Solo, & Yet So High

5,300 feet high, to be exact. But let me get to that later.

Solo Hiking

I really, really hate watching plans slip through the cracks. I’ve learned to deal with this in two different ways. 1) Don’t plan too much, because then you’re less likely to be disappointed. This is an emotionally safe, and yet fairly uninteresting, way to go about life. The second way I’ve learned to deal with the issue of dissolving plans is 2) Do everything in your power to make shit happen. Don’t accept setbacks and obstacles as “signs” not to follow through with something, or as a reason to change the goal. Accept them as the strength-building exercises that they are, and do what you want to do. Get ‘er done.

This second option is pretty empowering. Every new place I move to, every new adventure I take, every new person I meet, all remind me just how true it is that we are the authors of our own life. We ultimately make our decisions on a day-to-day basis, which in turn dictates our life situations. We decide our attitudes (for the most part, I understand there are exceptions and struggles) every morning when we get up, and we can let the little things bother us, or we can find the other little things in our life to savor and celebrate. If there’s something that we want to do/see get done, and it’s proving difficult or challenging to arrange/plan/make sense of, we have to keep in mind that the only thing that’s standing in your way is…(ahem, we’ve all heard it before) you.

This makes me both giddy and a little terrified, because it means there’s really no excuse to let things/people/situations linger in your life that are making you unhappy or that are unfulfilling. It can be a challenge to accept that and to take the necessary steps forward on your own path. It also makes me giddy because it means we can do anything we set our minds to!

This was a bit of a long introduction to a really amazing experience I want to share that I had this past weekend. I’ve been wanting to do a Mount Pilchuck sunrise hike in the North Cascades for a few weeks, and there’s been a few obstacles to completing it. Whenever I tried to plan it, something usually popped up, typically work-related, which I understand, and I’m appreciative that I even have work to keep me busy, especially a job I love. But a couple of days ago, when I realized I had a chance to do this hike, with plenty of time off and a chance to catch the right ferry off the island, it was go time. The other relevant portion of this experience was that I was going to be doing it solo. I wouldn’t have minded company. But I threw my plans together last minute, and it would’ve been a bit hectic to expect someone else to hop on board with only minutes to pack. I’m fairly independent, and I frequently thrive on the high of making last minute decisions to do what I consider reasonably epic things, especially when I’m doing it all by myself. I hope to forever live my life as a go-getter.

So I packed all of the necessary hiking things into my adventure van Saturday morning, scurried down to the dock to work a whale watch and spend the afternoon talking about the wonders of transient killer whales with fascinating passengers from all over, and got off work just in time to catch the 6:30 ferry off island. And then…she gone. Once I got to Anacortes, fueled up Blue-y, and headed east into the mountains, the setting sun started to light up the world around me. I was stoked that the next time I was going to see that pretty orange glowing ball again would be from the top of a mountain. I arrived at the trailhead for Mount Pilchuck around 9:15, settled into my bed that I’d prepared in the back of the van, and got ready for about 6 hours of sleep…..

Casual 3:30 a.m. wake-up. I blearily stuffed last minute supplies into my daypack. Chugged some water. Strapped on a headlamp and laced up dem boots. After locating the trailhead (which was way more difficult than I thought even though it was right off of the parking lot, but I’ll blame the pitch-blackness of 4 a.m…), I set about to climbing.

And then it was climb, climb, climb, basically through pitch darkness, sliced open only by the narrow beam of my headlamp, with no sounds but the occasional trickling of streams and some strained breathing. Sure, the small percentage of rocks and stones in front of me  that I could see were very beautiful…but I knew the darkness around me was hiding some mystical forest beauty. What I loved so much about this night hike, though, was that because I couldn’t see anything much around me, I was so focused on what was right in front of me. It was refreshing. My brain didn’t wander to unrelated topics (a first for me!), because it was pretty much mush from having woken up so gosh dang early. So for a good hour or so, I kept on trudging up and through the forest, essentially in zen mode, trying to ignore the heavy dispute my leg muscles were having with my brain and focus on the anticipation of what was to come.

Around 5 a.m., the sky started lightening just the tiniest bit. Soft grays painted the horizon line as I emerged above the forest into a clearing, which I still couldn’t see properly. Below me in the distance I saw flickering lights from the towns I had driven through last night, and I could sort of make out the silhouette of the Cascades. But still, the peak of Mount Pilchuck loomed up to my right, and I knew I had a ways to go.

Soon enough, I was able to peel off my headlamp and let the coming dawn light my path. I could finally revel in the sheer magnitude of the mountains and wide open sky that made up the landscape around me. My legs had stopped rebelling and I instead embraced the feelings of pain and muscle soreness, grateful that I had quads that could power me through the last few hundred feet. I knew I was getting close. I was 1.5 hours in, and there couldn’t be much more to it.

My arrival to the summit sort of unfolded in progressively more epic steps. First, I reached the ridge, where I could finally look down over the other side of Mount Pilchuck. I turned a corner and saw some hardy backpackers had chased sunset the previous night in order to sleep on top of the mountain and catch sunrise at a more reasonable schedule. Their tents were looking down on one of the most epic vistas I had ever encountered. But I passed this by to scramble up a few more boulders, with the Mount Pilchuck fire lookout on my left and the slowly warming sky glowing on my right. I settled in to wait, watching the world light up around me. When the sun finally crept over the Cascades, I felt chills, the kind you get when you know this is one of those rare moments that you’ll never forget.

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It’s Time

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Illuminate

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Mount Pilchuck Fire Lookout

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Mount Baker from the Fire Lookout

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Pastel Skies

Hell. Yeah. More people need to solo hike. It’s like solo travel, which I’ve had my fair share of, and though it might seem uncomfortable and unnatural to some people, it really and truly opens your eyes to what you and you alone can accomplish for yourself. You overcome the obstacles, you figure out the solutions. It takes you to some cool places, and forces you out of your comfort zone. You meet cool people (like Lauren, a new friend I met from Seattle who was enjoying the sunrise with her friends and snapped some incredible photos of the morning!).

So, solo, I hiked, so high. 5,300′ to the summit. 3 miles each way. And although I had to hike back down later that morning, I still felt on top of the world.

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Courtesy of my new friend Lauren and her amazing photography skills

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Post-Hike High

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Post-Hike Indulgence

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