The day after Thanksgiving Kyle, Cameron (my youngest brother) and I were able to get away for a few hours for a little trip up the Olympic Peninsula. It had been far too long since I’d been hiking and I was having withdrawals so we planned a short trip up Mt. Rose, quick enough to leave us plenty of family time in the evening. Of course, we managed to complicate matters by rejecting the help of smart phones and taking a wrong turn, leading us forty five minutes in the wrong direction. Finally we got to our destination and had a spectacular seven mile hike. I could not believe how much I had missed the Northwest, even when we were in the forest and there was no view in sight the hike was gorgeous. The trees were massive and there was plenty of space within the forest to let your eyes roam, lighting upon bubbling springs and cascading creeks. Just the sight of a nicely groomed (although pretty steep) trail made my heart soar with affection for my side of the country. Near the top of the hike you pop out onto a rocky mountain top with sparse tree coverage and the view was incredible. Below us, a lake of clouds covered the valley floor but all around us the peaks of the Olympics broke through the clouds creating craggy stone islands bathed in sunlight. Far away was the biggest island in the clouds, Mt. Rainier, with its cloud cap on and snow blanketed slopes glistening in the sun. We ate lunch at the top, drinking in a fantastic view, before descending back into the massive forest cloaked in mist.
A few days later we were in the bar at Tugboat Annies when Blair, the owner, asked us if we were having hiking withdrawals. I admitted that I was feeling them but that we were getting out and hiking. Heck, we just went and did Mt. Rose! He looked at me scornfully and said, “Mt. Rose, that’s a pretty boring hike, although it is really steep, maybe it’s more of a conditioning hike.” I didn’t really know what to say…
On the drive home from the bar I turned to Kyle and said, “You think people in the Northwest are just spoiled?” He looked at me seriously, “Absolutely.” As they should be! We live in a gorgeous part of the country, but maybe even us lucky bitches out here in the west could use some perspective, and I’m here to give it to you.
I just spent five months hiking on the East Coast and let me tell you, the view we had from Mt. Rose was a rare sight on the AT. It rivals our best views, views from the top of Mt. Katahdin, Franconia Ridge, the Bigelows and McAfees Knob. Are you hearing what I am saying? We hiked for months on the AT to gather a handful of incredible views and smashed them all to smithereens with one little day hike in the Northwest. Now sure, Mt. Rose might not live up to other hikes in the area, which are basically a walking tour of incredible views, but it’s nothing to snub your nose at!
And so what if it’s not all views? Even when you’re in the trees it’s gorgeous. The trees are huge, old and impressive. I’d day the average diameter of a tree of the AT is no bigger then my leg. Sure we saw one or two giant oak trees, but the average tree on Mt. Rose was bigger then the biggest tree on the AT. Bigger around and immensely tall, towering over you and creating a beautiful, open, uncluttered canopy. You think that crystal clear stream bursting forth out of some mossy rocks is boring? Well, why don’t I send you out to New Jersey where all the water is orange and you can rethink that statement. The water along the Mt. Rose trail was so beautiful I was tempted to abandon my better judgement and plunge my face in for a big cold gulp!
Lastly, I never want to hear anyone from the west complain about steep trails. I am sure they exist out west, in fact I know the exist because Backpacker magazine claims the steepest hike in the country is in Colorado. It’s 1.8 miles long. The Presidential range in New Hampshire is 100 miles of incredibly steep. I was a snobby north westerner once. I would argue with every north easterner I met about their mountains. I felt there was no possible way some puny little five thousand foot mountain could possibly be that hard. I was epically wrong. Let me explain why and how the mountains in the northeast are so difficult.
When they began building trails in the East it was primarily for human use. People wanted to escape cities and get to the top of a mountain as fast as possible, see the sights and head back home. In order to make this happen, they built trails straight up the fall line of mountains. The fall line, as you can imagine, is the shortest route down a hill and the route that water takes. After years of water running down these very old trails they have eroded away to just rocks and roots. You use these to literally (and I mean literally all you grammar freaks) climb up the hill/mountain/cliff. What we encountered in the northeast was unlike anything I had ever seen before and hope to ever see again. Trails out west on the other hand were built for stock so they had to be built at a more gradual grade. They cross the fall line using a switch back technique. This way water rolls off them quickly instead of flowing down them. Mt. Rose uses switchbacks, and even though they are built at a pretty steep grade, they are in good shape and do not involve any hand over hand climbing. So unless you find yourself rock climbing when you thought you were going hiking please don’t complain.
I guess what I am saying is that the AT humbled me in many ways. I am not saying the AT was ugly or boring or not worth it. Instead it was the perfect canvas for focusing inward and garnering an appreciation for smaller beauties. For bird song, flowers, breezes, and flat ground. And when we did get that amazing view, it was like every treat on the AT, it was that much more worth it because we had to wait and work for it. So I say to myself, don’t get spoiled.