The photo doesn’t do the place justice. I’m exploring new territory, this time in the Lake Chelan Sawtooth wilderness. Much of the experience is of hiking with a heavy backpack, cutting small logs and brush, kicking rocks, sweating, making notes about larger trail problems to be solved. The trail is typical for here, going parallel to a creek that runs into the Twisp River, topping out on a narrow ridge, then dropping into the next drainage. It climbs steadily through the forest, three thousand feet in seven miles. The very last pitch to the top is where the magic happens. The forest opens and sky is visible ahead. The trail winds through meadows and stands of pure subalpine larch. A bit more climbing and then the pack gets dropped in a scree-filled saddle on a knife-edge ridge. The breeze through the pass dries the sweat and blows horse flies off course.
I look around to get my bearings, look for familiar peaks. Then it’s time to snap photos. I snap a lot, trying to squeeze the whole scene into a frame. Not possible. The camera doesn’t capture the drying sweat or the quicksilver shifting of light. It can’t appreciate the delicacy of shadows under larches, the dry crunch of my footsteps, the fragility of dried petals on the phlox that just finished blooming. The camera is a blunt instrument. For the nuances I must rely on my senses and the scalpel of memory. The color of the small lake below glows in my mind, as does the color and texture of the larch needles–so soft. That green is made from sunshine.
We can’t stay, of course. The lot of the trail worker is to work hard to get to some nice spot then have to turn around and go back, or keep going. This is neither a blessing nor a curse, but a plain fact. We turned around and descended below the Broad shoulders of Star Peak, listening to rocks fall.
When I hold those memories of high places, I do not question the value of climbing and sweating. A couple days after standing in Fish Creek Pass, I found this graffiti written on a wall inside the CCC-built War Creek Cabin:
I doubt I could have said it better myself. (Not that I would have written on the wall–there’s a notebook in a metal box for those wishing to leave their mark.)