Sunday, April 29, 2012

Gunning for you

Sacajawea, we have a date. This is our year. I've wanted to climb you for three years now, and every time something has gotten in the way. A late snow year, the mountains full to the brim through July. Contractors to chase through Hells Canyon.

I've seen you every time I hike up Hurricane Creek, but you like to play hard to get. To reach you I have to cross the creek, and you know what it's like, high water, boulders rolling around like bowling balls, a steady roar. So much snow compressed into one little place. I know how to cross rivers but this one requires patience. It's possible to cross in early morning but by mid afternoon I can be stranded on the other side as the snow up high melts. 

Once the river is crossed it is a steep hike up a trail that is not on any maps, one people have made by scrambling and crawling their way up into Thorpe Creek basin. I camped there once with three dogs, close enough to touch you, but it was late fall, an unsteady time of year where snow can blanket you overnight. Even then there is no official route, no trail, just a write-up in a guidebook that relies on things that never change. And we all know things can change. Just getting up close to you today, across the creek, required me to climb over two avalanches. Who knows what has happened on the other side of the river.

Enough with the excuses though. I climbed your sister, the Matterhorn, two years ago before the bridge failed, requiring a sketchy traverse across the Wallowa River, balancing like a stork on a fallen tree. I could have then gone cross country, touching the sky, to where you stand, but the wind was so strong that day that all it inspired was a hasty retreat. I looked across at you though, seeing a small herd of mountain goats dotting your red cinder flank. Maybe that's the way to go, up from Ice Lake and across. A long way, not any easier than the first choice.

But rest easy. I don't climb to conquer. I've been so close to the edge a few times that I have no problem turning back. I don't want to peak bag or write my name on a register. I don't climb for metaphor or glory. I just want to see the world from a different angle. 

Summer's coming and all of us are making our plans. The freakishly warm weather of last week inspired us to dream them up early when we know we have a good two months at least before the high country is open. Still, it will be here soon, that manic scramble to fit it all in before the snow shuts us out. But you're on the short list, Sacajawea. I'll be there soon.


  1. When I summited Sacajawea peak about 10 years ago, Barbara Bond and I came up from Hurricane Creek Trail that went by the South side of Hurwal Ridge. I don't remember a creek problem. But it was probably late summer too. I remember it as being pretty easy and safe. John McGilvra

  2. Wish I could join you but I know I would not be albe to keep up.

  3. Oh, oh, can I come climb with you? Lovely post! Love what you said about not climbing to conquer but to see the world from another angle. Beautiful!


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