snow as an obstacle, I reflected on how good it was to still have snow this late in the year after two years of hot, dry springs and summers in the Pacific Northwest. I prefer the cooler months of the year anyway, so I felt glad that I had the chance to walk up and meet a bit of winter in July.

Finally, hiking the trail with my mom and my friend and his family brought the new and the familiar of the experience together in perfect symmetry. Gazing over the landscape from our stopping point, I realized and appreciated how far into the wilderness I had gone, but I didn't feel disconnected from anything or out of place. I could have stayed there for hours more. Even the aggressive mosquitoes we fought during the hike, while breaking through the insect repellent, never broke through the feeling that I belonged there.

In the process of reconnecting with an old friend, I found another I never knew I had, and for years to come, I'll think of that distant mountain as a friendly place.

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