Picture of the Day
January 31, 1999
Sarah and I hiked up Tiger Mountain, a 3,000 ft. peak near
Issaquah only 25 minutes east from Seattle on I-90 by rented car.
Some hardcore hikers obviously outfitted at great expense by REI
asked us our level of experience as I snapped a fallen limb
to improvise a walking stick very unlike their dual aluminum poles.
At bottom was posted advice about how to deal with mountain lions.
As we hiked through a spectrum of infinite greens--mostly pubic moss
and luxuriant ferns--it got sunny, then hailed, then rained, then flurried.
It was an unexpected treat to see so much snow as the trail grew steep
at about 2,000 feet. The path forked and we began our final 1,000-foot
vertical ascent up what we figured would be about a mile of switchbacks.
A couple of turns up into it lightning flashed. Sarah later said
she'd thought my camera had gone off, but its batteries had long
since been killed by the cold. I got to "one Mississ--" before
the thunder rumbled, and blinding snowfall started to fill in
the footprints we'd been following.
I asked Sarah what one is supposed to do when it starts lightning.
Scared, we turned around and followed what we hoped would be
a shortcut by taking the other path at the fork. We got about
a mile this way before the footprints we'd been tracing ended
abruptly at a log fallen across a stream. I ventured across
but could see no indication of trail or tracks on the other side,
so again we turned around. By the time we backtracked to the fork
where we'd started, the weather was better and we decided
--naively assuming that from now on nature would behave--
to try for the peak, where Sarah seemed to recall there
might be a parking lot and access road nearby, but she couldn't be
sure because we didn't have a map with us, nor a clue for that matter.
The climb was sublime and we had the mountain to ourselves
and paused in pristine clearings to hear the silence and take
in the sights but we were looking forward to catching a ride
down the hill as we were both spent from 4 hours of hiking.
But when we got past the snow-laden pines and crested the peak
we confronted near-zero visibility and an ominous
radio tower with a cold wind howling through its steel lattice.
We walked around it hoping to find somebody, anybody, but all
there was was knee-deep snow, drifts, and dangerous drops all around.
So much for catching a ride. And although we didn't have a watch,
we knew it was getting late and there wasn't much light left.
As we started down, it started snowing again and more lightning.
My biggest fear was that our footprints would get snowed over
and we'd freeze to death once it got dark. Rather than risk
getting lost a third time, we retraced our steps, noting
now that it was snowing even at lower elevations. Still two
miles from the trailhead, we were reassured to find a lost dog
who then led/followed us all the way to the bottom. It was just
starting to get really dark when we reached the parking lot
and found the ranger locking the gates two hours after we'd begun
our urgent descent.
There's something primal about the pacific northwest. Nature is
much more prevalent here and a bigger threat to the unprepared.
Overconfident and underinformed, we approached the hike as just
another walk in the park and came one wrong turn or a twisted ankle
away from dying on what before we'd climbed it I would've considered
an unimpressive mountain.
Coincidentally, i just started reading Ken Kesey's "Sometimes
a Great Notion," which Sarah tells me speaks a great deal to the
grandeur and dangers of this region.
what the hail