“The morning is the best time, there are no people around. My pleasant disposition likes the world with nobody in it.”
I was up in the dark of astronomical twilight on Tuesday, eager for my mountain snow-day. I had double-checked the latest forest service updates, packed for every possibility and hit the road by 4:30 AM. I chose Mount St Helens for sunrise because if both memory and experience serve, there will likely be no humans around this early. I am eager to check for mountain goats at the Observation Center and consider two hikes I’ll likely need snowshoes for. I’m giddy thinking about the snow. It’s a quiet like no other and quite possibly the most grounding experience I’ve ever known. Silence and serenity.
It’s an easy drive down I-5 against all of the commuter traffic heading north. I see stars in the dark sky until I hit Centralia/Chehalis. This area is like a fog belt. By the time I take the exit at Toledo it is thick as pea soup. I slow down. Once I hit SR504 it has mostly cleared. 17 miles from Johnston Ridge Observatory I begin to hit snow and ice just as the sky begins to brighten. There is a corner you take at which point the mountain reveals itself and I can see civil twilight skies. It’s a bit like both fire and melting sherbet.
At first glance the horizon is aglow and I pull over into the Castle Lake viewpoint to take it all in. My headlights light up the snow and the sky cradles the mountain in warmth. It’s below thirty and the wind is fierce, but I’m prepared. I don’t linger, wanting to catch a glimpse from the Observatory. 504 winds downward toward Hummocks Trail and Coldwater Lake before circling back up to Loowit Viewpoint and Johnston Ridge. The timing is perfect which makes my very early wake-up all worth it.
I pass the lake and prepare to head up and am stopped in my tracks. 504 is gated. What?
My heart sinks as my plan implodes.
I allow myself a few angry, frustrated words. It would have taken someone 30 seconds to update the website. I already know the Observatory is closed, but both places I checked said the road would remain open until December 1st. It is a two and a half hour drive for me and had I known I would have made a different plan. 30 seconds. I don’t think that’s asking too much.
So what now?
I walk the nature trail at Coldwater Lake in a cold wind. I drive over to the Hummocks Trailhead parking lot and meander along the sloppy path until I realize this isn’t how I wanted to spend my day. I wanted blue sky and biting cold and SNOW! So I hop back in my car and head to the Jackson Hwy that will take me to HWY12, which will eventually lead me to SR7 and into MRNP (Paradise). It’s two more hours in the car but the heart wants what the heart wants. This heart wants snow.
There is a huge gang of elk as I leave the area. I smile, thinking there might actually be 25 of them. Dropping back into the valley the fog returns and I almost miss my cutoff.
The sun is up now and the sky is almost ethereal. My timing is actually perfect for the opening of the gate at Longmire. The parking lot is scattered with cars as I layer up and pull on my spikes. Unless I plan to go above Alta Vista I shouldn’t need snowshoes, so I set out with camera in tow.
I’ll spare you a thousand more words and give you these pictures instead.
On my way down to Longmire before the gate closes, I pull into the Narada Falls parking lot and head down. Parts of the path are solid ice and I happily make my way down with my trusty spikes and camera. Oh. My. God. The falls are stunning.
Heading back down and safely past the gate, I stop in Longmire and wander along the interpretive trail. The ice is the star of the show here. I’m mesmerized.
Last night I was startled awake from dream, twice! Both times, there is a black panther sharing the path with me. It’s unsettling until I reach for my phone and tap in: what does it mean to see a panther in your dream?
I woke up this morning excited for whatever lies ahead. Serendipitous, methinks. Oh, and I got my Wordle in two. That’s a very good start!
Wordle 515 2/6