Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Jumbo-vision

The weather holds me hostage. With fresh snow already coating the high mountain ridges and winter barrelling down, I can no longer justify spending a nice day - even if it's "sunny" only in the meteorological sense - lingering at sea level. So when that little yellow circle shows up on the forecast, I have to somehow carve out four solid hours to climb yet another mountain.

Today was Mount Jumbo. The trail begins virtually in somebody's front yard, in a neighborhood that today was enveloped in thick morning fog. I arrived early enough to meet a group of children waiting for the school bus. As I was packing up my gear, soft headlights pushed through the haze. "There it is! There it is!" one girl squealed. "It's appearing out of noooowhere."

The trail itself had a spooky woods feel, with semi-solid air and ground saturated in the 4 inches of rain that fell during the last storm. It's late season now and the presence of other hikers is scarce if not nonexistent on a Tuesday morning. It's also close enough to October that nostalgia dictates the expectation of some chainsaw-wielding hockey-mask guy or a face-paint zombie to jump out from the shadows at any second. When that didn't happen, I was admittedly disappointed.

Finally emerging from the cloud into the bright morning felt strange, like waking up from a long afternoon nap. But it didn't last. Thick clouds kept rolling through; one minute I'd be squinting in sunlight, and the next, groping through fog. Changes in elevation revealed themselves in startling windows. When they closed, I focused on the ground, only to be startled again.

I am always so excited to discover my first fresh snow of winter.

In this landscape of hemlock and spruce, the best fall colors happen at ground level.

At the peak, I had nearly reached to top of the highest cloud. The window was large enough to open up the expanse of blue sky.

Staring out into infinity felt like snow blindness. I couldn't look for very long.

About 30 minutes from the peak, back in the midst of the rolling clouds, I met the only other person on the trail, a solo woman with a mean-looking dog. I told her it was at least another 30 minutes to the top. "I can't believe I hiked all the way up here and I can't even see a thing," she said. "I guess I'll probably just turn around now."

"You should keep going," I said. "I'm sure this cloud will move through before you get to the top."

"It's not worth the chance," she said. As I continued down the mountain I could hear her footsteps squishing behind me, until I couldn't hear them any more.