Thursday, June 7, 2012

Sourdough

The tree-shaded trail wound through the forest. The sun shyly sneaked through the crown of pines, patches of light mingling beneath my boots. Pretty trail, no people. I already walked for a good mile and haven't seen a single representative of my species. Then again, in this pristine forest, I haven't seen an animal either. Besides my dog. Faithful companion. Good. I like it that way. People tend to ruin everything anyway. They do stupid things. So do I, of course. I am not being hypocritical. Like that guy who dropped a canoe at 11,000" in a glacial lake without even knowing how to swim. Pulled to muddy death. Lack of foresight. Epimetheus. His body swollen tangled in vines and algae, nipped at by trout. May never surface, they say. Stupid.

My back is sweaty. A soft breeze rustled the leaves. Indie's ears pricked up. I stopped. Silence. I make so much noise when I walk. Human, the bulldozer of the forest. The elephant in a china shop. Here I go thinking in cliches again. James Joyce didn't. I always say there isn't an original bone in my body. The combination is quite unique though. Right? I wonder what you see when you look at me. The problem of identity: I imagine myself a whole, unified individual because I can connect the dots of my life's temporal line with consistently continuous memories. Some I'd like to erase. Some will nag at my being. Some stroke my identity against the grain. I'd like to forget the last two years at the university. They only confirm that people are not only stupid, but also blatantly arrogant and belligerent. Animals are not. I was not... arrogant and belligerent, that is. Stupid, yes. I let them get away with it. Pity them for they know not what they are doing. Perhaps they do it out of some need to treat others as they were once treated... a perverted attempt to patch up their own wounds with others' pain. The world is cruel, and I finally find myself in a position to add to the cruelty. What is wrong with people? Schopenhauer was right. We breed disease. I'd like to think I learned from the experience. How do they say it: it builds character. Perhaps. I watch the pebbles and roots on the trail. It would not take much to trip and twist my ankle. I look back. No one here. Just the silent forest. My entire world now silent, non-judgmental. I like where I'm at. Just tread carefully.

It's been another mile, I bet. I look around. More trees. I don't seem to have gone anywhere. One part of the trail indistinguishable from another. A tree is a tree is a tree. Just then I realize that I like a view. I like change. I like hiking where I can see the trail leading somewhere. I'm bored. I glance among the trees but cannot see beyond the sea of trunks, branches, foliage. My tormentors do not see me beyond what I allow them to see. They see an inept, incompetent little girl. I didn't hit back, and they just kept beating. For some reason, I did not feel the need to provide a riposte. Am I always this non-confrontational? I remember once, when I was in high school on a volleyball team a girl who barely came up to my chin punched me in the face. I just turned around and walked away. I did not show any anger. I didn't care to. They'll never see me bleed. Besides, they see what they want. Their sight is already distorted. A reflection in a concave glass. At least I know they are wrong about one thing. Keep them ignorant. Am I ever getting out of this forest?

The trail dips. My breathing has been hard, but I haven't noticed. I've gained some altitude, it would seem, but it's all lost on me. No change in view. I check the altimeter: yeah, I've gotten higher. If the trail climbs high enough, I will be above the treeline. I love the sudden change of perspective when reaching the treeline: the entire world opens up to show neighboring mountains and hills. I am not lost in a forest: I can tell where I am. I can orient myself according to visible points of reference. As I descend down the trail, the noise of a stream drowns my thoughts. A bridge. Indie runs to the other side, down to the water, and laps the cool liquid greedily. While he's drinking, I enjoy the change in view watching the glassy water rush over rocks and branches. It dodges obstacles. Flows over or around but keeps to its course. Beautiful cascades of silver ribbons. Rivulets over slippery, iridescent stones. It has a rhythm. I listen to the song. I can ride my bike with no handlebars.... no handlebars... no handlebars... I giggle.

Strange. Everything just flows over. It doesn't tarnish; it doesn't disturb. Just trickles down my spine. My hair spread like weeds afloat in the green pool, mermaid-like. Cleansing. Still no one here. Gnats flickering on the water. I'm rather unmoved by the experience. Surely, it has changed the way I think, who I am. But it didn't beat me. I just know what I want now. I skirt downed trees. Soft litterfall under my feet. Twigs, needles, bark, soft soil, soft steps, soft heart. This trail is not going to climb above the treeline, is it, my Promethean soul? It's going to keep winding through the forest. Beautiful. But it will not give me the satisfaction of seeing beyond the immediate field of vision, beyond the few hundred feet. It's not what I want. I stop. I turn around. The forest nods and accepts with thoughtful silence.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Art of Surfeit

The other day I found out that a rock climbing friend of mine was going to start off her 14er climbing season with an ascent of Quandary Peak via the standard East Ridge route--a good preparation for a venture into the Sawatch range next week. I have climbed Quandary a few years back via West Ridge, and thought it might be a good idea to invite myself on this trip in order to condition my body into hiking to the roof of Colorado without collapsing from lack of oxygen and physical exhaustion.


The weather on the fine day of May 30th was looking relatively good... a bit nippy and breezy... 20-30F and 15 mph winds with gusts up to 40. But I was not worried. After all, the ridge was spacious, and I didn't have to reach the summit. I checked recent trip reports for snow conditions at this time of the year, so I could decide on footwear: mountaineering or hiking boots? Four days before, there was a good snow coverage with some postholing (5/24/2012 trip report): mountaineering boots it must be and a mandatory ice axe. I stuffed my day pack with gaters, heavy gloves, hat, neck warmer, face mask, a thermos of hot tea, and a thermal blanket. All this, on top of the orienteering and survival equipage, such as a compass, altimeter, multiple fire starters, map, and a sizable knife. I knew I wasn't going up Denali, but I figured better over-prepared than under-prepared. Besides it's good for conditioning the body. Thus prepared, clothed in layers, winter jacket, and ski pants, I was even ready for Denali: Quandary--the pipsqueak of a mountain--was nothing! Hubris was far from my attitude, since I've developed tremendous respect for this finicky mountain, but I felt a comfortable confidence.


I met my hiking partners at the trailhead at 4:45am. As soon as I arrived, I realized that all the snow has completely melted and my boots were slightly superfluous. But I did not foresee this little problem, so I did not bother to pack my hiking boots as well. Oh well, I thought to myself, more conditioning. We were off, my dog in the lead and I trailing behind, as usual. By the time we moved 500 yards, I was already overheating... The 30 degree morning temperature at the trailhead felt surprisingly warm. As dawn started breaking, the headlamps very quickly became extraneous as well on this obvious trail through the trees.


The hiking was slow and consistent without too much effort. We quickly reached the treeline and the exposed ridge. The summit became quickly visible, but oh it seemed miles away. The sun started peeking above the mountains and coloring everything with a fine pink glow. Once on the ridge, the cold wind started picking up, and I was thankful for the hat and gloves I lugged on my back.


We followed a good trail up the wide, rocky ridge. The trail became more steep at about 13,000 feet. I started falling behind as my steps became shorter and slower, the heavy, stiff boots weighing me down, adding to the exertion on my flabby, inept leg muscles. To add to the discomfort, I developed some substantial blisters on both heals, and with every step it was more difficult to ignore the pain. We stopped to rest and found an encouraging message scribbled on one of the rocks: "Almost there." I glanced towards the summit: I guess it didn't seem that far away. So with newly restored confidence, we moved on, strong gusts from the East occasionally compromising our balance.


Honestly, the final push to the summit proved quite a feat for me: I was tired, out of breath, slow, in pain, and frankly quite annoyed that I was having so much trouble on this hike. But I pushed on, and at about 8am I found myself on the summit.

I haven't mentioned yet that we hiked all the way up without meeting a single soul on the trail: no one witness to my pathetic effort--bar the mocking pika and the angels. The wind on the summit was cold and substantial. We quickly took a few shots, rested a while, drank some hot tea, had a bite of a granola bar, and started our descent.


The decline in altitude and the momentum were helpful on the descent but my stiff boots countered every advantage: I had to tread carefully in the rocky ridge in order not to loose my balance or twist an ankle. So coming down required more effort than I would have anticipated. At least I could not feel my blisters, since the force shifted to the front of the boot. Having descended about 1000 feet, we met the first hikers going up to the summit. As usual, we passed some ill-prepared victims in shorts and t-shirts. I stood in stark contrast to the miserable, cold girls.

We finally reached the treeline, and as soon as the trail became packed dirt rather than rock and scree, I could move a bit faster. I could feel my legs, my toes, and especially my back. Shedding the layers of clothing as we got to the trees on this beautiful, sunny morning, the extra weight went back to the pack. We reached the car at 10:20am--not exactly record-breaking but a worthy start to the season.