Koma Kolshan, The Great White One, Mt. Baker—my new favorite mountain.
As a child, my family frequented Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens. If we ever went to Mt. Adams (not so far from St. Helens), Mt. Baker (just south of Canada), or Mt. Hood (in Oregon), I have no memory of it. I suppose because they were farther away—Baker, at least, is not a day trip. And Mama says we didn’t camp all that much. Isn’t that odd: camping is one of my closest held memories. I don’t know if my memory is faulty or hers.
Last summer I camped at beautiful and remote Takhlakh Lake, with Mt. Adams reflecting in its waters. I visited again for a day trip in the fall. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. It’s still my choice for sitting by the lake or the fire. Although I have loved the soothing sound of rushing water from my air mattress raft as I lay listening from my tent to the Little River in the Smoky Mountains’ Elkmont Campground and Graybeard Stream at Montreat Campground in North Carolina and now North Fork Nooksack River at Silver Fir Campground near the end of Mt. Baker Highway, I discovered a fondness for the activity on smooth water. I will return next summer just to sit for hours, listening to the plopping of jumping fish and the slapping of kayak paddles; watching the fishing osprey and eagles; sitting with the fog that settles over the stillness at dawn before succumbing to the warming sun that reveals the snow-capped peak; basking in the moon glow as it hangs in the darkening sky.
For hiking and flower meadows and sweeping vistas, though, I have had a lifelong love affair with Mt. Rainier.
And then I went to Koma Kulshan. I’m over Rainier; I have a new love. I am fickle when it comes to love.
I pitched my tent above the river at a spot where it divides briefly into three; and where the morning sun would slant through the alders, firs, cedars, and hemlocks and shine on the grassy knoll high above the far shore.
After I set up camp, I hiked for an hour or so through the forest up the Hannegan Pass trail that begins at the end of a 12-mile gravel Forest Service road across from the campground, passing the craggy cliffs of Nooksack Ridge that snowmelt trickled and tumbled down, until I reached a partial view of Mt. Ruth and turned back before the going started seriously up.
Monday morning, I set my sights and new trekking poles (why did I not get them long ago?) on Skyline Divide—two hours of relentless up-shit, and of course the corresponding excruciating descent. But oh my the top. 360 degrees of top-of-the-world eye candy. Mt. Baker (Koma Kulshan, the more interesting name bestowed by the first peoples); Mt. Shuksan; and Mts. Ruth, Table, and Goat, which I couldn’t identify. You can see Canada from there if you know where to look. And Puget Sound if one hikes farther than I did (next time perhaps). I felt like twirling and singing in the wildflower saturated meadow; I looked around for Julie. But I didn’t want to speak. There should have been a sign suggesting voices be kept to a whisper. I’m not even sure how one could talk: it took my breath away. I was glad to be alone.
I stayed two hours. I wanted never to leave. And then I had to. I had reached my fill. Any longer, I would have exploded.