From my house, about 27 miles north and a little west (as the raven flies) is this place. Home is about 2000 feet above sea level. The snow left here some time in April, the glacier lilies bloomed and gave way to a succession of wildflowers. Hyas Lake is 3400 feet above sea level, lying in a valley gouged out by a glacier. It is two miles east of the crest of the Cascades, and the glacier lilies are just now showing their pointy yellow caps.
I carried an ax, but reconnaissance was my primary objective. Rumors about massive piles of overturned trees have been making their way to the ranger station. We have learned that there are few reliable rumors, so the best action is to go see for ourselves. On the way to the trailhead, Rick and I took note of the number of uprooted trees. Every gully on the side of Goat Mountain that could produce an avalanche had done so. We recalled the winter weather–cold snaps, warm rains, big snowstorms, wind. Conditions were right to take down a lot of trees, meaning life could get interesting for the trail crew.
We split up, Rick heading toward Cathedral and I toward Hyas. The day was overcast, the air filled with the sound of water. Big water in the Cle Elum River, small water finding its way down in rills and rivulets, draining off the steep granite sides of the glacial valley. The Cascade Mountains were not named for all this running water, nor for the clouds that flow over the peaks. The name comes from a set of rapids on the Columbia River (now drowned by a dam), but nothing could be more descriptive of this narrow steep range.
The trail was muddy, with patches of snow. My notebook filled with diameters of logs to be sawed. Nothing too large or troublesome. Mostly straightforward crosscut work. I used the ax to remove limbs, practicing the technique of hitting them so that they jump away from the log. Limbing makes it easier for intrepid hikers to clamber over, and will also save time when we come back with the saw.
Even though there were a few boot tracks in the mud and snow (many more deer are using the trail than humans right now), I had a sense of being almost the first person to walk here since last fall. The valley was a human-free zone, except for me, Rick on his trail and a few campers down the river. What would I find? I was eager to get to the lake, where I would be able to look over toward Mount Daniel. I could already hear the water coming down from the ford that crosses the Pacific Crest Trail. Big water, a roaring waterfall plunging over house-sized boulders and cliffs to join the blue-green lake. Snowy Cathedral Rock towers over the ridge where the PCT comes across. Cornices still hang on Mount Daniel’s snowfields, nearly the same pale as the misty sky. It will be weeks before we can get up there to work.
Time for me to hike back. I crossed many small streams, stomping right through if the water was below my boot tops, rock-hopping where the water was deeper and faster. The ax makes a handy walking stick for crossings. My feet got wet anyway, and the hems of my pants were soggy and muddy. Scribbling while walking, finding words for what I saw and heard and felt…ferns, fronds, moss, varied thrush, red cedar, spruce, ducks, yellow scum of conifer pollen, triliiums, violets–four kinds! Many thought-trails to be followed, such as horse tails being a silica-based life form and the rest of us thinking we’re so great because we’re carbon-based…and how the winter wren probably has more melody per ounce of body weight than any other bird in these woods…Words for the sound of water: roar, trickle, gush, ripple, rush. Words for the shapes of leaves: thimbleberry and vine maple are pleated as they emerge, but others uncurl, unfurl, unfold, unwind…
I could go on, perhaps forever, but there I was back at the trailhead and the mist was beginning to coalesce into larger drops. Rick and I met up and drove the slow bumpy road back into a lower elevation and summer.