What's Tony Thinking

Shoulder Season


Given my sense that we are way too “politicized,” let me write about something other than politics, politics and culture, or politics and the culture wars  . . .

Like the shoulder season hike I took today with my friend, Mike. The term “shoulder season” refers, in travel agent argot, to the period between peak and off-peak season. Here I use it to refer to the period between one season and the next.

We’ve been having warm spring weather in Seattle for two weeks, almost warm enough to feel like summer. But that’s where you get into trouble, especially if you are hiking in the Cascades after a winter of record snowfall. You can start out thinking, “It’s spring! Almost summer!” T-shirts, shorts and sandals the order of the day. Catching a few rays beside a mountain lake as in shimmers in the sun.

So you start out on your hike in your spring-becoming-summer mindset, but after climbing 2500′ up, and with a dense fog shrouding everything, it’s suddenly pretty darn wintery, not to mention a trail-erasing white-out. Here’s a photo of yours truly at the beginning the half mile stretch of 4 to 5′ deep snow that led into Serene Lake.

We arrived at the Lake, but you wouldn’t know it, because it was totally socked in. “There’s a lake over there,” said Mike. “And you can see Mt. Index right over there,” he said gesturing to the right, except we saw nothing but dense fog. “I’ll take your word for it,” I said.

Before long a younger couple (almost everyone is “younger” these days) arrived. He wore Birkenstocks, no socks. His ice and snow salted feet chattered — or so it seemed to me. I said, “I wish I had a pair of socks to offer you,” although they wouldn’t have done much good. Maybe they would have made me feel better.

They said that they had planned to go rock climbing on the rock escarpments of nearby Index, Washington, but that each of them thought the other person was bringing the ropes. No ropes. No rock climbing. So they decided on a hike. Thinking it was sort of, almost, summer. Until it wasn’t.

As we made our way back down there was a three-some coming up, clambering over the snow, dressed in shorts and t-shirts! More casualties of shoulder season’s seductions. They were laughing in that hysterical way that is somewhere between, “This is so funny” and “We’re about to die.”

Yesterday in Seattle it had been nearly 80 degrees. Why not shorts and t-shirts? Summer’s here, hallelujah!

That’s the thing about being in the wilderness. Things change. Sometimes very quickly. The many comforts of life to which we are accustomed, and to which we may feel entitled, can — hard to believe — vanish.

And those quick changes have a way of catching us out, catching us unawares and clueless. Suddenly we are walking on five feet of packed snow and ice, rivulets of the world’s coldest water surging beneath our feet, while we are decked out in sandals, shorts and t-shirts.

When you’re in the wilderness the beauty and danger are never very far apart. (Photo is of “Bridal View Falls.”)

After we were down a ways, out of the snow and chilling fog, Mike said, “You know, for people who aren’t seasoned hikers, who don’t have poles and crampons, that could be pretty hairy.” I thought, “Damn, I am a pretty experienced hiker, with poles and crampons, and it was plenty hairy.”

Despite all the ways we have tamed nature, nature still has a way of taming us. Taming and humbling us.

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