On the Rocks
A vertical vacation
Tuesday, November 20, 2018
With his missus away on business and his mother-in-law babysitting their two preschoolers for the weekend, a window finally opened up for my old climbing buddy Von Hansen and me to disappear into the mountains and do what we do best—embark on a perilous quest for topographical treasures.
An overnight bushwhacking expedition seemed a little rushed for my taste, but seeing as we’d let two years pass since our last adventure together I felt compelled to rendezvous at his cabin extra-early and make the most of it.
As usual, Von Hansen acted cagey when I asked where we were going. “Relax,” he said, fiddling studiously with the temperamental hood latch of his all-terrain oil burner.
“I’ve selected an accessible but serenely isolated low-elevation basin full of granite boulders and nice slabby rock faces for us to reconnoiter. Just throw your gear in back and climb aboard. This is your roundtrip ticket to paradise.”
Paradise was a dark, frosty place as we growled up the two-track through the fathomless Cascadian predawn. Road conditions deteriorated precipitously, but since Von Hansen and I had so much to catch up on we barely noticed.
Finally—just after our heirloom Appetite for Destruction cassette auto-reversed for the fourth time—we reached our debarking point.
The addled footslog to the basin commenced in characteristic fashion. While Von Hansen shouldered his pack, plunged decisively off-road and vanished quick as a dart into the murky unknown, I biffed on an icy tree root while struggling to adjust my shoulder straps and toppled elaborately into a slash pile.
Von Hansen couldn’t see me, but he heard me struggling and finally eased up.
Intermittent traces of an abandoned mining road snaked faintly through an overgrown clear-cut and through the crepuscular glow of predawn we managed to follow them into a heavy stand of second-growth timber.
Shimmering mist clouds vaporized the dankness. Streams of galloping meltwater chattered shin-deep through cobble-choked ravines. Blowdowns and deadfall crisscrossed the pathway with increasing frequency as we ascended the steepening hillside and we were heartened to finally see daybreak emerge through tangled shadows.
Full sunlight poured over the snow-dusted headwall when we broke through the tree line into the brushy mouth of the basin. Von Hansen steered us up through a series of treacherous, pika-infested boulder fields to the foot of a south-facing slope that gleamed with smooth bands of gently pitched granite.
After dousing our sweaty heads in a crystalline waterfall pool we kicked off our steamy-hot boots, slipped into our climbing shoes and edged our way up off the deck onto the first of many grinning bombproof slabs.
It felt both delightful and also a little hairy to rekindle a friendship up there, but that is exactly what we did.
Go toward the light
As the daylight hours continue to shrink to the point where confused humans are wondering why they feel the urge to begin cocktail hour by early afternoon and head to bed by 8pm, it’s important to remember that winter solstice is just around the corner, and we’ll soon be on the other side…
Lunch on the South Fork
A great blue heron squawked maniacally overhead as we marched around a concrete road barrier onto the South Fork trail.
“That bird sounds hangry,” said the Lady of the House, pausing briefly to get a bead on it through the treetops. “Perhaps we should invite it to lunch.”…
Forty years and counting
The brochure for the Tennant Lake Interpretive Center’s boardwalk resembles a treasure map, but instead of leading its followers to a secret cache of gold coins or pirate’s booty, the colorful artwork by Margaret M. McCandless uncovers the riches of the natural world.
The map posits that…