A couple of weeks ago, I set out through sun-shot low clouds to the North Cascades with my friends Devon and Kate. My truck is a 1998 with an exhaust leak under the cab, so we may or may not have been a little stoned on fumes when we piled out into the overflowing parking lot with two dogs, three bulky packs, and enough snacks to put a hyperphagic grizzly into a coma.
Are you camping up there? people asked a little enviously, as they shuffled by us to their cars.
It was a reasonable question. It was Sunday, after all. It was already 2 p.m. The ground was soupy with new snow. Devon forgot her fleece pants. I forgot my gloves. But the jagged peaks gleamed, and the larches sparked gold along their ridges.
Of course we were camping. We grinned like idiots and housed a bag of salt and vinegar chips. We set out up the trail. It switchbacked steeply through fat trunks frosted with lichen, and undergrowth flaming with color. Meltwater pattered across our shoulders. Mud smeared our ankles.
Soon, we came to a deep, turquoise tarn and paused at its edge, turning our faces to the sun. We were quiet for awhile, studying the reflection of the range’s rocky teeth where it bit into the water. Then, we shouldered our packs again and trudged past swarms of other reveling hikers to treeline and the deeper snow of the higher passes, where the trail skinned over with ice. A veer onto a spur, empty of all but the three of us now, north into wilder country. At the edge of a steep slope, we paused to assess a snow-covered talus field – tricky, slick, slow.
We picked our way a mile across the icy rocks, boosting the dogs up and over boulders and through cracks. To another lake, just ours. We pitched our tent in a snowy clearing, toasted each other and the last light with hot miso soup and cocoa, shoveled down ramen and chili. By 8 p.m., we were curled under dogs and sleeping bags.
It wasn’t an unusual backpacking trip, really. Just a good one. It felt like we’d managed to hike up out of a grimy, imperfect world into clean territory—a glimmer of persistent goodness amid endless reminders of how slow some things are to change.
Here, for now, there was no Harvey Weinstein. No grim news about David Marchant. No pussy-grabber-in-chief. No dude-you-thought-was-your-friend loudly saying inappropriate things about your body at a party. No dude-who-seemed-to-care-about-you pushing you farther than you want to go. No gropy bosses or gender pay disparities. No one invoking the “you’re too sensitive” defense when called out for crappy behavior. Not even the customary smattering of outdoorsy men who insist on expressing concern for “you girls,” second-guessing your planning, staring in disbelief that yes, you packraft, or yes, you kayak, or yes, you like to go into the mountains or woods or desert, alone, for days.
Here, there was only warmth and the camaraderie of strangers and friends drawn together by a moment of beauty before the endless rain of Pacific Northwest winter.
As I closed my paperback and switched off my headlamp, I thought of a pit stop we had made on the way to the trailhead. We were giggling and sharing some puffed peas on the sidewalk in front of a general store when we ran into a friend of mine, fresh out of the mountains from his own larch ogling trip. He was traveling with his mom. She introduced herself, then eagerly joined our snacking circle when we passed her the bag. “It’s so nice to see such healthy young women, having such a good time,” she said.
Yes, I thought as I drifted to sleep beneath a starry sky washed in moonlight that night. It is.
Photo by the author.