Going Feral in the Backcountry

Wed, 6 Sep 2006

Sun-baked, wind-swept, we’re struggling to the summit, panting and squinting, and suddenly the plateau stretches below us, a line of emerald and sapphire lakes and pools linked by tufts of gnarled firs, shimmering in the merciless heat. Kicking off sweat-soaked shorts and boots, we run down the bank and dive naked into Mist Lake.

Whooping with shock and pleasure, backstroking and dog-paddling in circles, laughing and hollering. Clambering out again, streaming cold water, hot shale crumbling under bare feet, we turn to view the peaks, the icefields, behold the silver spines of mountain ranges marching north and south from the pass and the forbidding glaciers glowering from the east and west. The breathless hush, the blinding sun, the azure sky and the peaks surrounding us echo a silence that rings and rings.

The plateau

Looking down, the valley where we climbed is hidden between the toes of the mountains. The canyon where we camped is a dark thread in the shaggy carpet of old-growth forest. From here, we can see the last clearcuts in the valley. The last, because this is where we stopped them.

Seven days in the backcountry, seven days clearing the tangled trail on this overgrown hiking route. We tramp for miles through the steep, broken terrain of the canyon lands cutting brush, building bridges, bypassing giant cedars fallen across the trail, and sleeping under the stars.

In the darkening violet of dusk I renew the pledge I made years ago in this place. And the spirits in the forest answer: remember, and never give up.

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