Sunday, July 19, 2015

Day 9: The Bittersweet End, Grand Valley to Obstruction Point, by Shane Kelly (Student)

Day 9: Grand Valley to Obstruction Point.
Bittersweet, our last day in the mountains.
I awoke early, during the half-light of dawn, to what sounded like wheezing. I thought it might be the roaring snore of my tentmate, but it was a deer no more than five feet from our tent- you should know that it wasn’t odd by this point to see deer close to camp as they had been stalking our group for the past few days in effort to steal sweaty clothing, or drink our urine, for its saltiness. When I sat up I made eye contact with the beauty, our curiosities leveled, and we froze in a gaze but for only a few brief and memorable moments. As her interest in my presence faded, I laid back down and reveled in the experience. I was so appreciative and filled with joy to have just had a staring contest with a deer no more than a few feet away, and yet at the same time I was sad. Sad that those experiences don’t happen in my normal life. Sad that my loved ones don’t get to feel and share the experiences I have had over the past 9 days. I laid in my tent and contemplated those thoughts all morning (luckily for me, that morning Tim and Nick woke up early to run an extra 7 miles back to the vans at Deer Park and rendezvous at Obstruction Point so we didn’t have to start hiking until about noon). This bittersweet emotion was a constant for me during the 9 days in the backcountry and especially so on the last day knowing that it was all coming to an end. 

This is not the deer I woke up to, but a similar deer encountered earlier on the trip. Photo: Alexandra Bradley

The following is something I wrote while sitting on an escarpment overlooking 1,000 Acre Meadow (see Natalie White’s post about the experiences in 1,000 Acre Meadow on day 6) that identifies with the mixed emotions I feel when reflecting on experience:
“I’m sitting on a cliff face overlooking 1,000 Acre Meadow. My buddy, Kiley, just left my side a moment ago to explore the meadow and he is merely a dot in the vast landscape before my tear-soaked-eyes. I don’t know for certain what it is about being alone in nature that gets me so emotional. Maybe it’s that I have time to reflect on how I may never get to experience this again, which on one hand makes this moment so positively awesome, and on the other hand makes this moment so damn sad. My eyes don’t know how to feel so they pool with tears in that in-between place of not crying and not-not crying to match the confusion, joy, wonder, and sadness of the situation in the only way they know how.”

Myself beginning to journal at an overlook over 1000 Acre Meadows.

Panorama of 1000 Acre Meadows. Photo: Shane Kelly

1000 Acre Meadows, with the trail-less pass and ridge that we entered from on the far left of the picture. The triangular mass of Sentinel Peak is in the background left.

As Alexandra mentioned in the previous day’s blog, some of us were camped at Gladys Lake and had to make our way to Moose Lake to join the rest of the crew before we started our last ascent of the 9 day journey. I was the last to leave Gladys. I took one more look back towards Cameron Basin (the direction in which we came from the day before) and said my goodbyes. I didn’t exactly know what time it was, but after being without a timepiece for 9 days one starts to get oriented. I walked leisurely towards Moose Lake knowing it was well before noon, until I heard the group yelling my name. Our gang was excited and in a hurry to get to Obstruction Point (understandably so) as everyone’s yearning desire for hot pizza and cold beverages reigned supreme. 

Our final climb was riddled with relentless mirages of light at the end of the tunnel. This hike up to Obstruction Point didn’t have much shelter from the sweltering heat. What comforted me though as I struggled up the trail were the many fond and everlasting memories that played like a flipbook in my mind: seeing endemic plant and wildlife species, starting our journey in the rain-glistened Montane Forest of Deer Park (which Maddy described as a primordial experience), hearing a tree fall in the woods nearby, watching a golden eagle soar below us, helping each other forge rivers and creeks (sometimes due to broken bridges), sharing in Tim’s excitement for natural history (aka, Timming), sharing foraged treasures with one another (salmonberry, thimbleberry, huckleberries), the constant communal support displayed by our clan, the heartfelt and insightful discussions we shared, the most beautiful sunset filled with colors that made my mouth water, stargazing like I’ve never experienced, the shrapnel throwing dust tornados, the inside jokes, the challenges overcome, and the blood, sweat and tears that went into 9 days in the Olympic Wilderness. I knew I was going to gain a lot of knowledge about biology, botany, ecology, and natural history. I knew it was going to be a struggle and a blessing. But I did not know that I would walk away from this class with a better understanding of myself. 

Exhausted, we feasted at the van before changing clothes and reluctantly heading back to civilization.

The reoccurring question of the trip was, “What is the significance of Wilderness in the 21st century?” I answered that question while journaling one day, “If nothing else, my answer to that question is finding one’s self. In wilderness I get in touch with my senses, and my physical and emotional feelings. I do so through simplifying my life down to self and necessities. Once all the clutter of everyday life subsides I am left with only my thoughts, senses, and body. Then I can start to understand the kinds of experiences that mean the most to me. I can reflect on what makes me wonder, kind, curious, passionate, driven, joyful, appreciative, and conversely, agitated, spiteful, or sad. Once I’ve contemplated what experiences mean the most to me and make me the kind of person I want to be, then I can decide on how to make them more present in the rest of my life.” As Nick Schippers so eloquently put it during our last discussion, “A class like this provides experiences for identifying and learning about your own strengths and weaknesses. Then that gives us something to work on when we go back to our day-to-day lives. 

The gang poses at Deer Park, 9 days previous, in the cold rain. Little did we know what our minds and bodies would go through in the ensuing days, how much we would learn, and how we would change on the other end. Photo: Shane Kelly (with self-timer).
A final group photo on the other end, with the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the background, our gnarled mountain bodies fitting back into "street" clothes. Thanks to recent PoE graduate, Andrew Jauhola for help with the pickup!


 The final ride out of the park was interesting. It felt so weird to be moving and covering many miles in just a few minutes without any effort. Not only did I truly appreciate the automobile in that moment, but I literally felt odd to be moving at such a quick pace. We all talked about how the transition back into regular life was going to be weird, but I wasn’t ready for it to be shocking. While on the ferry we looked back at the mountains and saw our home for the past 9 days, and we looked forward to the cityscape of Seattle and had a new and refreshing perspective on it. The fast pace of the city and the bright lights can still be abrasive, but now atleast I can reflect back on the experiences in the mountains and feel at ease, feel at home. 

A last view of our Olympic home from the ferry.

Approaching the city again on the other end of the urban/wilderness gradient.

Tourists viewing downtown Seattle from the lower deck of the ferry.

Some early morning photos from Tim and Nick's excursion to move vans:

6:30 AM: Mount Olympus in the distance, and an early morning shadow is cast across Lillian Ridge.

Looking out the Grand Valley towards teh Puget Trough. Light shimmers on the Puget Sound and low clouds hover above Puget Trough.

Phlox diffusa, a classic early season alpine flower that would normally be abundant this time of year. This one was blooming in an area that typically retains snow late into the season, and was the only one we saw on the whole trip.

The view out the Grand Valley, down towards 3 Forks, our first night's campsite.

Patterned ground, discernible under alpine/arctic vegetation on the broad ridge one encounters on the way back to Obstruction Point.

The sun is now high and the day is heating up as the trail crosses the broad ridge.

Patterned ground, or rock polygons, discernible under the alpine vegetation in this high cold environment.

Nick pauses to admire the currents on the Strait of Juan de Fuca (with Vancouver Island in the distance) on the ridge run to Deer Park.

Looking up the Grand Valley where our compatriots were cooking breakfast as we were running to Deer Park.

The Needles Range, with Deception (and small glacier) on far right, and Surprise Pass in the middle.

Looking out towards Sequim, the driest part of the Olympic Peninsula, in the rainshadow. This time and place last year, we were in the middle of a storm, while a "hole" of blue sky persisted over Sequim.

Cryptogramic soil on the Deer Ridge. Reindeer lichen in this case is the main cryptogam.

Nick running Deer Ridge.

Another view across the strait.

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