Tuesday, July 15, 2008

White silence

Date: July 14
Mileage: 8.1
July mileage: 295.3

When I woke up to rescue my drenched and crying black cat from the windowsill, I knew today was not going to be my lucky day. The sky was washed in liquid gray and clouds had crept down almost to sea level. The weather instantly drowned ambitions to wake up early and climb up Blackerby Ridge. Who wants to climb into soggy, foggy nothingness? I went back to sleep.

Later, some hours later, I woke up, again, groggy from too much sleep, and tried to reassess my morning plans. It seemed another damp bike ride was in order, but I could not get excited about it. When I'm in bike mode, the weather doesn't bother me as much. But lately, all I want to do is climb, higher, and it seems every day the weather hangs over my ambitions like a gray curtain.

But it's summer, short summer, and its briefness nags at me. I have so much I want to do and such a short time to do it, I might as well work on getting in shape so I can take full advantage should a good weather window ever open. The hike to Gold Ridge seemed good because it's short and well-defined and nearly impossible to get lost, even in the thickest, soupiest fog. As I rode my bike across the bridge, I saw four cruise ships moored at the dock. Not as bad as seven - but four ships definitely promised a traffic jam near mid-mountain, where the Mount Roberts Tram releases hundreds of tourists who tend to straddle the trail with cameras and generally block forward motion. Still not deterred, I pedaled up to the trailhead and set my watch. I wanted to reach the tram in a half hour.

I still can't run up this thing, but I can maintain a brisk, 4-mph pace. Even still, my heart pounded and my thoughts zoomed in on the rhythmic steps. I hardly noticed that the fireweed had started to come out, the blueberry bushes glistened with dew and the cow parsnip was nearly shoulder-high. This short summer is streamrolling by me, and I have to hike as hard as I can to keep up with it.

After two miles of seeing nobody, the trail above the tram, as expected, was packed. I try to be as courteous as possible but I often feel like I'm swimming upstream amid a swarm of lethargic salmon. So I weaved and expressed my apologies for cutting through and sometimes heard the funniest questions. One woman who did not seem to want to cross a snow field asked me if her feet would get wet. Another man said, probably to himself, that the wildflowers here weren't nearly as good as the flowers in Montana. Then, as the trail wound higher and the clouds really started to settle in, another man asked me if I thought the view would be any better at the top. "I really doubt it," I said. He seemed to waver in that spot, uncertain whether he should turn around. The view-seeking tourists thinned out. I charged higher.

The fog becomes interesting when it gets so thick that you can look down and your feet are obscured. It bunches and flows, so sometimes windows open up to points thousands of feet below, and sometimes you can't even see around the next bend. Fog makes the mountain a different world, even as dreamlike as the world above treeline is, fog takes that dream and cloaks it in colorblindness. It has no smell and no sound; it mutes the tourist chatter and masks the inferior flowers. It dampens the air to the point of equilibrium and covers every feature in papery flatness. It's a world without senses - a white silence. As I kicked my way up toward Gastineau Peak, the noise from my steps in the snow was shattering against that silence. So I stopped for the few short minutes I had left, to soak in my view of nothing.

In my memory I knew there was a real view out there, sweeping along the ridgelines, touching the ice field and Admiralty and Douglas Islands, dropping into the city and along the Channel some 3,200 feet down. And I knew that just on the other side of this curtain there were stark snowfields and spiny little tundra plants and stacked boulders. But today at the top there was only the white silence, and I can't believe I nearly missed it.


  1. Great commentary -- you are a gifted writer. Keep it up!

    Spin On

  2. Damn that first shot is a spooky good picture.

  3. Wow, really nice blog! Very interesting, and great pictures!

  4. Great post! Cool new page background.
    Also, nice job on your Great Divide duties.

  5. Nice new background, Jill.
    Is that Pugsley lying on his side?
    Looks like a moose!


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