Looking for an old man named Endurance

Loowit Trail

Day 12: Character

Loowit Trail, Day 2: 7/4/2018

I awoke on Independence Day lazily, as if granted the right to a holiday on the trail. I looked out the tent window at what I thought was a cool mist and took my time while my grumbling and muttering campmate made his way out.

I stepped out into the mist – and it was warm. In fact, it wasn’t moist at all. I realized then I was getting coated with a thin coating of dust from the winds coming down the Toutle Ravine. This is what my bag looked like after just 10 minutes:

I gritted both my teeth and the growing grit in my teeth, and picked up my pace as the sun grew darker and disappeared. I took a risk on that stream on an offshoot trail and left the dust chute behind.

I met another Loowit trail hiker soon enough and she and I traded tips on what was ahead for each of us – including a second account on post holing through snow.

The risk for the stream paid off – it was gorgeous – and would be the last water for the day until I made it to camp that night.

I climb up, skirting the remarkably distinct border between the destruction of the blast zone and the life of remote woods on Mt. St. Helens. It made for some interesting contrasts:

I continued up the long climb out of the water drainage, but being beyond the blast zone my companions were lush forest and towering old growth trees.

It was amazingly lush, with all the plants competing:

Including these cute mushrooms unlike what I have seen before.

And I took an image like this twenty years ago that I have gotten enjoyment of over the years – it was a wonderful reminder to do it again.

As I lumbered my way up, I thought about the feel for the PCT vs this trail. I realized that the PCT has this added advantage in that you knew every step on the trail counted. You could stop where you see fit, and you never knew exactly where you would end up, but by merely stepping one weary step in front of another, you made progress. On a loop trail like this, everything is so comparatively predetermined. The itinerary is set and the steps don’t matter. Ah, I miss the trail.

This contrast extends into the daily life. So much of life feels like a loop trail or a day hike. Things predetermined, itineraries laid out, steps and actions comparatively meaningless. The workday and workweek and extracurricular activities are all so … predetermined. It’s more than just going through the motions – it’s also that the motions are well known – we already largely know the ending. We console ourselves with the idea that we are bringing order to chaos but yet we really are just surfing the surface, along with the ride to execute the order that is predetermined to come.

And yet .. life really is like the PCT. It is a long distance walk, where every step should count, and be counted, and be otherwise for something that would otherwise not just naturally happen.

That old growth tree cut reveals the tree is at least 350 years old. Amazing that it has seen and survived multiple eruptions over that time period.

The trail continued up through the protected Sheep Canyon where everything was lush and hidden away from the dust of the morning’s canyon – and dust from the peak. I even changed upon some avalanche lilies letting me know that snow had just recently melted.

After leaving Sheep Canyon, the rest of the morning was one long continuous climb and am avoiding of more dust coming down from the peak. The early afternoon was characterized by ravine traversals.

The going was tough, a toughness accentuated by spits of rain and dust coming down from the mountain. Everything was cover with a sheen of white powder.

… and it included another pair of ropes – these being more challenging than yesterday’s. Again, orient your perspective and scale by realizing you are looking up the spines of those tall trees at the top.

At one point, the trail headed parallel downstream to a particularly large ravine on a pretty shoddy trail that my mind began assuming was really just a runoff track. Looking at my online map I was easily a mile off trail. But the occasional boot prints spurred me on. Just as I was taking off my pack to do some packless scouting, I ran into another Loowit hiker (fortune smiles!) who confirmed that yes I was still on track.

You see, the Loowit is a trail in flux. In a landscape that measures its age in years, not millennia, erosion forces have much to work with and can cause quick havoc to geologists that have yet to stand the test of time.

On the other side of the ravine I got the answer to my question as to where the “old” trail on my map went – that trail has been washed down to the Columbia by now (yes, that’s the edge – it just disappears there):

Eventually the canyons gave way to some serious boulder fields where my mileage went to a crawl, yet my feet were screaming ever as loud. Unfortunately I never took a really good image of what the boulder fields look like.

I also had my first glimpse at Mt. Hood,

and later, Mt. Adams.

To help propel me along I listened to audiobook versions of Thoreau’s Walden, KatherinePatterson’s Jacob Have I Loved, and David Brooks’ The Road to Character. The similarities between these disparate works was active in my thoughts has I crossed boulder after boulder.

Each book emphasized the rooting of a persons character through challenge to build it back up in a place of understatement. It was good reading both for second and minutes of my life right now, but also for the months and years.

Occasionally you would run across huge projectile blobs of molten lava that you knew were tossed upwards with the eruption and broke apart as they cooled. They were impressive to find:

The trailed continued on from guide post…

… to ridge line…

… to viewpoint:

After passing by the (comparatively wide and well defined) trail for summer summiteers use to conquer Mt. St. Helens, I realized the time was getting late.

My expected campsite failed to materialize, always seeming to be over yet another gully. With 45 minutes to sunset I started to get serious and look for alternatives along the way – with increasing consternation. Oh, and snow had started to appear more often:

Alas, I was walking down slopes to boulder fields, and so I had the choice between sleeping on rocks or at a 45 degree angle in dense thickets.

I found one good spot down the hill of one thicket – and after making my way down discovered it to be so full of scat (mostly but not all Elk) that even if it was cleared away, I thought the chances of a peaceful sleep was slim. It clearly was a bedding place for a herd.

Here is one scat I couldn’t identify (help anyone?):

I pushed on and found a good spot by a small waterfall at “worm flow”, by the trail use to summit the mountain in the winter. The name is apropos once you see the carving the little stream makes in the underlying bedrock:

The tentsite was an unexpected reward for a hard character building push. It was well into dark by the time I completed my camp chores (this time, with much greater efficiency).

It was then that I remembered that it was the Fourth of July. In the silence of nature I could not imagine a greater distance between me and my family. I sent off a note via the satellites with my hugs and kisses while I soaked my Achilles in the cool water, and headed off to bed.

Daily Stats:

  • FitBit Steps: 34,271
  • FitBit Miles: 16.16
  • FitBit Flights of Stairs: 279
  • FitBit Calories Burned: 5,199
  • Weather: Cold, dusty, occasional rain
  • iPhone Battery: 65%
  • InReach Battery: 51%

  • People Parties Met: 5, 3 were on the Loowit circumnavigation

  • Wakeup: 6:15 am
  • Camp Departure: 9:15 am
  • Camp Arrival: 9:00 pm
  • Sleep Attempted: 11:00 pm
  • Camp Co-Inhabitors: 1
  • Morning Pack rolls: 4

  • Sorest Body Part: arches and heels of my feet from the bouldering
  • Highlight of the Day: soaking my Achilles
  • What did I shed from civilization: comfort
  • Realization of the day: One must challenge themselves to build themselves
  • Trail tidbit I learned today: Efficiency of camp setup and tear down makes the whole day better.

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