My memory is not of the tidy camp tucked between the scrub pines on the ridge, just big enough to hold the tarp snugly, or the views east and west from the small natural knoll, or even the sunset and subsequent sunrise which split the horizon into a multitude of pinks, purples, muaves and salmon pastels drifting to a clear, super saturated azure blue striated by occasional high Cirrus clouds.
No, I remember in the middle of the open space, the absolute best spot to sit and watch the sunset over the low hills climbing up from the Colombia river gorge, two human shits – each with their own toilet paper wads. Which begs the question; who did this? And why?
I arrive at Blue Lake – it’s sudden appearance is surprising in the middle of a hot and dry day. Realizing I have this beautiful blue expanse to myself I immediately strip off all my clothes and leap naked into the icy clear water. There is a perfect rock ledge for jumping. As I dry off and pull on pants I hear the hoots of adolescent boys on the far shore. I feel grateful having this moment to myself…
Near sunset, hundreds of birds shoot out of the bushes like errant bottlerockets, angrily chirping from the low branches of fir trees as I pass their nests in the brush near the trail.
Into Goat Rocks Wilderness what should be an easy hour of night hiking becomes an obstacle course over hundreds of blowdowns – phantoms in the brief flashes of moonlight that appear, as if a light has been flipped on, when the clouds pass by in the quick moving wind. Never do you feel the sentience of plants until a traversal of a dark forest full of fallen giants – the ghosts of these trees seem close, not malicious but patient, making the night dense and the dark endless.
Finally arriving at the top of a ridge I cowboy camp under the bright moon, a day away from reaching super-fullness. I lay awake, counting shooting stars and satellites, filled with happiness as I discover a distant memory – a summer night as a child camping with my family on Orcas Island. Kept awake by my parents and dragged to another hilltop on another clear night, we watch the Pleiades meteor shower – hundreds of shooting stars descend in the rosy sky. I drift off and awake after the moon has set – the stars have multiplied and the Milky Way appears as a sprinkling of diamond dust deep in the center of the sky.
Hiking through Goat Rocks, the landscape vast and silent except for the distant murmur of waterfalls and the occasional moan of wind above the treeline, the scene is unbelievable bright because of the snow still on the ground in August. I traverse 50 feet from the top of one snowfield – the view down is dizzying, a thousand vertical feet ending in a field of sharp rocks and more snow. I steady myself and continue cutting steps across. Afterwards, I watch the wild goats inscribe unconcerned arabesques across snowfields steeper and icier on their way to graze the wild blueberries, shrub salaal and wildflowers.
Seeing a wilderness this vast and unspoiled, a whole landscape unblemished by clearcuts, smog, suburbs, McDonalds, and aimless roads gives hope – maybe as humans we haven’t fucked everything up yet. Maybe our hunger for profit hasn’t debased every last horizon…
Secret Springs will remain secret to me – after 3/4 mile off trail, and losing 600 feet of elevation I fail to find water. In anger I curse my way back to the PCT and continue up to Shoe Lake. A cold, late evening wind blows across the icy water, where I realize all of the trees in the lake basin are blighted – dead or dying. This is no place to camp safely, and I continue the climb up to the ridge top, finally finding a stealth spot high above White Pass. I pitch the tarp low to deflect the cold wind at 7000 feet and eat my cold miso ramen atop a mountain, gazing west into the sunset across endless hills robed in low lavender clouds. As the light fades I can see my breath – I’ll be in White Pass tomorrow morning, drinking hot coffee by 10 am…