Friday, August 26, 2011

Switchbacks are for sissies, or the cure for mountain envy

I've seen the Seven Devils etched against the sky for two years from over on the Oregon side. I look towards Idaho and there they are, peaks sawtoothed against the sky, a green blur on a map, a mysterious place perched near the canyon rim. Finally I was able to go there.

We were continuing the mercury study and hiked into a semi-remote area to gather fish. I slogged up the unrelenting inclines, bent under the weight of my pack. We carried nets, paddles, water sample bottles, forms, and other mad scientist stuff.

The Devils are humbling. There is no easy cross country here, no little skips across passes to reach the other side, no flat terrain to be found. It is an angular place, no soft curves, instead basalt cliffs poking their faces to the sky. The trails scribble across the talus slope. This is no place for wimps.

As I hiked along, I wondered why I have this mountain envy. When I see a new mountain range I have to explore it. I can't just let it be.  I wonder how it relates to my twenty years of traveling, how I always looked at the unknown places on the map and wanted to dive in.

On our way up the pass to drop into Ruth Lake, the kind of trail that you plod along, head down, each step a victory, we passed the turn-off to Horse Heaven. I knew from an overflight that Horse Heaven is a sprawling alpine field, gloriously upturned to the sky. There's an old fire lookout there, perched on the canyon rim.

I stared longingly at the weatherbeaten sign. Only three miles! I can totally do it! But in the end, common sense (and our nine mile hike, up and over two 1000 foot passes) prevailed. It tugged at my heartstrings just a little to turn my back on the sign.

But that's what choosing to stay in one place, with one person, is all about, isn't it? You leave some trails unexplored, some rivers unrun. You learn one mountain range enough to love it through all seasons. You study the lines on one person's face, trace their known skin with your hands. You are home.

I have only skimmed the surface of the Devils. There is much more to see, and I may see it someday. I may go to Horse Heaven, lie cartwheeled under the big sky. But dropping over Big Sheep Hill to the valley I live in, I felt invisible arms encircle me and welcome me home.


  1. Yes, that's what it's all about. Thoreau said, "I fit into my valley like an acorn in it's cap."
    Loving a place and a person and knowing how fortunate one is, is a true gift!

  2. All I can say is that you are one lucky lady. (A bit, OK, a lot, of envy here.)

  3. Excellent scenery you get to work in! Count me in as jealous. Thanks for sharing the mountains with this "flat lands and hills" person.


Hello out there. If you liked this post, please leave a comment so I keep writing!