Date: 26 January 2019

Peak 3: Mount Washington / Elevation 4,450′

Peak 4: Change Peak / Elevation 4,320′

Total Elevation Gain: 3,691′

Total Mileage: 10-11-ish

This was a delightful outing in an unexpected place. Seth suggested that I plot a looped route on Mount Washington, which is just to the east of Rattlesnake Ridge and Cedar Butte. I’d never been there and welcomed the opportunity to check out a new place so close to home. After some fun with Caltopo, I mapped out two potential routes: one was roughly 13.9 miles and tagged Mount Washington, then came down the new Ollalie Trail and then back up the Iron Horse Trail. The second route was a little over 16 miles and tagged Mount Washington, then went over to Change Peak, and took its time meandering down another section of the Ollalie trail to then run down the Iron Horse. We were both interested in trying the longer route but decided to see how we felt once up there.

It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and my heart leaped when the Issy Alps came into view. We remarked about the impressiveness of Rattlesnake Ridge, which rises up from the Raging River valley and dominates the south side of I-90, and identified favorite peaks to the north as we passed them. We were excited to explore the south side and anticipated the view of the Middle Fork Valley that it would offer.

We made our way up through a mossy forest, with beautiful exposed rock walls dripping with water. I was a bit irritated to see that climbers had left anchors on one overhung wall, bucking the Leave No Trace philosophy that outdoor adventurers should always respect.

 

The trail offered occasional peek-a-boo views of the Issy Alps, which we paused to admire. So often we adventure on the north side of the highway, so it was a nice change to get the view of this section of the Issy Alps spread out before us, from Si to Bandera. Hitting the snow line quite a ways in, we stopped for a snack and enjoyed the warm sun streaming down into the clearing. Donning microspikes, we continued to the summit, which boasted stunning views in all directions.

From various vistas, we could see the entire Olympic Range in the west; Rainier and the Central Cascades to the north, south, and east; and the Issy Alps surrounding us. Below, the Cedar River Watershed revealed the source of Seattle’s drinking water. Snowy peaks contrasted with bright blue skies and the emerald green of the forests flanking the nearby foothills. It was a beautiful spectrum of colors, and we sat to take in the beauty of this place while identifying familiar peaks and wondering over those unknown to us.

 

Being a bit short on time, we opted for a modified return route. We would head toward Change Peak, assess if we had time to tag it, then take a shortcut down. With glee, we bounded down a lesser-used trail, thumping through the snow and laughing in acknowledgement of the sheer joy of it. Linking up with a forest road, we noted a host of ridges and peaks beckoning us to return and explore them.

 

Dancing across the snow, it struck me just how absolutely joyful I felt in that moment. A welcome sense of happiness worked itself through me. It felt wonderful to be playing in the mountains. The bright, sunny day; the perfect snow; the foothills and mountains unfolding around us; a companion with whom I could share the experience–life was good.

 

Reaching the Change Peak trail, we decided “what the heck!?” so up we went. A man on snowshoes passed and asked where we were going. “Change Peak!” “Be careful!” he advised. Well, apparently sometimes men even tell other men to be careful. This was a fun little trail that took us up through a small boulder field and narrow stand of evergreens until we reached the summit. The best view came just beyond, from which we could see Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, and the expanse of the Middle Fork. Again partaking in a favorite past time, we identified peaks and ridge traverses and dreamed up future outings. Seth sweetened the experience by surprising me with a Twilight Bar, my favorite chocolate treat.

Zooming back down from the summit, armed with the confidence of wearing microspikes, was a true highlight of the excursion. I’m pretty sure that I said “Yeehaw” more than once.

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Yeehaw! Descending from Change Peak. Photo by Seth Wolpin.

From there, we ran down the forest road, pausing briefly to check out some tracks in the snow, then linked up with the Ollalie and then Great Wall trail. Back on snow-free footing, we popped off the spikes and continued to run down to the Iron Horse, which delivered us back to the parking lot. Overall, we’d encountered maybe a dozen people, which reinforced Mount Washington’s reputation as being a less-crowded alternative to Si and Mailbox.

The excursion included an interesting array of conversational topics, but our relationship with social media became the most prominent. Seth is deleting all of his social media accounts tomorrow, and I’m heading that direction. We discussed so many facets of this, and talked through the inner conflict between wanting to disconnect from technology and reconnect with friends in “the real world,” and the ease and convenience social media allows us to maintain friendships and acquaintances. It’s a bit frightening to consider the links we may lose as a result of deleting these accounts; that’s what keeps us plugged in. To counter this visceral reaction, we explored ways that we can nurture true friendships using more old school means. Those methods worked for most of our lives. It was interesting to see the response that Seth’s friends had to his announcement of departure; many of them had been contemplating the same move, but were afraid to take that leap. I recently heard an interview on NPR in which the interviewee said, “I keep wondering when we’re all going to wake up from this,” meaning, when are we going to wake up to the massive time suck that is taking over our lives. I’ve often wondered the same. I’ve always been the reluctant social media user, but even I understand the dopamine rush provided by the validation of likes and hearts. Once, I did the math: 15 minutes of social media per day equates to four full days per year. That’s staggering, and it’s probably the push I need to step away for good.

Moving forward, I’d like to use that time instead for my personal writing, something I don’t often find time to do. It occurred to me during this hike that I run the risk of having experiences for the sake of a blog post, though, and that’s a trap I want to avoid. All the same, I found myself pausing more frequently than usual to take photos, thinking, “Oh, that will look great on my blog.” I want to be more mindful of this, and not let a good photo op come between me and the experience. I’ve found that I tend to remember something more vividly if I haven’t taken a photo. It’s a reminder to remain present and not see the world through a viewfinder all for the sake of a more interesting blog post. I want to find a healthy balance between documenting my journey, and living it.

While I’m only a few peaks in to my 40 for 40 challenge, these two summits will stand out as memorable, and this will surely hold steady as a favorite day from my larger adventure.