Granite Mountain and how I’m not a hiker (kinda)

Photo credit: Greg Orlov

Photo credit: Greg Orlov

I don’t consider myself an avid hiker, but as I started writing this I realized- I’ve been on some pretty grand hikes. I’ve done the through hike of the Enchantments and I’ve hiked out to Robin Lake, so apparently I’m not really daunted by an 18 mile day with some stout elevation. I’ve done smaller hikes too, out to Rachel Lake (dismissively called Girlfriend Hike by some of my friends for the amount of couples you’ll see slogging out), Garibaldi Lake in BC and Sunfish Pond back along the Appalachian Trail.  I’m not sure what would qualify as a difficult hike—Dirty Harry’s Peak was a haul up a logging trail that had turned mostly to stream bed, but it wasn’t really that long of a hike. 

When a friend asked if I wanted to do a winter hike, I paused only to say I didn’t have the right gear. You can borrow my microspikes. Ok. I’m in. And, what are microspikes? (Have I always said yes so readily to things?)

The hike was absolutely beautiful.  There were 10 of us (12 if you count the other friends that arrived at the trail head right as we were heading out, but we didn’t see them all day, so I’m not sure if they count as part of our group). We all knew a few folks but I don’t think anyone besides S. knew everyone.  The first part of the trail is full of switchbacks and very large, straight trees.  Sunlight filtered through in golden beams like a movie set and morning fog tangled in the branches as our bodies warmed up and layers started to peel off.  I ended up with almost everything in my pack—my body steaming into the cool air and my sunglasses completely fogged over.

granite mountain avalanche shuteWe hit the snowline slightly after the first mile.  It was as if a switch was hit and suddenly—snow.  The wind knocked loose crystals off of tree branches and despite the bluebird skies a gentle dusting fell around us.  As the sun warmed everything up that gentle dusting turned to thick clumps thudding on our faces and packs, but at first it was just kind of magical.

We ended up taking most of the summer route instead of the winter one—the snow wasn’t very deep and it seemed like the safest option.  Out of the tree line it got a little colder, but there was barely any wind.  Our group had spread out a bunch by this point and I could look up and see dots that were our bodies, moving towards the ridge line.  To my side my shadow was a deep dark slate and the foot prints in front of me had a clear pale blue glow to them.

Granite Mountain Summit- Sarah Ward

Photo credit: Sarah Ward

I’m starting to understand why my best friend will cancel plans in town to be out in the mountains if it’s at all possible.  This was a simple hike compared to his backcountry trips. A little over 8 miles, 3,800 feet in elevation, full of people and well groomed trails.  Even so, as I caught the image of my shadow against the snow, something inside me cracked open.  I was suddenly inside a poem I haven’t written yet and it felt as if everything were suddenly both weightier and more full of joy than I’d ever realized.  I keep finding these moments.  A shadow against snow.  A particular sequence of moves on rock. Sitting with a summit log in my hands and the ground hundreds of feet below.

Of course it hurts, I’m not saying it doesn’t.  I came home and directly soaked in the tub.  I woke up this morning to aching muscles (though that was probably also from dancing for a few hours with R and H on his last night in the States before he’s off to Thailand).  As I took H to the airport this morning he got a bit lost in his head, and said I was thinking about how amazing it is that our bodies will adjust to what we need. Oh you’re going to do brutal hikes? Let’s break down and make muscle.  Paraphrased, of course, but that’s the general gist of it.  He told me about a mountaineering course he’s going to try to take, and I’m going to look into it.  I have to climb Rainier.  It isn’t a have-to as in a bucket list—I’ve never wanted to do it.  But my father wants his ashes scattered off of the top, and so that is what I will do. I wish he could see what I’m doing now, I wish I could tell him about it, but I also think that throwing myself into the mountains is partly a way of having all the conversations we never had and never will have.  I climbed before he died, but I became a climber after, with his carabineers attached to my chalk bag, his guidebooks on my shelf.

I feel my body changing, breaking down and rebuilding itself for what I need it to do.  I hope through this that I will find more spaces that feel like poems, and that I’ll be able to translate them onto the page at some point, but I’m not worried about it.  No one is sitting, waiting breathless for my next collection of work to come out.  I have so much more to learn.

Photo credit: Greg Orlov

Photo credit: Greg Orlov

Hotel Alexis

packed and readyWoke up Saturday morning ready to give H a ride to the airport so he could wing his way to Mexico– only to find out that Dallas is mostly shut down due to ice.  I always have issues when trying to fly through Texas and this bodes poorly for my leg of the journey next week when I fly out to meet him.  Still, we’ve discovered a few things.  Waiting on hold is no longer necessary– the airline will call you back when your turn in line comes up. This meant a couple more hours of sleep– and also resulted in the second discovery– H gets absolutely no cell service in my apartment.  Cue a cozy Greta and a chilly H, trying to re-book his flights– me shivering out to the car to bring coffee and sit for a while before scurrying back inside to scan over poetry and stress out about what I’ll be reading on Tuesday. (He’ll leave later tonight– fingers crossed that my part of the trip is a little smoother.)

It’s always strange when you find yourself caught in a place after you had planned to leave.  I know it’s happened to me a few times– I’m never sure if I should deal with Real Life things that might not have been tended to, or I should act like I’m already gone, considering I should have been.  I always end up feeling like a ghost-person, not entirely present where I am yet not yet where I’m headed– days of not-quite-anywhere-solid. It’s a frustrating place to be, and I’m glad at least that we found out about the cancelled flight before getting to SeaTac, and that his flight was cancelled before he got to DFW to sit stranded with the thousand other travelers, watching ice glint and searching for outlets and places to sit.

Throughout the day H’s stuff slowly spread around my apartment– it was supposed to be unpacked under a Mexican sun and yet here he was, under the bright cold Seattle sky, digging through for running clothing so we could shiver around Green Lake. I think he was the first to say Hotel Alexis and it seems a good name for my home right now.  Tomorrow I’ll pick up Nicelle and we’ll read together at the Hugo House.  The next day it’s planes for us and out of town, but E. will be coming in from Denver and staying at my place while I’m gone.  I come back, he leaves to cat-sit for another friend, and a few days later B comes back to stay for an indeterminate time.  Then AWP hits town and I have already told my friends that I will help find couch/bed/floor space for everyone. I am throwing my secret lair open and inviting people into my bubble.  I have the spare sheets folded, a stack of clean towels, a stash of extra toothbrushes and enough needle and thread to fix everyone’s torn things.  Welcome to the Hotel Alexis, I hope everyone enjoys their stay!