In All Her Glorious Moods

I’ve taken up hiking. Living in the Pacific Northwest, it’s so incredibly easy to sneak away to a mountain and walk until your feet fall off. So why had I only done it once or twice in the dozen years I’ve been a resident?

Never had a good enough reason, I suppose. So when hiking came up as part of a training plan, I took it up right away, along with the running and the weight lifting and other such exercises.

It turns out that of all the new activities recommended for training, hiking is my favorite. It’s not as uncomfortable as running or as time-limited as weight lifting, and I get to spend hours and hours off in the woods, testing myself and letting my mind wander after my feet.

Since I’ve discovered this, I’ve been out time after time after time. I speed walked Little Si in 47 minutes on my first day out. It took me two hours to summit Mount Si and four to reach Mt Teneriffe. I’ve walked back and forth, through snow and mud and rain and rock, and every time I go I live something new.

On my first try for the summit, I hit Teneriffe connector trail at the two hour mark and tried to keep going, but the snow deepened. Not just any snow but thick, wet, slushy snow. The kind that doesn’t hold you up, only slows you down. I got farther than I thought I would, but nowhere near the top.

With it being so late in the season, I assumed that would be my last chance until spring. I wasn’t prepared for snowshoeing and I figured I’d exhaust this mountain and several more before graduating to tougher stuff in a few months. A few weeks after that first attempt I had an ersatz hike planned. I figured, with the snow and the cold, I would just run up and down Little Si and see if I could improve my time. Maybe run it more than once to pad my workout.

The dawn, though, came with a surprise.

The snow hadn’t fallen in days. It had, in fact, melted. Not all of it, but enough. The freezing point, according to forecasts, was well above the peak. I could try it again, try to summit Mt Teneriffe once more before the year was out and the snow got worse.

This time, instead of rain, cold rain that leeches the warmth from your body and makes sweat feel like melting ice, there was sun. Golden sifting sun, low in the sky, slanting between the tree trunks. I half expected Gandalf to step out from behind a cedar as I turned each corner, zig zagging my way up toward the first challenge. I made the false summit with pride in only a few hours, though I didn’t have time to make it just that last half mile before the day ended.

For a decent while I didn’t try again. I stuck to Mount Si, hit Rattlesnake Ridge a few times, and found a hiking buddy to come with me on occasion. Some weeks I was too busy to go but the cravings to go harder, get better, go somewhere new, drove me back again and again.

So I tried Teneriffe again. In my pride I was sure I could make it. I gave myself what I thought was plenty of time. I had my water filter for refills, I chose a sunny day, brought plenty of snacks, had my hiking poles for stability on the snow… And I made it. The terrifying peak, covered in dense, deceptive snow, with a precipitous drop on the far side innocently hidden until almost the last minute… I defied the limitations of my body, time, and wisdom to slog through snow that can only be described as angry. I made it up, I made it down again, but I got lost twice, fell off the trail five or six times, and cursed the day I failed to heed my body.

Because I’ve been paying attention to it a lot lately. To how I feel physically in any given moment, which is how I knew I shouldn’t have gone past that false peak. But also to my moods, which is how stubbornness won out. I’ve been noticing how the way I feel changes depending on where my body is, and how what I think has little bearing on either.

Like the mountain. I marveled at how wildly different she was each time I went up. Sometimes pleasant and inviting, sometimes challenging yet indulgent, sometimes downright cranky. And other mountains have their own moods. Once, on a rare accompanied hike, we saw them all in one day. Warm sun, cold rain, drifting snowy, and driving sleet, one right after the other as we joyously trudged our way up and down.

I only experience this variety because I go often, and with few expectations. I show up, week after week, and take what I’m given. Mud and rain, snow and hail, brilliant sparkling days, solitude, companionship. Each day, each mood offering me a new experience. Every hike has been wonderful. Whether I’m learning my limits, defying them, or existing conscientiously within them I walk away, literally, with another day under my belt, another experience to treasure.

I expect that the summer months will be grueling, hot and possibly uncomfortable. But also expansive, with more and more trails becoming possible as snow retreats and roads are passable farther and farther up. I’ll only know if I keep going, keep showing up prepared to savor it all.

With some of my regular visitors I’ve started to notice the same phenomenon. When we see each other more and more, we find ourselves more open with our moods. Sometimes subdued, sometimes nervous, but sometimes downright boisterous. Each mood and moment offering a different experience, similar, but new. Like my trips to the mountains: every hike is a long walk, but how I feel and what I experience each time is a little different. The more often I go out, the better I get to know each one, and the more varied my experience. The more I notice small differences. The more comfortable I am with their twists and turns, their ups and downs.

It’s been such a privilege to get to know our local mountains. I’m looking forward to getting to know more of them, and getting to know them better by spending time with them in all their seasons.

In all their glorious moods.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *