The primary lure of backpacking for me is the opportunity to visit isolated high alpine country: where a trail breaks out above the tree line and the vista opens up to snow-capped peaks. There are several place where one can drive to such regions. Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Park near my boyhood home of Port Angeles is one such location.
But simply driving to a vista takes away the challenge of the hike. As I started my second day of hiking, I knew that I would be entering my “sacred space” later that morning as I climbed towards Suiattle Pass, at 5800 feet. Shortly after starting, I needed to crossed Agnes Creek which had no foot bridge.
Already I was missing my trusted Leki hiking stick that I had used for years. I had forgotten to place it in my airline duffel when I packed my gear. Still I carefully waded across Agnes Creek without a problem, the ice-cold water reaching above my gaiters. In yesterday’s rain I had hiked in wet shoes; a stream crossing was no different. (Somehow I forgot that lesson three days later.)
As I climbed up towards the pass, some vistas did open up, especially towards Cloud Pass. I kept climbing towards Suiattle Pass and I looked forward to seeing deeper into Glacier Peak Wilderness. However I soon learned that Suiattle Pass, in spite of its higher elevation, is mostly forest with a few small meadows. The alpine flowers were gorgeous, the views less so.
As I trekked down the other side of Suiattle Pass towards Miner’s Creek and eventually Suiattle River, I caught my first glimpse of Glacier Peak. Clouds surrounded the peak, but I could see a few of the many glaciers that cover it. Glacier is volcanic like Mount St. Helen’s and Mount Rainer and it is the fourth highest peak in Washington. It would take me two days to hike around it, mostly due to the arduous descents into and tougher climbs out of the deep river canyons that the melting glaciers feed. I was expecting some tough days ahead.
As I descended deeper into the forest, the trail became less rocky and more pedestrian. I found my pace quickening as I approached Suiattle River. I had heard stories about the old crossing of this river. In 2003 a rainstorm flooded the river and the bridge was wiped out, leaving fallen log for hikers to traverse.
In September 2011 a new bridge was opened but it was built two miles downstream at a (hopefully) more secure spot. This added four miles to this section of trail, two miles down one side of the river and two miles up the other. I was anxious to get back to the high country, so I did not look forward to an extra four miles of river-bottom hiking. My disappointment turned to surprise.
After completing eighteen miles, I found a cozy camp site near the river. The next morning, I finished the hike to the new bridge and started back up the river along new trail.
As I trekked, I slowly realized that I was hiking through some old growth forest. Most of western Washington was heavily logged in the last hundred years, but for some reason this section was missed. Huge western red cedars stretched to the sky. I felt like I had stumbled into an ancient temple; the feel of sacred space surrounded and surprised me. I was awed and humbled.
A short video clip from the forest (you may need to “full screen” to see it.)
The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. Psalm 104:16
What space or place has surprised you with holiness?
Lord God, evoke within us the holiness of your kingdom.