Above the Inversion

Sometimes, it’s good to simply sweat out life. And sometimes, nothing accomplishes that like a good ol’ fashioned slog. True to my northern European ancestry (insert I am a very sturdily built woman of Scottish and Norwegian descent), I love the cold. And I sweat like a burly beast when I’m exercising.

Which brings us to me, head down, attempting to coordinate legs and lungs, in a 3000’ elevation gain, 4 mile climb to the Cooper Spur shelter.

Views of Hood through the burn- a little over halfway to the A-frame

Driving through the Gorge this morning, then through Hood River and Parkdale, I contemplated the wisdom of my decision. Pieces of sunrise briefly glittered during my dawn drive down I-84 but only hinted that the sun may break through today. My Subaru was buffeted by strong winds all the way to Hood River. I was going to snowshoe the north side of Hood in this?

I held on to my plan though- the weather on the mountain had looked promising. I’m also not too proud to turn around, I’ve done it before. Picking up my annual snow park pass at the ranger station in Parkdale, I assured the concerned Forest Service employee of my plans and relative experience level: yes, I was prepared for multiple snow conditions; yes, someone has my itinerary; yes, I know where I’m going/familiar with the area; yes, I have a map, ten essentials (and then some), etc, etc, etc.

Most Forest Service employees that I encounter are decently helpful, but I imagine burned out and fatigued by the bureaucracy that comes from working in government (I was a government employee for ten years, I remember the feeling). I also have to wonder how weary they must get of people going into wilderness unprepared.

Coming down from the Ornament Trail the other day, about 2.5 miles from the lodge, I encountered a young woman who stopped me and asked, “So how far is it the viewpoint?” I remember looking at her, baffled for a minute (there aren’t really any views on the Larch Mountain trail, not until Sherrard Point), and then asked (probably more like squeaked in surprise): “You mean Larch?”

“Yeah. It is close?”

UM. No? It’s about 7.5 miles from the lodge, and you haven’t even hit the halfway point (<= this was my inner monologue, not outer monologue speaking).

She looked disappointed, then smiled and said, “Well, I guess we’ll see if I make it.”

I try very hard not to judge people’s abilities in wilderness; god only knows there are more fit, less apprehensive people than myself. Maybe this gal was a phenomenal trail runner, with lungs like an elephant. All I know is that when someone asks me how far to the top it is at 1:30pm, and they have no gear with them at all, I wonder what they expect they will find further up.

Years ago, coming down from a South Sister climb, finally almost to our Green Lakes campsite, Andy and I encountered a gentleman in nothing but a t-shirt and jean shorts, a one-gallon jug of water in each hand, coming up the mountain. It was 4:45pm.

“Hey! How far is it to the top?”

Andy and I looked at each other, sun-fried, dirty, thrilled with our day, and stunned. “Hours, you have hours of climbing ahead of you” we said.

He looked disappointed and skeptical, and continued on his way, two young boys alongside.

So, I sometimes wonder what I look like to other people…over-prepared? Ridiculous? Crazy? I guess the fact that I showed up in Chacos at the ranger station didn’t help matters.

Arriving at the Tilly Jane snow park, I did ponder the wisdom of my plan. Driving through Parkdale and heading up the Cooper Spur road, the fog was as thick and nebulous as I’ve ever seen. Once at the trailhead though, roughly 3800’ in elevation, the sky looked like it was trying really hard to burn through the cloud cover. So, I layered up, deciding to give it a go. Burdened with water, winter gear, food, and my snowshoes strapped to my pack for the first little while, I figured if nothing else it would be a good calorie burn.

About a half mile into the trail, I figured out we were experiencing an inversion. It was warming up. The sky was blue. By the time I popped into the burn zone, it was bluebird. Zero wind. Warm enough I had to strip layers or risk sweating myself through.

popping out above the clouds

I was grinning ear to ear though. I was the only one around, the benefit of hiking trails mid-week. Hood loomed before me, Adams and Rainier behind me, rising above the clouds. Geared up, I slogged on, my goal the Cooper Spur shelter, still some 2000+ feet above me.

Marut and I tackled the Tilly Jane trail this last summer- now, there are no flowers. Only the contrast of silver and burned snags against blue sky and white snow. I am mesmerized by shadows, by the blue and purple hues the snow takes on in changing light conditions. At the A-frame, I take a breather, refuel some calories, then set out in deeper, heavier snow for the mile + climb to the shelter.

shadow play in the old burn zone

Three and half miles into my slog, I start giggling (<= caloric deficit talking). This is why most of my hiking friends think I’m insane. Who does this for fun?

It’s no secret that the north side of Hood near Cooper Spur is one of my favorite places in the world- usually, I come here alone, when I need to be in my own head, to recharge, when I’m looking for some sort of spiritual reset. Today, I need my mountain; I need this very, very quiet and unforgiving place. The high alpine always has a scoured out quality, one of unrelenting honesty. It sets boundaries, teaches harsh lessons, gives no quarter, and reflects back all shortcomings, all misconceptions. It’s a place I go when I need to take a very hard look at myself, my life, to come to terms with issues. And then let it all go.

I’ve never made it all the way to the Cooper Spur shelter in winter, only to just past the A-frame. This landscape always makes you work for it, but today, in the snow, I am really working for it. When the world finally opens up, I literally just have to take a moment.

stopping to take a moment

it looks so different up here in winter

my goal of reaching the shelter: achieved.

Cooper Spur shelter, Helens, Rainier, Adams above the inversion

heading back down on hardpack, wind crusted snow

Winter in the mountains has a different quality. We are always only visitors. Today though, I feel very, very small. And grateful simply to have made it, to stay and linger for a while. I am above the inversion. And it is beautiful.

<3 why the climb is worth it <3

1 comment:

Lisa said...

Gorgeous photos! Wow!