“You know man, unless someone else was here to experience this, they really won’t understand what we’ve been through today.” These are the words I told my friend as we were slowly ending our long hike on a recent Saturday. With this in mind, I figured “Why bother?” on trying to explain it because all most people will hear is “Oh, you went hiking? Cool.”
It was actually a little bit more than just that and since I’m a writer, I’m going to try my best to re-create the events.
There I was early on a Friday evening, sitting on my ass at The Greenwood Farmer’s Market enjoying an ice cream cone when my friend (um, we’ll call him “Al” for this story) called my cell phone. Al wanted me to join him and a few others the next day on a hike where we would scale 3,000ft inÂ two and a halfÂ miles (The mountain summit would be around 5,200ft with us starting around 2,200ft), in the span of a five mile round trip. I hesitated because this sounded like a lot and I’m trying to stick with a steady running schedule. But I do love hiking and a challenge, so I decided to go along with this adventure.
So the next morning, “Bud” picked me up around ten and he had Al and “Jefferson” in the car with him. Oh, and Bud’s dog “Buck” was caged up in the trunk. After about an hour drive out on I-90, we exited the freeway and made our way up an old side road that had caution tape up at one point because of road damage. This was Bud’s first hike of the season, so he wasn’t feeling too confident in his abilities today.
Off we went into the woods, on a pretty flat and clear path, beginning the hike up Putrid Pete’s Peak. Around the first bend to the right, we were instructed to catch a left on a narrow path that leads intoÂ heavier brush, but would eventually open up again. ThingsÂ went alongÂ as planned, though the incline did start to pick up a little.
After about twenty minutes, Buck was pushing along just fine, smiling and having a blast. However Bud was not enjoying himself and began to really lag behind. The three of us stopped once to wait on him and he insisted he’d catch up if he even bothered to keep going. So he told us to go full-steam ahead. Eventually Bud did call us (we had cell phone reception) to say that him and Buck were heading back and they would patiently wait on us, maybe even going to a lake to kill time.
We were starting to sweat pretty heavily even though we were still sheltered from the sun with the trees.Â The legs were starting to tighten up a little as we ran switchback after switchback. Up to this point, the trail was still mostly dirt andÂ in decent shape, though pretty thin and you had to really look to see where it continued to at times.
About an hour or so into the hike, we got out of the trees and the trail ran dead into a large hillside of boulders. We’re not completely sure if this is where the trail ends (it said not long after this point) but after we crossed the boulders, we could not find the trail in order to continue. We were sweating pretty hard in theÂ ninety degree-ish heat, and about the only thing we knew we needed to do was go up. And maybe to the right as it looked a little more clear.
So back into the shaded comfort of the trees we went, however our sweat woke up nearly every mosquito and fly in the state of Washington as we started getting chewed up pretty good. Now, we might be city boys, but Jefferson and Al are both pretty seasoned hikers (I’m fairly green still) and they have good sense of direction. We were doing okay in the woods, but the incline was steadily picking up and we were all sweating pretty bad by now, having to stop and take frequent breaks due to the incline.Â There appeared to be some clearings up and to the left, but getting there looked a little dangerous as it was some steep land. Jefferson correctly decided that we should go straight up and over, which we did.
During this day, the three of us eventually fell many times, leaving us scraped and a little beaten up. By far my scariest fall was just after we got outside of theÂ trees again. We decided to follow a tree line up a steep incline (maybe 35-40 degrees) and even though I was using my hands to help pull my weight up a little slope, my foot slipped and I began to slide down a slope. Total reverse of a cat, I instantly flopped over to my backside, planting my right hand just below my lower back. Everything stopped, but I knew I was stuck. Anything other than my planting hand that I put on the ground (other hand, butt, feet, etc.) only started a mini-avalanche so I was literally holding up my body on my right hand. “I need some help” I calmly said. Al was about twelve feet below and to the left of me. He tried holding out a flimsy stick for me to grab as he was in a more grassy area, but I was a little scared to grab it. Instead I slowly began putting my right heel down, gently inching it over to my right, towards the grassy area. To make this leap, I would need to keep my butt in the air, and bring my left arm and hand across my body with the momentum to grab someÂ grass that would (hopefully) give me enough grab to pull myself into. I rocked a little once or twice and made the plunge. Made it. E X H A L E
The sun was really starting to thump us now and we still had 700 or so feet to go (we would later figure). But at the time, we kept seeing these “peaks” and thinking “we’re almost there!” So we’d strain ourselves, taking many breaks, slowly climbing these parts and reaching the top. Only to discover there was yet another peak up ahead that was even more steep! We were probably over two hours into this voyage and all three of us were tired and aching. At one point I began to wonder if continuing to the top was worth it. But the day was still fairly early, and besides, I had never made it to the top of a mountain and I was ready to punish myself for this opportunity.
So we soldiered on for another twenty minutes and had to stop for another water break. This time we had a gorgeous view of Mt. Rainier directly in front of us, and we could easily see I-90 and all the other mountains. But man it was hot out and even the bugs gave up trying to pester us. Looking up, we figured the last push to be about a 40-45 degree slope. Now this isn’t bad enough that we needed climbing equipment (spikes, ropes, etc.) but we probably weren’t far off. We decided that since the last push was so steep, it would be pretty un-safe to tackle it head-on, so we figured that following the small tree line to the left would probably be best, so we had something to grab on to while climbing. Yes, at this point, there was no more walking like you would walk up stairs; we were nearly in a crawling stance, using our hands to help pull up our weight and to help with balance. Standing up straight could have messed with our equilibrium’s and sent us falling over backwards. If we fell over backwards…we would probably die.
I chose a route that moved me ahead of Jefferson a little, and Al chose to wisely use the switchback method. As I got about forty feet from the top, I forgot to breathe and all of my strength and focus was on balance and pushing to make this last stretch. And then I did it! I was standing on top of a mountain and I let out a loud, Dukes of Hazzard yell!!
It’s just how it looks in the movies. There is no flat, chill out area at the top; insteadÂ there is just another steep incline on the other side, although the other side to this one was a straight down drop. My palms are starting to sweat as I type this because that feeling was pretty scary, to be honest. I slowly climbed up to peek my head over the edge like a cat that is investigating a new closet for the first time. Although impossible, in the back of my mind I felt like the whole top of the mountain was going to collapse and I would tumble to my death.
So I decided to back down a couple of steps and cheer on Jefferson and Al as they got closer. The hot sun meant nothing to me right then and I ripped my shirt off to absorb everything the mountain top had to offer (well, and to let my nasty shirt dry off), including a mild wind. Al got a phone call from his dad and later from his girlfriend “Peggy” while we were up there and we had the joy of telling them where we were at. To some people reading this story, you might be thinking “Wow, they climbed a 3,000ft incline to a summit. Whoop-dee-doo.” And perhaps as I explore more into what the Pacific Northwest has to offer, maybe I’ll do bigger and better things than this hike and it won’t seem like much. But at that moment, I was pretty sure I would never climb that mountain again, and if I (god-willing) would happen to die at an early age, then maybe this would be my only chance. So I took in the moment, to say the least.
As I mentioned before, we had to choose our own route to get up there, which also meant we had to choose our own route to get back, and try to find those boulders again so we could re-find the trail. We slowly (and I mean slowly) began to make our way down, using the switchback method as much as possible. Going down this steep incline, you can’t just walk forward. You have to walk sideways and downward, using grass, roots, small trees or anything else you can get your hands on for leverage. And you’re also squattingÂ and tilted so far that your right elbow is practically touching the ground if you’re walking to the right.
We certainly did not end up going down the same way we went up, though we knew we were close. The sun was just blazing at this point and slowly our friends the bugs showed back up. Bud also called Al to be sure we allÂ were okayÂ as we were about three to four hours into this trip. We assured him we were okay, though we had not re-found the trail yet. We made it back to the second batch of boulders we had seen, which thankfully led us back into the woods and shade.
By now Al and Jefferson were completely out of water, and I only had aboutÂ eight ouncesÂ left myself, so we all shared it as we could. Our bearings told us we needed to go down and to the right, to get back to that first set of boulders that should be where the trail ends. Unfortunately, there was no clear way to get there, so we had to kind of go on instinct, and begin making new paths in thick brush. Normally if you would try to move through thick brush that would scrape, cut and catch on you, you would use a machete, right? Well, we didn’t have a machete, so we used our bare hands and shoes since that’s all we had.
Al and I were moving to the right and downward a little faster than we realized, while Jefferson seemed to just be going downwards, and we thought he was moving down to meet with us eventually. We were really starting to get scraped (and eaten) up, when I saw what I thought appeared to be a path straight to the right. I told this to Al (about fifty feet behind me) and he followed me through. That lasted about one hundred feet and then it was back to thick brush that led to nowhere. Frustrated, I started to just plow through limbs, jagger bushes (or sticker bushes as they call them here in Seattle….I’m from the Midwest!) and trees. Finally I passed over a dry creek and decided it might be best to follow the creek down the hill. Al was getting frustrated and we then discovered that Jefferson was pretty far from us. We called out to him and could barely tell he was down and to the left.
But for us, there really wasn’t any turning back, so we started walking the creekline, which quickly became too steep and with very little walking room around it. To the right I finally saw some blue sky and figured that must be the opening where the big boulders were at, though Al was skeptical that we might have somehow passed them as we were descending quickly. Basically, we were lost, and halfway up shit creek. At best, we still had about three to four hours of sunlight. At worst, we would never find the trail and just keep moving down the hill towards I-90, which would probably take double or triple the time to get down.
Plowing through more un-traveled, thick brush, we got even more scraped up (especially Al’s feet; he wore sandals) but this finally led to some open, thick trees that just had a dirt, yet steep incline to go down that went a really long way. Calling out to Jefferson again, the un-imaginable happened…HE FOUND THE TRAIL!!
Luckily for us this happened because we likely would have kept going to the right, while Jefferson was somewhere to the left and below us. It took about fifteen minutes of scavenging over fallen trees, ducking under immovable ones, kicking new paths through thorn bushes and trying not to break our ankles from the uneven ground that we couldn’t see as we stepped forward. Along the way we found a small creek that had water dribbling through it, though there wasn’t really enough to even cuff into your hands and drink. THIS pissed us off! Finally, we met up with Jefferson, who looked a little bummed that we were out of water. It seems that Jefferson had taken a nasty, sliding fall which fortunately ended with him landing just next to the trail.
We called Bud and told him the good news and that we would be back down in about an hour. He said he had beers (but hopefully water!) waiting on us at the bottom. Jefferson and I moved at a pretty good pace, but Al’s feet were in bad shape and he was very dehydrated, so he moved a little slower. We couldn’t have been twenty minutes from the bottom when Jefferson slipped and twisted up his ankle a little bit. Feeling beaten and dehydrated as well, he just toughed it out and we kept moving. I was in a war-like mode of “just keep moving” no matter how bad I needed water. We would stop from time to time to yell back to Al and be sure he was okay, but he had a phone so we knew he’d call Bud if things got crazy. Looking back on it, I guess we kind of said “To hell with Al”. Sorry Al.
Although we were happy to see Bud when Jefferson and I arrived at his car, our first request was water, and he had a small bottle and a camel back’s worth. We began to guzzle and take the shoes off of our throbbing, dirty, feet. I don’t remember much else, I just know I was very quiet as we patiently waited for Al to arrive so we could rush to a gas station for Gatorade and water.Â Al eventually limped to the car, we took off, and all was well again.
So in closing, it took me three days to go running again because my legs were so sore, and I’ll likely be pulling splinters out of my hands for weeks. Was it worth it? Hell yes! I don’t think I’m up for any more crazy adventures like this again this summer, but next year is a new year. Like I said before, for all I knowÂ that might have been the only chance in my life I’ll have to climb a mountain all the way to the top.
And now I can say that I’ve done it.