The Deer Ridge Trail is one of the most familiar trails I have walked. Still, I must admit that I never have done the whole trail at one time.
I have walked perhaps two miles down the trail from Deer Park and I have walked four miles or more up the trail from Slab Camp, but I never have walked the entire five miles.
Let's face it: I don't walk for exercise or to get to any specific place. I walk to experience the spaces that I walk through.
Hiking is a spiritual endeavor - it's like walking a labyrinth. I do it to discover something that gives me a context for the rest of my existence.
I know that sounds very esoteric or a little nuts, but being in wild places is magical and feeds me in a way that nothing else does.
For the past two weeks my hiking partner Diane and I have used this trail to prepare for our climb to Tyler Peak. The trail is not nearly as steep or as wild as the one we are facing, but it is up and there are wonderful views of (you guessed it) Tyler Peak.
We've both been surprised by the flowers we've encountered. This trail is wonderful when the wild rhododendrons begin to bloom and the trilliums are nice. The surprise was the number of avalanche lilies, the calypso orchids and the chocolate lilies we saw.
After the 3-mile point on the trail, you begin to get wonderful views of the Olympic Mountains - especially impressive when they still are covered with snow. You are going up, but it is somehow a little easier when you can see the mountains looking down at you.
I've got to admit that looking up at the mountains comforts me.
When I first was introduced to these mountains, they were very intimidating. I could hardly stand the stretches of trails that seemed carved into the sides of the mountain. I did not like to look out and see empty space below me.
It took me years to be able to walk a path like this. I learned by looking at the backs of my fellow hikers - Pam Bedford's back took me places that I never would have seen without her leading the way.
Sure, I like standing on the tops of mountains and looking down on creation. It's like getting into the head of God for a second or two, but it's not a place where I really feel comfortable.
I like the feel of rock, not the airy feel of nothingness. Rock is hard, abrasive and cool. I can hang onto rock and feel its strength. The air on my face can scare me; it is unnatural for me to fly or float over reality.
I always feel like an outsider when I stand on a mountaintop. It is not a place where I would choose to linger. It is nice for a moment but it is not a place where I belong. It is a place to visit and to get a new perspective; it gives me a context within which I can fit my day-to-day life.
It is strange too, for me climbing a mountain is much easier than coming down the mountain. Going up, you have the mountain to look at; coming down, there is empty space in front of my eyes - there is nothing to hold on to or to reach out and grab.
I guess that it sounds like climbing a mountain is something that I'm not really excited about. That's wrong; climbing a mountain is a chance for me to show myself that I can do things that are inherently hard for me, to do things that frighten me or fill me with a sense of unease.
And like so many other things in life, it's the folks around me that give me the courage and the strength to do these things.
Richard Olmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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