Chasing craters

A curdling scream wakes me. My ears dial into the dark and a mental catalog of macabre begins to spin: someone is being gummed on by a bear; one of these hunters here in Cougar, WA discharged a gun into their foot; maybe a murder in cold blood, etc., etc. A scream again, and then a third time. At this I woke up enough to confidently identify the offender: a rooster. I pull my sleeping bag up to my forehead, hoping he’ll quit being so dutiful and give me just 10 more minutes of slumber.

When I finally rouse, I am on south side of Mount St. Helens. Heading up to hike out to my campsite the evening prior, the light suddenly began to shift in such a radical way that it would have been blasphemous not to stop. The landscape began to glow: the hills gold, the mountains reflected orchid and the lakes rest calm in their phosphorescence. An f-bomb fell out of my mouth to no one in particular, and I grabbed a front-row seat to the most incredible sundown show of my years. The sky, a righteous shade of candy pink, was wild and alive with streaking clouds. Coming around the bend to a lookout, the moon revealed itself to hang right above Mount Adams. Perfectly round, every pock mark and crater readable and a radiant milky white, I want to promise that you probably could have touched it by standing on your tiptoes at the mountain summit. I lost the light as fast as I found it – and with that, the trailhead – and that’s how I found myself in the company of the world’s best free-range organic alarm clock the next morning.

But I still wanted to get to that crater.

Hikeable from the back side but permissible with only a coveted permit, I give a gamble and set out to see if any extras would appear that morning. I drive to the bivuoac with a belly full of bacon, and, sadly seeing no errant permits at the check-in, continue to pump a few miles to the timberline. Descending, I run into some hikers that tell me yes! Someone left two permits by the board! And then I roll: because she who goes up of course must come down but DEFINITELY can go right back up again. On arrival: the anticlimax of no permits, alas! But: I meet the Google earth cam, bound shortly for the crater to wait for the lunar eclipse. St. Helens may have foiled me today, but I still have hours to chase the blood moon. Switching gears. Next stop: Mount Hood, lying just south, to reach the top before the sun goes down.

The dirt is a fine and ashy beneath my boots and, for the first time in days, I close my eyes and feel its warmth on my cheeks and eyelids. How unreal it is to be here!

[September 29, 2015]