Climbing Mountains

Mt. Saint Helens from Windy Ridge

My wife and I spent last week hiking in Washington State. First, we visited Mt. Saint Helens National Monument. We hiked at Independence Pass and climbed Windy Ridge. Our trail followed an exposed slope several miles north of the crater. The devastation caused by the volcano’s eruption 30 years ago dominates the environment. Pumice lay like popcorn along the path, having flown miles as molten rock. Remnants of trees blown down by the blast stand as ghostly reminders of nature’s power. The landscape is returning to forest but it will take several generations to complete the process.

We spent the next three days at Mt. Rainier National Park. We tramped up to Comet Falls. This trail wanders steeply uphill through the forest. The path takes you across some rickety bridges and a cold mountain stream. That glacier fed river provided the perfect antidote for the burning peripheral neuropathy in my feet. Wildflowers rose to greet us as we climbed in elevation. Tender Shooting Stars, Glacier Lilies, and Alpine Aster peeked out from rivulets of melting snow.

Spreading Phlox along the trail to 4th Crossing

We stayed one night at the Paradise Inn just below tree line on Mt. Rainier. Numerous trails open up outside the hotel’s entrance. Marsh Marigolds, Spreading Phlox, and Pink Mountain Heather blanket the alpine slopes.

After three days of the high country wildflowers, my wife and I returned to the Oregon Cascades where we live in the Upper Hood River Valley. Our property is remote. We bought the land in 1978. At one time, a railroad ran through it. The train hauled timber from the Lost Lake Canyon to mills down on the river. Evidently, the plateau upon which we live was clear-cut and converted to farmland, primarily fruit orchards. Our few acres were once home to fields of strawberries before being allowed to return to pasture.

Marsh Marigold

The wildflowers on our property seem tame by comparison with their high country brethren. I obtain the seed from a small company in Oregon, Round Butte Seed Growers. They specialize in native Northwest mixes but I’m sure their seed does well in any reasonable climate. You can buy low or tall growth varieties, specific blends to attract birds, as well as individual flowers for concentrated effects.

The various seed mixes I use stagger their germination. Therefore, I enjoy an array of flowers beginning with April’s rains and ending with the killing frosts of November. For me, it is like watching a parade. Around the corner of each week a new colorful float of bloom appears to commemorate the magnificence of nature.

Oriental Poppies

Baby’s Breath shimmers in the gloaming of late spring. Blue Bells and Bachelor Buttons follow their lead. Soon, Oriental Poppies are standing tall. The sails of their delicate petals collect the lightest breezes and tilt the long masts of their stalks from side to side.

As spring moves forward, wildlife join the celebration. Fragrance and color attract bees and hummingbirds. Butterflies, all wings and antennae, flit from bloom to bloom, anointing each with the favor of a sticky kiss.

Now, in July, with the arrival of summer’s heat, the show continues with several shades of yellow. Sturdy Sunflowers and Black-Eyed Susan step high. They raise the batons of their blooms to the sky and guide us to Autumn.

Mt. Rainier at our doorstep

It feels good to return home, but our short vacation encouraged me. Two years ago, my bone marrow was blasted with chemo. The effect on that micro-environment was equivalent to the volcanic eruption that destroyed the landscape north of Mt. Saint Helen’s crater. Then, the transplantation of my own stem cells restored the blood cell making factory of my marrow. I may have an incurable cancer but following this experience I’m more convinced than ever that my remission persists. I endured the strenuous hiking and earned my fatigue; it was not caused by imbalances in my blood.

More importantly, my wife and I got away from our routines. Cell phones could not find us. Computers stayed behind. In these mountains we enjoyed the peace of solitude and were reminded of the blessing of good health.

5 thoughts on “Climbing Mountains

  1. Gorgeous. So glad – but not surprised – that you found the stamina you needed to enjoy those wonderful hikes. Next time you’re up there, please bottle some of that stream water for me – it sounds amazing. (Damned neuropathy!)

    Love hearing your reflections, as always.


  2. That sounds like a dream get-away and is on my list of things I want to do, I have never even been to Seattle. Greg has been to Mt Rainier and has often said he wants to take me there! So glad you are healthy enough to enjoy such things, I hope to get there one day too. We do have the E. Carribbean cruise in September, but it will be very low activity for me, not in remission yet.


  3. Oh! how wonderful your trek sounded , we are so amazed at how you manage to do all these things. I pray that this will continue for the longest time. I read everything you wrote with such great interest, perhaps more so, as I dont get too far from home these days. You must feel very pleased with yourself having done so well.
    Very best wishes.


  4. I have been away, helping my son move to Boston, and I just found your posting. I am so glad that you and your wife had such a glorious holiday. Away from everything, just the two of you – and the wildflowers.
    I am happy that you are feeling well and wish you to continue in your strength and excellent attitude.

    I completely understand your sentiments – nothing brings as much peace to me as the beauty and serenity of nature.

    I look forward to your posts! Liliana


  5. Brother John,

    Sounds like a wonderful trip–reminds me how in love I am with the change of seasons here in the northeast.

    And any chance to leave the cellphone behind should be pounced upon.

    Viva la floral parade.


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