Weekly Peakly Volume 12
Or: Mount Storm King’s Blunder
Hey there, Peakers! Welcome to another installment of mountainous musings.
For this hike, I rambled my way over to a trail listed for Mount Storm King, over at the edge of the Olympic National Forest. It was allegedly a short but brutally steep hike, which was a balance I had thought worthy of jumping on. Things didn’t pan out the way I had hoped, but we’ll tell this story in order so as to prevent time paradoxes and other such confusions.
I woke up that morning energized. I was just coming off a bit of a hiking hiatus that I had taken due to life coming at me fast, so to speak. I had gotten busy, then sick, and then I’d been given the gut-wrenching news that my estranged father had taken ill and was on his last leg. It had been a lot to deal with at once, but I’d managed and finally pulled my threads in order. I had been cooped up too long, though, and I was ready to go commune with the outdoors to attempt to heal some of the emotional bruises that had formed across my psyche.
This was to be my first hike of the summer, or at least the first one after the temperatures had climbed up to the warmer end of the spectrum. Seattle is temperate compared to most other places, but I’m one of those fair-skinned, delicate creatures that wilts in heat and turns into a popsicle in the cold. Known as a “wimp” in some circles, to which I say: Fuck you, I’m still out here serving fierceness on this trail, you can kiss my whole entire ass if you think being susceptible to the elements while I do it is a weakness, Susan. (Please note, I do not know anyone named Susan.) Ahem, anyways, I do my best to mitigate the effects, but alas I still wind up suffering one way or the other anytime it’s not between 60 and 75 degrees.
The sun was high and bright, so I smeared myself with enough sunscreen to siege a sandcastle, covering even the spots that would be clothed just in case. I’ve had sun poisoning once and that experience is one that teaches you that the fucking sun is not to be trifled with. I also downed a full Powerade and half a bottle of water on the drive over, presuming (correctly) that extra hydration would be in order. It ended up being a sad story of too little too late, but again, we’ll get to that.
I arrived to find a lovely little trail perched on a lakeside. I’m discovering that Washington is just chocked full of lakes. We’ve got them everywhere, hidden just beyond the edges of the trees. This particular lake was busy, with a number of people hovering around the edge and milling over the grassy knolls. I wound my car around them and parked, emerging to be greeted with a small field of flowers that was more welcoming than I really know how to explain. It was quaint while still managing to be wild, and I was immediately smitten. I was optimistic at what awaited me on this venture if this was how it began.
There was a short jaunt up a very easy and friendly trail before I reached the foot of the Mount Storm King trail. It was soothing to be outside in the fresh air, meandering along at an easy pace. It was hot, but at this point I was not suffering any ill effects other than my shoulders steadily growing pink. I took deep breaths, hummed along with my music, and genuinely felt more at peace than I had managed in a full two weeks.
I arrived at the start of the Mount Storm King tail, however, and felt some of that ease dissipate. I couldn’t help but gulp in trepidation as I stared at the way it turned off and shot straight up the mountainside, far steeper than I had anticipated. Well, no, that’s not entirely correct. I had anticipated it to be very steep, I just hadn’t anticipated it looking so intimidating in the process. Still, I was there, I had driven 4 hours to arrive, I would damn well give it my best shot.
Up I went.
Now, I had mentioned that I’d had a rough couple of weeks emotionally. The funny thing about emotional labor is that you tend to forget to do a lot of other important things while you’re toiling away. Things like eat regular meals, sleep appropriate hours, or – perhaps most important of all in this moment – hydrating properly. I mentioned that I had tried to stock up on fluids before I had arrived, but it was unfortunately not enough to make up for two weeks of barely drinking more than a handful of fluid ounces a day.
I was dehydrated to start with, and I was trying to move vertically as the temperature hovered somewhere in the upper eighties.
You guys, it was not a good plan.
Now, before I explain what happened next, I would like to state in my defense that this was my first hike in heat. I’ve experienced hot weather before, of course, but I’ve never really tried to do anything in it. Most of the time I just throw on a tank top and shorts and mope around in front of a fan.
Now, I was trying to scale a peak that was way steeper than what I had attempted before, all while acclimating to a temperature in which I’d never tested my endurance. It was because of this inexperience that I wasn’t as keyed in to my limits as I should have been. On previous hikes, there was always a threshold of misery at the beginning, and if I could just manage to push through it I found a good rhythm and entered the Happy Hiker Zone, finding triumph when I finally reached the top. When I initially started getting tired, my aim was to push through it and reach that zone once more, blithely unaware of the difference the sun would make. I mistook the fatigue I was feeling as something standard, rather than the alarm bell that it was.
At half a mile up, I had to stop and nearly deplete my water supplies. About a quarter of a mile after that I started getting dizzy, but it didn’t register as dizziness the way it should have. I could have sworn I was just tired. I just needed to move slower, take deeper breaths. I could do this. Again, in my defense, I did my best to pace myself. I was moving at a crawl, trying to avoid straining myself to the point that I would deplete all my strength to quickly. I had that part right, at least.
I was also mentally pre-occupied, if I’m being honest. This hike was on Father’s Day, just shortly after I had started dealing with the news of my dad, and hiking was always our thing. It was something that we had done together when I was a little kid, before our relationship had been broken beyond repair, and while I often spared a thought or two for him when I climbed, this day most of my thoughts were on him and how he would never get to see some of the places I was reaching. It was somber even as the day was cheerful, and that was a distraction that made it easy to ignore my body and its insistence that all was not well.
I don’t remember what I was thinking about when I passed out. I remember that the world seemed a bit too bright all the sudden, and I had sworn the sun was being shoved directly in my face. I squinted, stumbled, and the next thing I knew I was hugging the side of a tree and blinking the grey out of my gaze.
Y’all, I passed out a third of a way up a damn mountain and landed on the side of a tree.
I took a shaky breath and sat down on a rock, trying to remember how to think as the world spun in a lazy circle around me. I must have looked pretty bent out of shape, because a very kind hiker stopped to ask if I was okay. He was a lovely, boisterous gentleman that could have been cosplaying one of the Hikers from the Pokémon games and I would not have known the difference, and he fussed over me for a few minutes. I appreciated his energy, though to my chagrin he made sure that everyone that passed knew that I had fainted and fallen. I soon found myself in the center of a ring of seven or so hikers, all insisting that I drink water, one of them handing me a damp paper towel and another a cookie.
I felt both safe and cared for while also fully embarrassed at my idiocy.
It took about thirty minutes and three bottles of water to convince them that I was fine and was not about to perish before their very eyes. They dissipated and headed back in whatever direction they had been headed before (some going up, others going down). I waited a few more minutes to regain my confidence before I rose back to my feet, feeling stable once more.
I did not continue upward. I had hit my limit and I knew it and trying to climb again would have just put me in a dangerous position. I hopped my way to the bottom of the trail, then whiled away an hour or so on the lower path, which offered almost no elevation changes. It was nice, and I was filled once more with a sense of relaxation that had been frustratingly out of reach in previous days.
I found my way to a river, and the path allowed access to the very edge, so I stood there and wasted time watching others walk by. Most of the people down here were fathers with their smaller kids, everyone’s faces plastered with smiles. To say that it made me happy to see it would be incorrect, but neither was I sad. I just…was. I stood there and existed and let everything flow out of me into the air with each breath I took.
What remained was the simple surety that everything would be as it should be. That everything bothering me like a thorn in my side would resolve, and regardless of the way it panned out, I would be better and stronger for it. I’m a natural worrier and my anxiety doesn’t help much, so the sensation of knowing that everything would be okay without me trying to plan how I’d accomplish that was a novel one. That kind of peace isn’t easy to come by for me, and I know it, so I closed my eyes and made sure to savor it.
After that I headed back to my car and made the long drive home, feeling a bit more like myself than I had for a while.
I know I passed out on a mountain and only clocked in about 3 miles total for this little jaunt, and perhaps peace of mind isn’t the greatest consolation prize, but you know what is? I spent a few hours in the sun and didn’t get even a little sunburned, and that, my friends, is fucking priceless.
Mistakes and R E G R E T S:
1. Hydration is important. Hydration is IMPORTANT. HEY, YOU THERE? DRINK SOME GODDAMN WATER. RIGHT NOW. JUST DO IT. JUST IN CASE. IT’S HOT OUT THERE, DRINK A DAMN THING SO YOU DON’T PASS OUT ON A MOUNTAIN AND BECOME AN EMBARRASSED SPECTACLE FOR SEVEN PEOPLE. Er, I mean, I certainly learned a bit about how my body processes liquids. I need to build up my hydration stores a few days before like some kind of weird, hairless camel. The heat saps energy and liquid right out of me, and if I’m not properly hydrated beforehand I’m just asking for trouble. I definitely won’t make this mistake twice.
Hot Takes for Hikers:
One important takeaway from this was that you shouldn’t lie to the strangers you meet on the trail. My instincts made me inclined to brush off the concern of the passerby and insist I was fine (indeed, I did try to), even though I knew I wasn’t “fine”. Thanks to my honesty, I was given enough water to recover, which was important in me making it back down that trail as safely as I did.
If you’re not feeling well, admit it. If you hurt your ankle a bit, say something. It’s worth people stopping to help you check on yourself, even if you don’t know them. A bit of awkwardness is a lot better then a bunch of death.
I should make that into a cross stitch.
Song of the Hike: Thirst by City and Colour, for obvious reasons.
Animals Seen: many children. So many. I would actually like to provide an anecdote about one of them, if you will indulge me (I mean, you’re already here, so you might as well).
I was on my way back to my car when a small boy, somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 years old, came running up to me, his face lit up with victory. “I peed in the forest!” he declared, his voice high and light as though keyed into the same mood as the sun itself.
His family, sitting nearby and snacking in the shade, laughed nervously, shaking their heads. I looked up and his mother gave me an apologetic look, getting up off the ground to come fetch him. I, not quite knowing how to respond but feeling that it deserved a response, blurted out the first thing that came to mind.
“Wow! That’s amazing! That means you own the whole forest now!”
It is perhaps an odd thing to tell a toddler who has just peed in the wilderness, but I regret nothing, because the look on that kid’s face was the best thing in the universe. His eyes got wide, his smile looked like it would split him in two, and he bounced on his feet with excitement. I pulled out a flower that I had picked to take home to my 5-year-old niece, now going to serve a much different purpose. I handed it to him and told him that it was the magical key to the woods, and he ran off screaming with glee.
His parents might have been less than enthused at the idea of him peeing on things and gaining ownership of them, but his grandmother was very into the concept, and followed him around telling him where to point the flower to command the woodland spirits. Bless her and bless that kid, they are both magical and I wish them many more enthusiastic hikes.
Anyways, that’s the story about how I gave away a forest to a 4-year-old.
Mood: Determined but perhaps too much so, tired and hot, pensive.
Trail Rank: mountains are tall, very tall, fuck that’s tall. Would definitely return to be intimidated again, highly recommended.