I get this desire from time to time to go out into the wilderness alone. A year ago this month I solo climbed a fourteen thousand foot peak in Colorado. A month ago I traveled to an alpine lake on the eastern side of the Cascades and spent three nights. Then last week I felt the call again. I call it the ‘call of the wild.’ I know Jack London coined the term first, but what did he know? He lived in San Francisco.
I had planned to spend Thursday night and Friday night sleeping on the ground at Lake Serene on the western side of the Cascades here in Washington. I packed all the necessary gear for a wet trip. (This is not my first time to the rodeo.)
As I started up the trail last Thursday morning, it was foggy with a hint of mist falling. But the trail was clear, my legs felt strong, my lungs felt full and I mentally went over my gear check-list before I got too far from the trailhead. I am confident.
The autumn leaves were spectacular. As I walked through the dark timber and broke into a meadow of Alders, their leaves shone so brightly I squinted at their brilliance as if they were transmitting liquid golden light. Some of the leaves were small and others were the size of Thanksgiving serving platters. Some of the large three-pronged leaves lay on the trail and had already turned brown with decay and looked like the foot imprint of some prehistoric reptile.
From time to time a leaf would release its grip from a branch above and flit this way and that, swinging back and forth in the air—hypnotic, looking for a place to land and decay and thus return to the earth’s compost to nourish its progeny. I remember noticing and watching them fall and thinking that the only time these leaves are looked at individually is if they fall and dance and swing in the air as someone passes by on this trail. I empathized for the leaf…wanted to tell it, “I see you.”
After a mile on the trail I passed underneath the Bridal Veil Falls. The splashing water slapping the rocks stirred up even more mist that drifted away from the pool, clinging onto the surface of my fleece to make a thousand silver beads. I stepped across the river one stone at a time, never touching the water that flowed out the pool to rush down the mountain. Up the trail I trekked.
The next hour took me higher and higher up the trail towards the lake. Wooden staircases in the trail made it feel as if I were climbing to the top seat of some forested stadium. Thought, this feels like I am climbing the stairway to heaven.
Just before the lake, the canopy opens up and the slope is covered with tall grasses, brush and willows. Then the lake, emerald in color cupped at the base of Mount Index is right before me. A sign near the lake said “No camping within a quarter of a mile of the lake.”
I sat at the lake, glass still. Counted four waterfalls falling from the north slope of the mountain to feed the lake.
Down through the ferns and off the trail, I made camp down the steep grade beside the tumbling water of the outlet. I found the only flat place about the size of my dinning room table, and pitched my tent there. The tumbling water just twenty yards away made for a loud but secluded place to eat and sleep.
It started raining about noon. I decided to get my study material and climb into my tent and read while it rained. It rained until noon the next day.
The falls next to my camp were getting louder, like an oncoming train. Not fast, but steady. I decided to pack up and climb up the four hundred yards to the lake and then start down the trail and out of the mountains. When I got to the lake, I counted 25 waterfalls feeding the swollen lake. The trail was full-fledged stream most of the way down.
The lower falls were angry now. The roar was deafening. I had no idea that falling water could create its own wind. Standing at the foot of these falls the grasses were bent almost to the ground and the boughs of the trees were swaying as if surrendering to the pounding water or maybe waving at them to slow down or maybe they were encouraging them to fall faster and faster.
The pool the water fell into was much larger from all the rain and spilling down the mountain in such a fierce way that I wondered about my ability to get across. I had lightly stepped across on smooth stones coming in, but now those smooth stones were two or three feet under rapidly moving water with a class 4 rapids dropping off down the stream bed to the valley floor.
I unbuckled my belt, loosened the straps so that if I was swept off my footing by the current, I could get out of my pack quickly. I sat at the edge of the pool while the wind from the slamming water raged past my hooded face. I planned my route through the foaming, tumbling white water. This was not going to be easy or without risk.
To use as a third leg, I found a stick the thickness of my wrist and as tall as my head and turned to face the water spilling down from three stories up and began to side stepped across the current, careful to never cross my legs. I felt large stones with the side of my foot and stepped over or around them. I could feel smaller stones rolling along the bottom of stream bed and thumping and thudding into my boots. The water rose to my knees and then thighs and finally to my groin. With deliberate and steady strides I made my way across.
I remember pausing halfway across, taking my eyes off the frothy water swirling through my legs and panning my vision up to the top of the thirty foot fall, the wind blowing my hood off my face and seeing the silver waves of water silhouetted against the gray sky just as they crested the edge of the cliff and started their descent, and thinking two thoughts:
- I am glad my wife is not here seeing me do this.
- It’s a lot easier to get into some things than it is to get out.
Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. 8 By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. Psalms 42:7-8 (ESV)