crests and slopes
The boys spent most of today recovering from our Tuesday exploration in the Cascades. Adam’s reading one of the seminal books on the haywire Shackleton voyage while Oliver Fern had his nose buried in this household’s dogeared, infamous Jokelopedia book. The grocery shopping got done by me this morning, getting in and out of the store quickly as possible was good for loosening up the stiff, creaky parts. For the second week in a row we got up to a pretty little lake. Unlike last week, our destination had only recently melted out so it was too icy for swimming, akin to electroshock therapy but sure enough the boys went in. The day was split into two parts, later we walked higher on the quiet mountainside which was blanketed in places by remnant winter snow. I spent some time instructing the boys about evaluating the hazards of crossing steep springtime snow. Oliver Fern is a loosey-goosey seven year old so we mostly took advantage of creative detours using safe run-outs on drier ground with veggie belays but the boys did test their mettle here or there when I felt the consequences of a slip or fall were fairly non-injurious. In search of the elusive tarns (years ago I admired them from a nearby rocky summit) several hundred feet above, the adventure seemed ended by a mildly hazardous, hanging snow bowl which seemed crossable except Adam felt a little spooked (caution is the better part of valor and he has the makings of a good mountain traveler if he stays interested in the years to come). As we backtracked I was overcome by a premonition about the rugged terrain above: We picked out a forty five degree angled draw which was enticing for the waist-high stunted firs which served comfortable belay. Grabbing at the elfin trees, we crawled seventy five slippery feet straight up, to the reward: An elegant mezzanine of tarn, wildflowers and frogs!
The picture-taking wasn’t very good because of high clouds combined with the extraordinarily intimate confines of our magical alpine shelfspace, such stilted photography is always disappointing at first but the boys’ glee was consolation and besides I did get a couple of cool videos for their grandma, of them ticklishly wading in the icy cold tarn. Here’s a token look at the hillside above the tarn, I urged the boys to stay put so I could look around (they were all too happy to indulge this request, already sans shoes and socks). This subalpine scene is highly representative of many of our sheltered, north facing aspects in the Cascades above 5,000 feet, right now. I was hoping to find another, bigger melted-out tarn up here but it was just a snowier version of our Shangri-la. Somewhere beneath my snowy footing a creek gushed downslope. A good cue for retreat.
I’m still not sure how much exploring in the mountains we’ll do this summer. On the approach hike, in the morning to the lower lake, we were cursed with the worst luck in that we would arrive simultaneously with several unusually large parties, extended families thoroughly disorganized, strung out along the trail and panting for breaks in the heat. No one was wearing masks. While we cordially but swiftly overtook everyone we met along the path, it exacted a price this hot day. The three of us commiserated as to the acute sensation of suffocation underneath folded-over handkerchief face coverings. I worked diligently to keep Oliver Fern hydrated. So far this summer the utilization of masks or thoughtful social distancing in confined, albeit outdoor spaces (such as narrow trails on steep hillsides with nary a place to step aside) by fellow mountain travelers has been quite hit or miss. People look at us like we’re Seattle snowflakes and I want to explain we only cover up for close encounters of mankind, that the handkerchiefs are mostly fashion props way out here. There’s a cottage industry of mask psychology which has erupted into prominence in the quest to solve the puzzle of American selfishness and stupidity.