Weekly Peakly Volume 14
Ah, hello again, Peakers. It’s been a hot minute. There’s a reason for the delay, which I’ll get to soon enough (partially down below, but further explanation will be provided next week). For now, rest assured that my goal of climbing one mountain per week has not been abandoned.
Today I’m going to recount my venture on the Heather Lake trail, which was eventful, to say the least.
It was a lovely, rainy summer day when I set out early that morning – this hike took place in July, which feels like a thousand years ago with how this year has gone. This trail was up north from Seattle, which was a direction I hadn’t really gone yet. It made the drive a bit more interesting, as the scenery veered off into the unfamiliar a lot sooner.
I recently learned the merits of carbo-loading before things as strenuous as hikes, so I nabbed a box of donuts and munched them on my way there. It was about an hour drive, if I recall correctly, and by the time I got there I was so amped on sugar and caffeine I was almost convinced I was going to just fly to the end of the trail. Seriously, carbolicious, sugary breakfasts are absolutely the way to go for these things.
The road takes you off the main path and down a pretty terrifying dirt drive. The potholes were big enough to be menacing, and I was concerned that my Ford Focus was going to refuse to continue after bumping into several of the unavoidable ones. I did eventually make it back, though, if slightly jostled for the journey.
The first thing that greets you on this trail is a bulletin board with a prominent sign warning about bears. I’ll be honest, I get a little excited when I see stuff like that. I’ve had very limited encounters with wildlife so far, and I keep hoping that I’ll have more as I take on some of the remote trails. Perhaps not bears, as that would be a bit more danger than I’d like to chase on purpose, but it did give me a little thrill of anticipation that they might be out there, and maybe I’d get some observation…from a safe distance. Hopefully.
I snapped my pictures of the starting line and then tucked in to start the climb, hatless because I haven’t the faintest idea where my beanie got to. The trail started out mild enough. Gentle slopes with trees looming from above. There were rocks and various braces embedded in the trail, most likely to help keep it stable amid all the water…of which there was a lot. I think this was probably the muddiest trek I’ve had to date, and the content and texture of the soil made it loose and slippery in a lot of places. I had to watch my foot placement or risk skating onto my ass more than once. I also got an extra good workout for my legs a few times as I had to strain to yank my feet out of the thick mud.
I was successfully able to avoid falling, or getting sucked into a boggy pit, but I did get soaked, and it didn’t take long to get that way. Happily, it wasn’t cold enough to be absolutely miserable, and there was no hypothermia…at least not that I noticed. I was still able to focus on the sights and sounds around me, taking in the vibrant greens of the Washington summer, lulled into peace by the thrum of the rain. As cold as it gets, I think rainy hikes are my favorite. I get a sense of satisfaction out of doing things while sopping wet. Sky water won’t stop me, I’m too determined! Although, come to think of it, I probably shouldn’t dare nature to find ways to stop me. It will most certainly find them.
There were several places where the steepness factor upped itself, and I could feel some of that good, good donut energy start to wane as I reached something akin to the halfway point. I pressed on, appreciating the burn in my muscles beneath the chill of my wet jacket. It was…very much worth it.
The lake took my breath away.
I don’t remember my exact train of thought as I climbed this particular stone-stack. I know I felt burdened by a lot of clamoring ideas in my head, as I’ve been chewing over a lot of thought-provoking concepts lately. It’s the kind of stuff that happens when your intuition seems to veer off in illogical directions. The things in my life that I was perceiving as real and true didn’t seem possible, or at least very unlikely, but everything inside of me was insisting that they were. Trying to reconcile that is not exactly a fun time…it still isn’t, and I’ve had my ups and downs with it. I’m often fighting my own sense of reality, and as such I’ve gotten prone to highs and lows associated with my level of confusion on any given day. On this day, though, I know it was a particular struggle.
Then I reached the lake, a gently muffled plain of water surrounded by a path that served as an easy-to-follow perimeter. I traced the trail, which largely consisted of a sodden boardwalk bobbing on the edge of the water, alternating between gaping at the mountaintops and gaping at the water. Everything was painted in deep hues, the summer saturation darkened beneath the steel skies. It’s basically my favorite color palette; a smattering of greens, greys, and blue undertones.
I wasn’t able to go the entire way around, unfortunately. On one side there were still mounds of snow, and a hesitant test with my toe revealed that they were crusted in slippery ice as the rain pelted them and the temperature kept them from fully melting. I could feel my weight trying to rocket my foot across before I even applied much pressure. I considered trying to dance around it, to find footholds or divots, but I wasn’t looking to bust my ass like I had last time I tried to walk across ice. Not my favorite pastime.
So, I sat on a rock and gazed out at the water. I sat there for some time, feeling the quiet, letting it fill my chest. I watched as fog rolled in, obscuring the other end of the lake from view, making me feel as though I was floating in my own little world, set adrift from time, disconnected from it so that my problems no longer required urgency. On the far shore there was a patch of snow that, when viewed through the reflection on the lake, looked like a heart. I spent a lot of time looking at that, and feeling like everything that I doubted, everything that I worried about, it was all much simpler than I was making it out to be.
Truth was truth. My instincts were telling me something was true, so why should I waste my energy doubting it? No matter how improbable.
I sat up there for about half an hour, thinking that very thing. I wouldn’t say that it made me feel victorious, or confident, as other hikes have. It was soothing, a sort of detached serenity that my anxieties and fears were incapable of obscuring with a cloud of doubt. This was the world, this is what it felt like, and if this was reality then so too were the things I felt down below.
As if to answer me, to confirm my sentiments, my line of sight was broken by a shimmering flutter that zipped above the bushes. A hummingbird was the last thing I expected to see, but there it was, hovering over the flowers as though it were warm and sunny.
The hummingbird is kind of a special bird to me. Back when I wrote one of my earlier fanfiction stories, I needed to think up a nickname for one of the characters who looked and acted a lot like me (self-insert is fun to write, fight me). She was fast, and bright, with a lot of interesting colors draped all over herself. I realized a lot of those colors matched what you would find with a hummingbird, and the speed was appropriately in line. After a time, I started associating hummingbirds with myself as much as I did the character, and now whenever I see them it feels like a sign of good luck.
Here I was on this mountain, wondering if the things in my heart were right, wondering if they could be possible against some pretty staggering odds, and in the midst of the mountains promising calm and peace, this little hummingbird shows up. The list possible events that could have occurred in that moment are infinite, but the universe aligned to deliver this message: be calm, you are where you are meant to be. You know yourself. Trust your instincts.
I remained until I started to feel the chill in my bones, and I wanted to avoid any further adventures with dropping body temperature, so this was my cue to head back.
The trail downward was largely uneventful, and I was convinced that my reluctance to return was going to be my most notable comment, but of course the universe likes to throw some curve balls every now and then to reset your expectations.
Or, in this case, throw some trees.
As I mentioned before, it was raining pretty steadily, and the soil was loose and muddy. This trail had a lot of overhanging ledges, and I happened to be walking under one at exactly the right moment. A tree came loose, slid through the mire it was rooted in, and tumbled right towards me.
In moments of sudden danger, our instincts are supposed to engage in what is commonly referred to as a “fight or flight” response. Do we face the danger? Defend our ground? Or do we flee? Seek some way to escape? Our mind, and the instinctual parts of it that are responsible for keeping us alive, is supposed to collect all the sensory data it has and, in a few milliseconds, determine the best course of action.
I don’t know what it says about me that when given the option to take flight or fight, and when faced with an attacking tree, my brain chooses fight.
Instead of ducking out of the way like a sensible person, I through up my hand and caught it.
Yes, you did read that right. My dumb ass caught a falling tree with my bare hand.
It was not a large tree, and I’d estimate it was maybe 90 pounds? Something akin to that. I caught it, grunted, then eased it to the ground and spent a good 20 minutes standing there, glancing around the woods as if to ask, “What the fuck? Did you see that shit?”
I caught my breath and examined my wrist, and other than a scrape across my palm and some (unsurprising) soreness, I seemed…fine?
I have never felt more badass in my entire life. Stupid, also, I mean I probably should have tried to jump out of the way. But shit, man, I tried to catch a tree and did it. Not a lot of people can say that for themselves. I saw a magical bird omen next to the snowy sky lake and then caught a motherfucking tree! That’s one hell of a day, if I do say so myself.
I made my way back to the car, headed home, and had a champion’s dinner.
Of course, that’s not the end of the story. You see, if you know me, you probably already expect the “chapter two” of this tree tale. Because if you know me, you know that I have a pain tolerance that is almost inhuman. This often makes it so that I’m totally unaware that I have injuries until about 24-48 hours later. You can probably guess how this next part will go.
I went in to work the next day, noting that my wrist was starting to hurt, but I mean, no duh, I caught a tree. A little stiffness is to be expected. I took some ibuprofen and tried not to move it much. I got to work and tried to go about my business, taking a bit more ibuprofen to take the edge off that ache, which was stubborn and not abating much. I realized something was wrong by the time I got up to get my second cup of coffee, reached for the mug, and my wrist just sort of went “----error----???” and dropped it. I didn’t detect any particular pain from the movement, other than the pain that was already there, but it absolutely refused to hold any weight. It just did not compute that request any longer. Trying to pick anything up resulting in a physical sensation akin to my wrist tilting its head and question marks sprouting up around it.
I rolled my eyes at myself, knowing damn well that was a sign I did not get off scott free from my arboreal encounter.
I took my lunch break a bit early and headed into the urgent care. They did an x-ray – and shout out to the x-ray technician that heard my tale and announced I was the kind of badass woman she could get behind. Sure enough, I had a fracture. It was a hairline thing, very small, along my scaphoid, I believe. It was almost invisible on the x-ray, but since we kind of expected to find it we knew where to look. All things considered, I should have been hurt a lot worse. There is no feasible reason that catching a 90-ish pound tree mid-fall should have been do-able, much less with nothing more than a tiny fracture, but there you have it. Must be those mystical hummingbird vibes or something.
They gave me a nice wrist brace, which I was ordered to wear for three weeks, and I was forbidden to do anything more strenuous than walks across flat surfaces. A little disheartening, since I didn’t want to miss three weeks’ worth of hikes, but when a doctor looks at you with narrowed eyes and says, “Do not”, you should probably listen. Probably.
All in all, I still have very fond memories of this hike. It’s also become a cherished joke among friends that I’m the strongest tree-catcher in the land. I still feel just a little bit proud about it, too, even if it is ridiculous. And despite the apparent tragedy of injuring myself, I still think that calming mountain moment with the random humming bird was a strong sign of…I don’t know. Good tidings. A reason to trust myself, I guess. Even when my instincts tell me that the unlikely is happening or that I should strong-arm a birch.
Regardless of whether it was smart or not to catch a tree, at least it makes one hell of a story, right? And listen…I’m always happy when I’ve got a good story.
Mistakes and R E G R E T S:
1. Don’t catch trees. I don’t actually know what I could have done to force my brain to choose option B here. Maybe convince it we’re faster than it thinks? Practice jumping? Oh, or, uh, maybe just be mindful of loose soil on overhanging ledges when I hike.
Hot Takes for Hikers:
Honestly, I probably should not have stayed motionless at the top of that lake for as long as I did. Not surrounded by snow and in wet clothes. I was probably inviting all kinds of dangers – maybe that’s why the mountain tried to smack me upside the head with trees? – but the allure of peace was too strong. I think it’s worth considering packing a blanket or extra dry sweater if I plan on parking it on the mountaintops for longer than ten or fifteen minutes. Because once you stop moving, you get cold fast, and it makes restarting your momentum a lot harder. So, I think my hot take this time is to keep moving or pack a sloth-encouraging sweater.
Song of the Hike: Indestructible, by Welshly Arms. For obvious reasons.
Animals Seen: sentient, violent trees.
Mood: Cluttered, then peaceful, then gladiator of the lumberjack persuasion.
Trail Rank: Would recommend, but please ensure you have paid all tree-related debts before attempting, because those trees do NOT fuck around if you owe them money.