Interestingly, since my solo camping days began quite a few years ago, three nights has always seemed just about right. I can keep food in the cooler just that long, I can deal with the lack of a bathroom and shower about that long. In the south, I could cope with the heat pretty much that long, in the Pacific Northwest I can handle cold mornings for about three days.
I rose to the sun slanting through the trees on the third morning, and built a fire with the last of my wood. (I never built a morning fire in the south—too dang hot.) Fired up the stove one more time, made my last PB&J sandwich, collapsed my tent (thankfully not wet this time), packed the car, and took off for one more hike.
I chose the Heliotrope Ridge trail (#677). The trail guide said “strenuous,” but I thought I would just do what I could do. It was a much easier trail than Skyline Divide—blessed flatness. I was mystified. Who rates these?
Then I got to this:
Where’s the trail? No one answered. That’s pretty typical of my life these days—a definite dearth of markers or answers. A family came up behind me; the man said, “Let the fun begin.” Excuse me? I’m crossing that? Here? I watched them go first. Of course the tweens scampered right across. What’s the worst that can happen? I could twist my ankle, I suppose, but not likely. I could get my feet wet. But I wasn’t going to get swept away; though it was tumbling down hill. I may not have done it without my trekking poles, but with them it was fine; I just took it slow, planted my poles, and was glad no one was watching. (It did cross my mind the people ahead of me could have asked if I wanted them to wait. Perhaps I looked more competent than I felt.) I didn’t even stress in the knowing I would have to do it again on the return.
Then came this one:
I was more confident with the first one under my belt. I didn’t scamper, but I didn’t panic either. I stood and studied it; and knew I could do it. I kind of remembered then I might have read there were four stream crossings. Was that this trail? Yes, indeedy. The third one was nothing. I passed the trail that climbers take to ascend the flank of the Great White One, then rounded a bend to her awesomeness, the glacier sparkling in the sun. Breathtaking.
And along came the fourth crossing. I knew right away, I had reached the end of my trail.
I said as much to four women about my age sitting on the rocks by the side of the rushing, tumbling water. They said they hadn’t done it either. After they left, a young couple (no poles) with a small dog approached. They went up and down looking for a crossing. They each started across—one up river, one down (carrying the dog)—and turned back. A woman and her parents were next in the queue. The younger woman had done the crossing last week without any problem; but the week had been warm and there was a huge snow melt. The river was full. Another couple joined us and immediately declared it the end of the trail. I left ahead of all of them; perhaps the young couple got across, but I think those of us who were older—arguably wiser—knew our limits.
I didn’t have time, and maybe not energy, to take the climbers’ trail onto the glacier, at another 1500 feet elevation change, so I returned the way I came. The crossings were a piece of cake the second time.
As part of a community of family caregivers, I recognize that although we are on different paths, we all have challenges, and they are not the same. We climb our mountains and ford our streams as we come to them. For some the trail is relentlessly steep and make lungs burn and knees weak, but there is nothing particularly frightening. Some trails are more gentle, but have scary rock faces to traverse, or rocky footing threatening balance, or rushing rivers to ford. For many of us, there is a different trail each day. None of us have maps or markers; we take it as it comes.
The trekking poles help: we all need support and I am grateful for my people. In an earlier post, I quoted the guide book description of Table Mountain (which I did not climb): “…parts are steep and somewhat [read very] exposed. If the route looks unnerving, turn around…” Janet Riehl, another family caregiver whom I know only from her blog, said, “Seems about right. Except for daughter on duty there’s no turning around.” True that. But we need to know our limits, and when to ask for help and when to find other routes.
As I sat in traffic on Interstate 5, on my way back to Seattle, I reflected on the spectacular state in which I live (and a new profound love for the North Cascades). This state is reason enough to be here walking with my mother. I am grateful to my sisters, who make it possible for me to get out in it. All the trails, and all the experiences we have as children on duty, have points of beauty and joy. My heart is full.