Through the Looking Glass

By September 26, 2011 No Comments

Several years ago, I drove to the end of a road on the Olympic Peninsula. I stepped out of my car, shouldered my pack and left that cul-de-sac quite literally stepping into another world. I moved through a few feet of stubby pucker brush of a decade old clear cut into the dark cool of an old growth cedar and hemlock forest. It was like stepping from a crowded souk bazaar into a quiet coffee room.
This was the Olympic National Forest’s boundary with the Olympic National Park. If one ever wants to demonstrate the value of a National Park vs. a National Forest, rent a plane and fly over the Olympic Peninsula in northwest Washington State. Trees delineate the Park. Outside the park, there are no trees. Within the Park stand much the oldest remaining temperate rainforest in lower North America.
This May day I was climbing. Alone, I walked up hill and across to the right. In short order I reached snow still holding under the canopy some 150 feet above. The slope became steeper. I kicked steps and moved on. Not long after, I broke free of the trees onto an open avalanche slope and ceasing my rising traverse. I began climbing directly up the fall line. As I climbed the snow became harder and steepened even more. Sometimes I kicked twice to create a purchase on the face or the snow. In an hour, I reached a point where the avalanche slope tightened and became a narrow steep walled gully rising between cliffs of black broken volcanic rock. Steeper, shaded by the vertical walls on either side the snow in the couloir quickly changed from white to the blue of ice in a matter of fifty vertical yards.
Climbing off the snow, I sat on a flat outcropping at the base of the couloir and slid off my pack. I pulled out an orange and my water bottle. After taking a swig, I started peeling the orange. It was juicy and bits of the sections’ skin came off with the peel leaving my fingers wet and sticky. After eating the juicy broken sections of the orange, reaching down I scraped, gathering the surface corn snow and scrubbed my hands clean, then wiped them dry on my pants. The peels I put back in the top pocket. Taking another swig from the bottle, I looked up the couloir. It rose straight and clean with the ice starting quickly. Beyond the ice there was only the slightly softer washed blue of the sky. From the top flap of my pack I took my crampons. Slipping my boots into the straps, I pulled and snugged the straps eliminating any play. Taking the two ice tools off the back of the pack, I swung each into the hard snow at the edge of the rock and left them as I settled my pack on my back and once again looked up the couloir.
Nothing but blue ice and blue skies. This was why I left my car at the end of the road and stepped into an old growth forest. For the sun and sky above. And the ice. The summit, a few hundred yards off to the right beyond the ice, would be only an asterisk.
Slipping the loops around my wrists, I pulled the tools out of the snow. Kicking steps, kicking twice to build a purchase, I moved up and onto the ice.