Friday, April 28, 2006

Hiking as a Catharsis

I received an email today from Chris in Vancouver, BC. He wished me and my family well and expressed hope that I would get up hiking again soon. I thanked him and noted that I had gotten a few hike in but that I just had no desire or energy to post about them in the blog.

Then I stopped and re-read just what I had written . . . flashing back to re-experience those hikes in my mind. What did they do for me? Was there anything special about them? And yes, there was. I hiked because I needed the release from pent-up stress.

Having a family member in a terminal cancer condition tears you apart. There are a lot of emotional issues to deal with besides the financial ones; the disruption of life. My brother-in-law is very important to me but the wear and tear-toll subtlely worms it way into my body and spirit as well.

I've done two hikes since the last posting . . . both of them to Scenic Hot Springs at the behest of the owner. They weren't exactly recreational hikes in that he'd asked me to check out conditions of the record snowpack. So both of them started out with a sour mood . . . heck, I really din't feel like trudging through all that four-foot deep snow just to see if the springs are still running. Too much like work! And what if . . . ? Cell phones worked only sporatically out there. So the trek up began with certain feelings of guilt about being away.

Snow has such a cleansing purity about it. I'm out of shape, without showshoes, and postholing frequently in three to four feet of untrampled snow on the steep slopes. But there is the magical quality that comes with the second wind and a beautiful sunny day at a cleared section of the BPA road halfway up. I really have this entire mountain to myself.

I sit down of a cold granite boulder the size of a car and take it all in. The quiet, the cleanliness, the spiritual bright of sunlight on virgin snow. I slowly undress and stuff all the inconsequential clothing into my backpack . . . from waterproof rainpants and jacket to thermal underwear. My skin screams for sunlight and absoulutely sucks it into every pore as I stand there naked and exposed in only my hiking boots and floppy blue hat. It feels so freeing. The pack is reslung and clipped . . . survival lies back there if this is a stupid idea. I have no idea how much snow lies ahead on the trail but I'm willing to find out. The trailhead entrance is beckoning me in like the Sirens of Lorelei.

Negotiating a path above Rock Alley

The snow is much deeper on the actual trail off the BPA road, but beautifully carved into mini Grand Canyons to bare warmed hardpan where the hot spring creeks cross the trail. I encounter my first major obstacle about halfway up in a place we affectionatly call 'Rock Alley' a narrow stretch of trail deeply and severely etched by years of runoff and lined with hundreds of granitic boulders. In the narrow vee of Rock Alley all I can see is a smoothed and even eight-foot deep plug of white with a hard-won trail bravely forced through by some other intrepid hot spring seeker.

It is more than I can accomplish today. I have no desire to climb naked up those eight foot drifts of unstable snow. My body is warm and comfortable. I am content just to explore around the base and enjoy the solitude. Eventually I head back down to the thawed area near Meadows Springs and set the coat from inside the pack down on a large piece of bedrock to sit, eat the sandwich I brought along and quietly sip coffee from the thermos. It is some time before I start the slow hike back down hill; reluctant and delaying the moment I must unsling the pack once again and seek 'civilization' inside. I wait until I am at the gate . . . almost in view of busy Highway 2 before I redress for the trek down the highway to where I parked.

My second hike came but a few days after the first . . . again a snow conditions check. This time I make it past the plug at Rock Alley, enduring the shower of loose snow as I scramble naked atop and on up. A smile? Yes. I'd feared the snow earlier because of it's depth. Now I was above it and trudging on up toward the main springs.

Enjoying the view on a knoll high on the second bypass trail

Remarkably, the pool is a toasty 100F and the springs running at 111F and 105F, respectiuvely. I had expected cooler but I have the place to myself and a wonderful soak to relax myself.

The hike back down the mountain was a slow amble to enjoy the rest of the sunny afternoon. Back at the car I change out of the clothes I'd pulled on for the quarter-mile side-of-the-highway section. The heater gives warmth and laziness. I sit there feeling good wearing nothing but a long teeshirt. It wasn't until I stopped at the QFC parking lot 70 miles later in Seattle that I realized that I had driven all that way naked from the waist down. That's how relaxed I'd been feeling. Fortunately, little would have been seen since the teeshirt was a longish affair. But it did bring a rare smile to my face as I pulled on some shorts to do some dinner shopping. A day of smiles is good for the soul.

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