Today was a good day. My pain levels had definitely tapered off, I had been eating again, so my energy levels were up, and I was going to go hiking with my friend Kevin again. So after a morning of coffee, packing my backpack and spending a few moments with my family, I set out with Kevin, our goal for this day Hemlock Falls and Yakso Falls.
We made a quick stop for gas at the Glide Store, then drove down the road a short jaunt to take a look at Colliding Rivers, a world-famous spot that is, quite frankly, about as underwhelming as it gets. Don’t get me wrong, I grew up in this town and spent many hours swimming in that very spot, and it is a great place to swim, but the effect of two rivers running into each other is almost non-existent.
We scrambled down the bank to get close to the river, and I showed Kevin where the layer of fossilized shells were, and then we tiptoed our way down to take a few pictures up close of the where the rivers ran into each other. I shot a short bit of film and then we climbed back up to the truck and headed out. Driving up Little River road, I had a thought. I was feeling pretty damned well so far that morning, and I really wanted to at least try to hike up something more substantial, and I had been thinking about a place called Flattop rock, which while at a decent elevation of over five thousand feet, had a relatively short trail (around one and a half miles) to the summit. So I proposed to Kevin that we change our plans from waterfall hikes and head up this little mountain. Kevin being Kevin, it took a nanosecond for him to agree.
Along the way we found an interesting spot on the side of the road where a seasonal stream had poured over a rock face, freezing into huge icicles. We stopped for a few minutes to takes some pictures, then headed out again.
Soon we ran into snow, but luckily many intrepid voyagers before us had gouged some deep tire grooves in it, and we managed to get through a few slightly hairy moments before arriving at Hemlock lake. We crunched across the dam, found the trailhead, and parked. I was excited to get to the top of some new peak, even if it was a small one, it was an adventure, and I needed some adventure. Being sucked into the black hole of chronic pain can infect you with a form of psychotic cabin fever, and you want to break out of that place with crazy treks and climbs, but reality always sets in during those periods, so you have to start small with, say, a waterfall, and then maybe a smallish mountain. Check.
We headed off down the trail, the path alternating between snow and bare ground, and within a few moments we came upon the first of several meadows we would pass through on the ascent. The creek in this first meadow was frozen solid. The snow was a foot deep in the open, but where the trees grew thick and close, the forest tended to be clear.
The trail was never difficult to follow, despite the fact that we were clearly the only trekkers to have come this way in some time. There were occasional tracks in the snow, possibly a bobcat or a coyote, possibly some rabbits, and we spent some time tracing their paths. We would take occasional breaks for a breather, but maintained a pretty steady pace throughout. We passed through two or three lovely little meadows, with views towards the mountain we had come to climb.
After about a half an hour, we came to the junction with the Flattop rock summit trail, and headed in a northerly direction up the ever-steepening slopes. At this point we were already two-thirds up the peak.
The trail wound around the south and west sides of the mountain, and after about ten more minutes of hiking, we could sense the summit was just around the corner. As I was filming and nearing the top, a Grouse suddenly burst from its tree, startling me, but I managed to film it flying off. I regarded it as a good sign.
Then we were on the summit, or at least, the clearest spot on what was essentially a high forested hill, but it was a beautiful rocky ridge with a two hundred foot cliff on its east side, and we felt really happy to have reached our goal. Once again, the inversion layer was playing havoc with our local weather patterns, and it was a balmy fifty degrees up high while it was mid-thirties several thousand feet below. We later laughed that we had to go up high to get out of the ice zone.
We spent a few minutes hanging out on the pseudo-summit, but while Kevin downloaded a GPS app for his smartphone, I decided to go romp through the woods in search of the ‘true’ summit, as it was obvious the hill rose at least a little higher in the trees. I filmed as I walked and found that despite the dense forest, there were numerous crags lining the summit ridge. I scrambled up to what appeared to be the two highest rocky points, plus a few others besides, and then walked back to find Kevin joining me. So we walked back to where the rocks were so Kevin could also claim the ‘true’ summit.
Then we took a few more pictures, re-packed our things and headed back down the mountain, happy to have come and happy to have found warm sunshine again. For me, just the simple feel of being in the mountains, to see expansive views, to work up a sweat to attain some high point, to persevere through pain to reach it, all of it just came together to provide a nearly perfect day.