Three Thousand Words

If one picture is worth a thousand words, then three pictures are worth three thousands words. I couldn’t choose just one from this past week’s work–all three of these contain the essence of the Pacific Crest Trail for me.

We camped and worked in the mountain hemlock forest. As difficult as they are to cut when they fall across the trail, I am still attracted to them. The old ones are towering and stately, with their branches high overhead. There isn’t much underbrush. Mountain hemlocks thrive in cool damp conditions, and are well-designed to handle the heavy snow that falls in the maritime climate. This kind of forest only occurs in a narrow band along the spine of the Cascades. When I go there, I know I am in a special place.

The trail leaves the forest and enters an open area of talus slopes and avalanche chutes. Wildflowers still bloom–nights have not been cold enough to freeze them. Many of the earlier bloomers have gone to seed, but there are still paintbrush, lupine, arnica. Also a couple kinds of huckleberries, and a person is obliged to do a taste test when passing by.

This is the famous Kendall Katwalk, where northbound hikers get the first look at the North Cascades. Photos do not do it justice–you can’t feel the sense of space, the plunging glacial valleys nor the expanse of sky. The mountains just keep going on from here. The Katwalk is a bench blasted out of the side of the ridge. Plenty of room for hikers, but packstrings are warned to cross carefully.

When my heart went kaput in 2009, I cried because this was one of the places I thought I might never get back to. Standing there the other day, I remembered being very sick and barely able to walk. But I am now upright and breathing, able to climb into the mountains again and so grateful I don’t know how to express it. Life can knock you down at any time. If you can’t get up, you lie there till your strength comes back. Then you get up and move slowly till that gets easier. Holding places like this in your heart helps. Having good friends helps. The body and mind are capable of amazing feats of recovery. Life is fragile and persistent, and if you want to live nothing can hold you back.

I stood on the Katwalk, speechless and grinning and hugging my friends. I love the mountains. I love life, every bit of it.

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