Around Glacier Peak, Day 4: Giants in the Years

July 30, 2019
Baekos Creek to Mica Lake
PCT, Fire Creek Pass

1.

I wake in the rain to the sound of last night’s deer running through camp on their way to the river. My friend’s still asleep—loudly—and I leave him a short note in a plastic bag on my way out. “I wrote down your name too.”

Then off, fast, into the still-dark woods. Maybe if I’m fast enough I can catch Krista today.

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2.

I stop at Chetwood Creek—the last clear stream I’ll cross for a while—to filter water and eat a quick breakfast. While sitting, watching the rain clouds burn off into sun, a tall guy with a tiny pack comes bounding down the direction I’m headed.

“Hey Robin!” He shouts happily, as though knowing a stranger’s name is a pretty normal part of his life. “Slept with your wife last night.” I laugh. “I mean, in the same basin. She’s just a few miles ahead.”

3.

The next few miles—across Kennedy Creek’s famously broken bridge, up a few thousand feet on Kennedy Ridge, through Pumice Creek’s blooming basin, a bunch of fucking pointless ups and downs—all pass quickly, and soon I’m climbing the weirdly eroded switchbacks toward Fire Creek Pass, singing along to Julia Jacklin.

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Fire Creek

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There’s a small blue dot on top of the pass, topped by a pistachio tip. I see it for a quarter mile through the last of the switchbacks, but only realize until I’m fifty feet away that it’s Krista. I shout out our pre-ordained signal: “Ca-caw!” The pistachio tip—her beany, it turns out—swivels around. “Ca-caw!” Then all at one she’s running and I’m running and we’re in the middle of the trail, stinky-hugging. I laugh. “I can’t tell if you smell bad or if it’s me?” It’s probably me.

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4.

She got soaked in last night’s rain, and has been up here yard-sale-ing her stuff in the dappled midday sun. It’s all mostly dry and she was just getting ready to go, but waits a bit for me to eat a quick lunch. I want to say a million things, about the Napeequa and Indian Creek and the magic pass by Glacier Gap, but I’m also suddenly very hungry. And very, very tired. “So…” I test the waters. “So how far were you planning to go today?” She’s ambitious but flexible, and we decide to stop just a couple miles down the way at Mica Lake. I’ve always wanted to camp there.

5.

We eat and talk and take a thousand pictures that don’t really turn out. I love this spot: it’s the first time you can really see the North Cascades from Glacier Peak, the first time you realize the enormity of the range you’ve been wandering through. But it’s also weirdly difficult to photograph. Maybe feelings always are.

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From the pass, the trail switchbacks steeply down the southeast shoulder of Fire Mountain and into an open parkland at the base of what was once the Milk Lake Glacier. There are still snowfields here and there, and a few deep blue ponds to mark the old moraine. Little streams streak through bright green fields of flowers. It feels like paradise, just on the far side of spring.

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6.

There are only a few spots big enough for tents around Mica Lake. Since the washouts a few decades ago, this is still one of the most remote areas in the Cascades, and the only real traffic it sees comes from long-distance hikers. But we find a beautiful old place a few hundred feet above the lake big enough to accommodate our two little tents, and set about setting up for the night.

Krista’s so fast setting up, despite all the weird guylines and pullouts she has to deal with. My shelter’s considerably simpler—I still have the sort of freestanding thing REI sells to Boy Scouts and kids headed for Coachella—but it takes me twice as long, and by the time I’m done Krista’s happily sitting at the edge of the clearing, eating almonds and watching the water.

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The rest of the day passes in a happy blur. We scramble down to the lake to swim—well, okay: Krista soaks her legs and I do the sort of panicked splashing I call swimming when the water’s this cold—then spend the evening watching the sun set and clouds turn purple. What a luxury to be still.

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7.

At night we whisper between our separate little shelters, and I talk Krista’s poor ear off about the last few days. It felt like so much longer, like years, and I realize that none of it really felt real until now, until I had someone here to hear it. Then it’s quiet but for the slight wind that’s running through the trees that ring the lake a few hundred feet below. I get to thinking about Jim, and about the delight I’ve felt today, having someone close to tell about the trip so far.

There’s this moment I’ve always loved at the end of the last volume of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. On his way to a party, the narrator sees an old acquaintance—once a shining, blue-blazered aesthete—now doubled-over by age. At the party, he sees more: old friends, all far from what they were. And he wonders at the ravages of time, the masks it makes us wear. He wonders how to live a good life, a unified life, in a world that’s always passing us by.

He finds the solution in a particular sort of remembering—the remembering one does in writing, which can present a world unmoored from the ordinary passage of present into past. We often talk about time in spatial metaphors—history behind, future in front—but writing and remembering allow us a different view. We can see ourselves and our friends as essentially extended, stretching backward and forward, touching at once far distant “points” in time. Prout’s narrator sets about to present such a world:

If… time enough were allotted to me to accomplish my work… I would therein describe men… as creatures occupying a place in Time infinitely more important than the restricted one reserved for them in space, a place, on the contrary, prolonged immeasurably since, simultaneously touching widely separated years and the distant periods they have lived through—between which so many days have ranged themselves—they stand like giants immersed in Time.

8.

The narrator puts the solution in writing, but I wonder if there’s another answer, something more social. I think of Krista. We met when I was 17, barely out of high school and full of all the bullshit teenagers usually are. We kept close through college chaos, and early grad school pomp, and the slow process of me becoming what I am. Of her becoming who she is.

And I think of my family. My brother and mom and dad: they’ve known me for forever, known the little boy in safety-pinned superhero costumes and the sulky tween with painted nails; know the scared teenager in a hospital bed and the pretentious college boy misquoting Plato.

They’ve always-already known me as the weirdly extended thing I really am.

Writing can present that strange shape, but together we’ve lived it. I look at my brother and see at once the accomplished musician and the stoned high school sophomore with badly-died black hair and a safety pin through his nose. I see the extended thing he really is because, to me, he can only-ever be everything he’s ever been.

9.

How strange it must feel not to have all that, not to have someone who’s lived the years with you. I think of Jim, and of the little scroll he made of my name and the date. The little scroll I made of his name.

I can’t be a brother or a son to him, can’t be the wife who died, but at least I can be a point along the way, a way to reflect this moment into some broader whole, a small pixel in a picture of a well-lived life.

10.

Krista’s snoring now, and the wind has died down. I wonder what she’s dreaming about, and wonder at the luck of all the dreams we’ve shared through the years, the luck of sharing this dream now. The luck of all the times I’ve written her name.

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