Hiking Through the Seasons
Why time often gets away from us, and how we can slow the speed at which it slips through our fingers.
Beneath the Valley Floor
“Whoa, look at that.” I pointed out the car window, as if it were even possible to miss what lay ahead of us.
From the top of the mountain pass, we should have been able to see all the way down to the bottom of the glacial basin — even in the blue, pre-dawn light. Instead, thick fog formed a solid floor that obscured the winding road below.
Most of our visibility vanished as we dipped into the low clouds. We pressed on another half hour, watching the road turn from highway, to dirt, to boulder field.
I parked beside a rusted marker, bearing pictures of the vehicles allowed to continue further.
“Are you sure this is it?” My hiking partner asked.
“Looks like it on the map,” I said.
Of course, it was impossible to confirm this visually: the clouds we’d been above now formed a low ceiling overhead. The wide-open gulch felt oddly claustrophobic.
We stretched, shouldered our packs, and set off into the unknown.
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Trees burned with yellow autumn fire. Rocky stream crossings babbled with the remnants of last season’s snowmelt, cascading down the valley. Yet, still no sign of the enormous mountains I knew penned us in on three sides.
The half-changed vegetation gave way to fields of orange shrubs, frozen water droplets clinging to their branches.
Lonely pine trees popped into view through the fog.
Frosted mud crunched beneath our boots. The trail pitched upward, and we focused on keeping our footing along the uneven ground. After a few minutes of determined walking, on a whim, I turned.
“Oh my God.”
Without ceremony, we broke through the cloud ceiling. For the first time, we caught a glimpse of the enormous peaks that had loomed over our hike — unseen, but still present.
We also saw our destination for the first time: a tall shelf hanging over the end of the valley. It didn’t look far.
The change in visibility left my hiking partner and me so enthralled, we hardly noticed the other, smaller alterations.
Long forgotten were the bright orange shrubs. The pines stood scrawnier, and in fewer numbers. The layer of frost became a proper dusting of snow.
By the time we reached the foot of the shelf, it was a couple inches deep.
We’d hiked from one season into another, scarcely realizing the change.
From One Season to Another
After a short scramble up the ledge at the end of the gulch, we were properly entrenched in winter.
From there, we crested a small ridge, and made our way down to one of the most beautiful views I’ve witnessed.
Water lapped at the rocky shore, with the occasional fish breaching the surface.
Clouds swirled overhead.
My hiking partner and I discussed goals, acclimation, and how his recent experience completing an ultra-marathon reframed his relationship with the mountains. This discussion, by the way, will be featured in this Sunday’s Trail Talk — alongside more breathtaking videos and images from this trip.
After about an hour at the lake, we grew cold. The clouds over the mountains started looking a bit sinister.
We packed up, retraced our steps, and hiked back through time to autumn.
The Biggest Changes Come in Increments
Sudden change — breaking through the clouds to see a stunning mountain view for instance — is jarring. You have a clear mental picture of the before and after, and you can compare them.
Gradual change is different.
I couldn’t tell you where along the way I saw the last pine tree, or the first patch of snow. It was as if months slipped by without me noticing.
Our brains seem more interested in the spectacular, than the tiny details.
But sometimes those details can be just as beautiful.
This picture isn’t as grand or epic as the others. But it’s still a memory that helps me recall this adventure with depth and richness.
Sometimes grounding ourselves a bit more, and savoring the moment can help keep time from getting away from us — or at least stop it from getting away so fast.
Next Time on Cole’s Climb
I sit down with Ethan McNaghten by a high altitude lake, to talk about how he went from a non-runner, to ultra-marathon ready in just a few months.
The interview was a ton of fun, and also netted us even more fantastic pictures than I can share here. I’ll try to put some more of them in the next edition.
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I Want to Hear from You
What’s a small, background detail you can remember from a recent experience you had? How did that detail impact the moment?