If your adventure doesn’t make you feel like an empowered bad ass, then hopefully it will at least scare the shit out of you. This will ensure that you show up to the wedding bursting with gratitude and love for all of your friends. At least that’s how it worked for me.
I recently flew from Arizona to Seattle for a wedding. By myself. I was excited for my friends who were getting married. I was excited to reunite with a bunch of close friends at the wedding. I wasn’t, however, stoked on being the only one there without a date. My favorite lady couple–Julie and Leia–graciously accepted me as a third wheel. But on the long flight north, that horrible mantra (in Eeyore’s voice) kept playing itself in my head: dead end job, dead end relationship, f*** my life.
I needed to do something to change my attitude. So the day before the ceremony, I rented a car and drove to a trail head that accesses one of Washington’s greatest expanses of wilderness. I wanted to climb Glacier Peak.
Glacier is the smallest of Washington’s volcanoes, but often considered the hardest to access because of the wilderness surrounding her. From other mountain ranges in Washington, I had looked at her snow covered flanks from a distance. I had always wanted to climb her, and I decided this trip to Washington was my chance.
The most direct route up Glacier is via a large, highly crevassed glacier. Most people do the trip with at least one partner, and give themselves at least three or four days for the approach and the climb. My ridiculous plan was to start running the first twelve miles of trail at two in the morning (with my boots and an ice ax in my backpack), scramble the next ten miles to the base and then finally pick my way up through the broken rock alongside the glacier. I had read a trip report of one guy who had successfully reached the summit of Glacier in this way.
The forest on the west side of the Cascades is elvish, and running through this section of it in the dark was an incredible experience. The silhouette of giant mushrooms lined the trail. Goats beard and Spanish moss hung thickly from the trees. I ran the first ten miles quickly, but I was really tired when I finally reached the alpine, and my pace slowed a lot.
In the end, some of the most terrifying rock fall I have ever seen in my life forced me to turn around shy of the summit. I’m glad I was tired on the final scramble along the flanks of the glacier, because if I’d been moving faster–and on my projected schedule–I probably would have been directly below the rock fall when it released.
This is my highlight from the descent: A group of five very friendly guys–all the size of football players and carrying extremely heavy looking backpacks–gave me an Espresso Love energy gel for the long trek back to the trail head. They were in the process of finding camp. I had over fifteen miles of scrambling and running left.
Thankful for the caffeine boost, I made it out of the alpine and back to the main trail as the sun was setting. I passed several groups of hikers, and they all asked me if I knew of any campsites nearby. A lot of them grumbled about how horrible and hard their hike had been so far. None of them asked me how I was doing. This made me laugh.
Just before turning on my headlamp, I scared a giant black bear. I saw his dark butt as he scurried into the thick shrubbery alongside the trail. He made a lot of nose as he continued trudging farther and farther away from me. Once he was out of ear shot, everything else seemed even more silent.
Then I heard what I am convinced was a mountain lion screaming. And I kept hearing it.
For years, I’ve been telling people I wanted to see a mountain lion while alone in the wilderness. Finally, I was in prime mountain lion habitat, alone, at their favorite time of the day. This was my chance, but suddenly I really, really hoped the screeching I was hearing had no interest in me. Tired, dehydrated and a little terrified of being attacked by a mountain lion–that’s the best description of my final ten miles back to the trail head.
Which brings me to my most ridiculous–and embarrassing–moment: with five miles left, I really needed to fill up more water, but I kept thinking mountain lions always attack their prey at watering holes. At the last stream crossing, in one quick, awkward movement, I took my pack off and unstrapped my ice ax. While wielding the ice ax above my head with my left hand, I somehow managed to retrieve my water bottle from my backpack and fill it up using only my right hand. I wish someone had been their to see me, because I know I looked awesome (and by awesome I mean I looked like a giant doofus).
I made it back to the trail head by four in the morning, and I slept in a really comfortable ditch next to the parking lot. When I woke up, I drove to the wedding and hobbled my sore legs onto the dance floor that night with my friends.