Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Destination: Mount Rainier

My preferred way to enjoy nature is with a glass of wine while watching Planet Earth DVDs and sitting on the couch. As I’ve mentioned here and here, I dislike sweating and I hate bugs. I hate that after being dragged on a hike we have to check for ticks and there is always the possibility that something larger, say a bear or T-Rex, may eat you alive. Yes, it is much nicer to sit in the comfort of my living room and to have Gman refill my glass. Besides, wandering through the woods is not part of my persona.

However, Gman is a rather persuasive man and convinced me yet again that I would enjoy a four hour hike up a mountain. And after a two hour drive from Seattle, we were at the base of Mount Rainier which is part of the Cascade Mountain Range. It is an active volcano covered with seven glaciers. During the summer and luckily during out visit, there are sweeping valleys of brightly colored wildflowers.

Like in Seattle, I was first struck by the freshest air I have ever breathed. As we got further from the visitor center the air was even cleaner. I felt rejuvenated from breathing it. The smells of pine, melting snow, freshly tilled soil, and wildflowers overwhelmed my olfactory glands and I had to close my eyes to take it in.

I could hear the sound of my breathing and the ground crunching beneath my feet. Whenever we stopped I first heard silence but it wasn’t quiet. As I listened I could hear bees busily pollinating the flowers, waterfalls that turned into rushing rivers of melted snow, and sometimes falling rocks. Marmots whistled at each other from across valleys and birds chirped as they scavenged for food. The mountainside was alive with busy animals taking advantage of the warm day.

I was overwhelmed by what I saw. These pictures do not begin to capture the views of mountains, rivers, rock formations, glaciers, grass bravely peeping out from beneath the melting snow. They can’t capture what it felt like as we became taller than the mountains on the horizon or when we were peers with the clouds. I have never climbed my way to 7,000 feet before. It was exhilarating to see my perspective change with each step. The landscape changed too. First it was pine forests, then fields of flowers and sprawling bedrock, then desert like conditions above the tree line. Being eye level with the clouds I could see them struggle to make their way around Mt. Rainier’s summit.

We spent most of the day traversing the side of that mountain and as the time of day changed so did the light. The grass and flowers became luminous as they quickly absorbed it. The colors of the flowers were intensified and I was surprised that hot pink, bright purple and bright yellow existed in nature. Marmots lazily basked in the sun on rocks while the rocks bounced the light right back. In the late afternoon the shadows were long and light golden. It was softer and the flowers, trees, and leaves actually looked different. I could see why Monet was fascinated with painting the exact same bale of hay 50 different times. It looks different at various points of the day. The white light of a sunrise is distinctly different than the orange light of a sunset.

On our last hike of the day we were walking along what seemed to be a simple pleasure path until we spotted a break in the bushes. We decided to sneak through. As we emerged on the other side the ground dropped down into a rocky cliff face hundreds of feet deep and I could see for miles out into the horizon. The brown toned foreground, green toned mid-ground and blue toned landscape far away always seemed so exaggerated in Leonardo de Vinci’s work. But now I can see exactly the atmospheric perspective he was describing. It made me wonder why he was so observant and not those before him. Were they not taught to look?

Best part of this picture? I wasn't zooming in!

After more than 6 hours of being in the great outdoors we had a beer, Mt. Rainier brand of course, and started our trek back to Seattle. I was surprised that my body was neither completely exhausted nor sticky from sweat. My shoes were dusty and I felt calm and at peace. I was proud of myself for keeping up with Gman. I was proud of myself for leaving the comfort of my couch and doing something new. Now an experience that was way out of my comfort zone was completely mine. My spirits were revamped and with a renewed sense of accomplishment I looked out the window nostalgically as the sun set on Mount Rainier. This experience wasn’t just for the brave few, this is for everyone. This is for me.


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