Friday, January 19, 2018

Nature's Wrath in the North Cascades

It was the tail end of a 10 day long backpacking adventure - the previous day being a grueling traversal of the rugged rollercoaster of Jackita Ridge. We could have cut things a day short - dropping down the switchbacks to Ruby Creek and the North Cascades Highway, but the bright alpine sky and the towering peaks of Crater Mountain beckoned, and it was quickly decided that a few extra nights were needed to do this alpine wonderland justice.

We found a cliff side campsite where a bright stream fell into the shadowed valley beyond, and spent the remaining daylight lounging in the meadows on the shore of Crater Lake. We drifted off to sleep serenaded by the roar of many waterfalls tumbling from the glaciers above.

The "trail" to the lookout site.
Morning dawned bright and clear, and once breakfast was inhaled, it was time to explore! Up the winding path we went - scrubby stands of Alaskan Cedar giving way to heather mounded slopes, that in turn gave way to barren rock and snow beneath looming cliffs. The depths of the valleys below us were such as to induce an exhilarating vertigo. The lines of ridges marched off into a hazy distance of ice and soaring peaks. Eventually the path threaded its way along a crumbling causeway of stone - precipitous falls to either side - before turning and hitting a cliff. The trail didn’t end there, but continued onwards, marked by yellow splotches of paint, to the remains of the lonely lookout which once stood watch upon that most rugged summit.

That path was not for me, and so I waited for my companions to finish tempting fate on that tenuous track. Lying sprawled on the mountain side, the bright sun lulled me into that most refreshing of naps only achievable in remote and lofty places. When I woke, the sky about me no longer looked so friendly. Though still blue above, and as pleasantly warm as before, all around rose menacing clouds that grew ever darker as I watched. Then, with an almighty crack that shook the ground, lightning struck - a twisting bolt of power that smote the crest of an adjacent peak. This explosion seemed to break the dam holding back the storm, and it poured forth with pent up fury to consume my bastion of sunlight. The lightning came thick and fast now as I ran from the barren stone to the relative safety of the scrubby forest. Hail pounded down, rain lashing through the ice in torrents, and a howling wind pushed me down the trail to our camp.

Overcome by the thrill of the storm, a kind of madness took me, and throwing common sense to the rising wind, I stood looking out at the valley and howled with wild laughter before reality crept back in as the forks of lighting marched with wrath towards us. Somehow the storm kept building, impossibly leaping from one epic crescendo to another 'till we crouched, hands on ears, as the strikes pummeled the ground around us and wreathed the peaks above in fire. The rain came so hard now that even our elevated camp was inundated by the flood until nothing we possessed could be called dry.

The storm dragged on for the rest of the day, the rain pelting down long after the lighting had moved on to torment other travelers, and it was nearly dark before we saw the veiled sun once more.


This post was written in 1 hour for the #NatureWritingChallenge

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