Weekly Peakly Volume 16
Or: Drops of Gold
Hello again, Peakers! I’m back on my bullshit with another tale of trekking through the forest and defying the elements of nature to find adventure!
Well, this hike wasn’t nearly that dramatic, but it was quite beautiful. My trail of choice this time around was to the Melmont Ghost Town, which felt appropriate considering it was the month of all things spoopy when I took the hike. (I know, I’m still behind on these still, SUE ME.) (please don’t I do not have any money.)
It was a sunny and cold day in October when I headed out on my ghostly hike. The weather was quite nice, and I was so excited to be back outdoors, injury free. I was practically bursting at the seams as I drove the 45 minutes south to the destination. The road seemed fairly urban for most of the drive but tilted suddenly into a mountainside and became secluded in the blink of an eye.
The trailhead for this one was the first obstacle I encountered. I ended up driving past it twice, because it isn’t clear at all where you’re supposed to park. You see, Melmont Ghost Town begins underneath a bridge, and the parking for this adventure is above the bridge, in a small clearing to the side of the road. It doesn’t look like parking, doesn’t feel like parking, but there was a group of cars that gathered there after I had passed a few times. Several other hikers got out, looking as nervous as I was about the positioning, but the group cumulatively shrugged and donned our gear, figuring it was this or nothing. And I had driven too far for it to be nothing.
You have to cross the bridge to get to the path that leads beneath it, which was exciting. The bridge itself is a strange and somewhat terrifying thing, standing tall across the gorge and offering a single lane for traffic to follow so that cars on either side must wait if someone is already in the middle (a rule I saw several people break and wanted to wag my finger at them for the lack of safety).
It was more than a little unnerving to realize, as I stepped quickly towards the other end, that the entire bridge was lined in ice. I had just driven over it several times, after all, and had not spared a single thought to the idea it could have been frosty. I just about slipped while footing it, not expecting it this early in October, my brain still thinking it was somewhere back in summer before I’d broken my wrist, because it decided that it wanted to just pick up where we had left off with no lost time whatsoever (it’s since been disillusioned). I slowed my pace and made my way through the rest of the distance with minimal slipping, using the frosted railing for support.
The view was breathtaking. I glanced out more than once, taking in the swaying branches of the trees below, hiding the surface of a river that giggled its way over stones and around bends. I had been hoping to get some good pictures of fall colors, as Washington has deciduous trees aplenty, and was somewhat disappointed to note that there wasn’t much variety down below. Everything seemed to hover somewhere between green and gold, with nary a red or brown among it. I’m a girl who’s fond of variety, and I wanted every fall color, not just one.
Still, a hike was a hike, and I wasn’t going to let the limited color palette dampen my spirits.
I followed the small and very steep trail underneath the bridge, then found myself in the middle of a wide path that was remarkably even. There wasn’t much elevation change at all on this trail, aside from the initial drop below the road. I stood there, next to a cluster of girls who were trying to figure out which way to go (the path stretched out in both directions). I ended up taking some time to show them how to use Google Maps even when you don’t have cell signal, for which they were grateful enough to take a few pictures of me when I met up with them further along, by one of the “dead” buildings.
There were far fewer ruins than I expected. A couple partially consumed rectangles, jutting out of the ground and covered in as much moss as graffiti. The stone didn’t appear to be that ancient, most of it looking like a modern interpretation of older styles than an actual old structure, save for the decrepit nature. There certainly wasn’t much mystic about it, the whole thing feeling more like poverty than magic.
I also passed along the abandoned car that was touted as a feature of this trail, though I didn’t get close enough for a picture. It was down in what was essentially a ditch, and the ground was muddy enough that I didn’t trust my ability to get back out of the ditch if I went in. Besides, the old bones of a Volkswagen Beetle didn’t hold much interest to me…nor the collection of used condoms I could see left around the trunk. At least someone had found the scene exciting.
Aside from the letdown of the “ghost town” not being very ghostly OR much of a town, the hike was quite nice. The trail was easy, without being too strenuous, which was a fair return venture after such a long break. The sun flirted with the ground between the leaves still attached to the trees, sending beams of gold cascading around bundles of yellow. The ground, too, was coated in leaves, though none of them crunched because much of it was damp. Still, it painted a pretty picture.
As I walked, I got a feeling like I was submerged in some kind of happy bubble, full of light and joy that the world was getting ready to stash for the winter. Leaves dropped from the trees like rain, drops of gold dribbling to the path and the top of my head. It felt quintessentially autumnal, the colors and temperatures and smells. Everything was earthen, filled with a richness like indulgently sweetened cake. Wherever I looked was a feast for the eyes, whenever I breathed it sated unspoken yearnings in my lungs.
Every year when fall blooms into its full glory, I always feel like I’ve come home. I don’t rightly know why, or where that feeling comes from. I spent most of my childhood in southern California, where fall is nothing more than a lot of wind and a smattering of rain here and there (if you were lucky). New Mexico, where I spent the second half of my childhood, had a much drier fall, with too few trees to really display what the season can do.
Still, that first breath of chilly air every year draws a smile across my face. No matter what my mood, no matter what’s happening in my life, when it gets colder and the leaves turn color, I feel like I become the most myself that I can be. All that exists within me becomes glorious and alight, flitting from task to task with music bubbling through my veins. Food tastes better, songs sound sweeter, words drop from my fingertips easier. Everything feels like it is as it should be. No matter where I live or what my circumstances, for some reason fall is always my season.
I drifted through this golden trail and couldn’t keep myself from smiling. I made it about three miles in before I decided to turn back, feeling tired. I’m not sure if there were more ghost town ruins beyond, as I didn’t quite hit anything that felt like an “end”, though from the accounts of other hikers on the trail I don’t think there were. I trudged back to the car, covered in mud and autumnal spirit.
It is worth mentioning that I slipped on my way back up from the bridge, tweaking my shoulder, which did send me to the doctor and put me in a sling for a couple of days. I’ve already recovered, and as a bonus I now have a deal with the X-Ray tech at my doctor’s office that he’ll give me copies of all my scans. Maybe someday I’ll have a full set of pictures of my bones!
That is probably not something to aspire to, but hell, if the Universe is bent on trying to tear me apart, I’m at least going to find ways to enjoy the process of putting myself back together.
Mistakes and R E G R E T S:
1. LAYERS. Man, I would have liked to dally a bit more in a few of the nooks and crannies around this hike, but I wasn’t wearing enough layers. Every time I slowed down, the cold seeped through my jacket and straight into my bones. It wasn’t as bad as that time I got hypothermia, but it did make it so that resting wasn’t much of an option and I had to keep pushing forward to keep my blood pumping. If I had dressed a bit warmer, this would have been a nice hike to stop for a picnic.
Hot Takes for Hikers:
To Fall or Not to Fall
I’ve been thinking about how I hurt my shoulder, wondering if I could have saved myself the trouble by being less stubborn. You see, the path back up to the top of the bridge was, as I mentioned before, very steep. There was a metal rope with handles along the side, presumably because getting up would be ten times harder without it. I used it a lot for leverage, keeping a firm grip. So, when my foot hit the edge of a wet rock at the wrong angle and flew backward, I kept holding on as my lower half tried to go the other direction.
My feet swung, but I held my weight with my left arm. I pulled myself back up and finished the hike without thinking much of it, other than “oh man that was close”. It didn’t even hurt, though I had swayed a bit while my arm was extended. That was what did me in, I think, spraining my shoulder in a weird way that only really got painful a few days later.
I wonder, if I had let go and slid down, would I have been more or less injured? It certainly brings about the question of which is the lesser of two evils. How far would I have fallen? And if I had been able to let go, to relax and let the fall happen, would it have amounted to nothing more than a scrape?
Anyways, this week’s hot tip is really Don’t Slip, Watch Your Footing. But it’s nice to have an existential crisis about it if you do, right?
Song of the Hike: Back to Autumn by Tall Heights
Animals Seen: one expired beetle-shaped car
Mood: Nostalgic for a season
Trail Rank: No ghosts, but many good, golden trees. Would recommend if parking wasn’t terrifying.