Turning towards the Sun

In the midst of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.

Albert Camus

This is the time of year when I look outside and long for warmer days. Spring is still a month away, and even when it officially arrives it will not likely be warm here where I live in the North Country of Washington state. It will yet be several months before the trails in the mountains are snow free, and for now I must be content to walk outside with trax on my boots so that I do not slip and fall on the icy road, which is becoming increasingly perilous as the snow melts by day and freezes again at night.

One trip in particular comes to mind, an odd association, for most of the trip was wet and cold. It was my first trip in the Pasayten Wilderness of the North Cascades, the first of many more to follow. I got started on a sunny afternoon at the East Bank Trailhead near Ross Lake. I had planned a ninety mile loop that would take me north over Devil’s Pass, then to continue on the PCT almost to the border before trekking west on the old Boundary Trail back to Ross Lake. I had nine days to complete the loop. I had my usual heavy pack. All was well, or so it seemed.

I was about half way up my steep ascent when the thunder clouds appeared and the wind started to blow. I got my rain gear on just as the downpour began and then dutifully pulled the pack cover over my big pack. . . too big, so big in fact that the cover did not reach to the bottom where my sleeping bag was attached. The piece of equipment that I most needed to stay dry on a backpacking trip was about to get very wet.

The heavy rain continued for the rest of my hike that day, finally stopping about the time I made it to camp near a small lake. The world was wet and cold, and that night I crawled into a sleeping bag that was also wet and cold. I had every article of warm clothing on that I had brought with me, but still I was cold, surrounded by damp goose down.

The rain continued the next day, so there was no drying out to be accomplished, no downpour, but a steady drizzle. I was hiking in July following a year of heavy snowfall and at this elevation there was still snow in the high country. I pitched my tent that night in a meadow sodden with melting snow that was two inches deep in most places, so I had to set my tent up on the snow. That night remains in my memory as the coldest night I have ever spent on the trail. All of my warm clothing could not insulate me from the snow without a dry sleeping bag.

Yes, the memory of that cold night stays with me, but forty years later what I most remember about that trip is the sun and the warmth. On about day five I was hiking down from Lakeview Ridge towards Lightning Creek. It had been foggy in the morning, and I had not really warmed up since that first day at the trailhead. I was grateful that I was leaving the high country behind, glad at least that I would not be camping in the snow and was hoping for warmer temperatures.

Every hiker has a story to tell about what it was like when the sun finally came out after a long rain shower. Mine is probably not much different than yours. I had come to a crossing of the creek and the site of an old cabin. The fog had lifted, and steam began to rise from the damp woods, from my damp pack. I sat down in a patch of sunlight, closed my eyes, let the sunlight penetrate. I made camp early that afternoon, draping my wet gear over blueberry bushes on the bank of the creek. I slept warm.

This is what I most remember about that first trip in the Pasayten, that the sun came out, that I was warm once again. This is what I think about when I look out the window at the snow and the gray sky. This is why a snake stretches itself out on the rock, why a cormorant spreads its wings out to dry, why my cat curls up on the brick hearth in from of the wood stove, why I go to Arizona in the spring. We turn towards the sun, open the drapes, let it into our hearts and our homes, and we are whole again. Remember this.

Published by Colleen Drake

Colleen Drake (AKA Teacup) has over sixty years of hiking exerience (yes, I'm really old) and has seen some pretty big changes over those many years. Join her on the Solitude Trail & share some of these adventures while exploring with her the value of solitude in the wilderness.

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