By Ashley Lodato
With clear skies forecast and eclipse pandemonium looming, many Methow Valley residents took to the mountains for the weekend. I got back late from my trip Sunday night and didn’t get permission to write about anyone else’s trips, but I know that a group went to Oval Lakes, another party did a significant run around McAlester Mountain, and others went into the Silent Lakes. Meanwhile, my family joined two other families for a backpacking trip into Wing Lake, with a side hike up Black Peak.
Those of us who go into the mountains go for many different reasons. Perhaps we, like Thoreau, wish to live deliberately and to front only the essential facts of life. But there’s more to it than that.
Mostly, I think, we go because we feel fed by the mountains and the lifestyle they afford us, however brief. We go to the mountains to experience awe — that intake of breath as you crest a pass and gaze out at a vast expanse of peaks, valleys, forests and glaciers. Rock and snow juxtaposed with blue sky; puffs of clouds reflected in alpine lakes. Everything seems to come into sharper focus in the backcountry.
We go to the mountains because we feel both significant and irrelevant in the midst of their grandeur. These places — a glacier-fed lake, flower-strewn meadow, a rocky peak black with lichen — fill us up. We soak up all they have to offer and go away feeling not just rejuvenated, but once again complete.
One of the things I love most about backpacking with other people is the way the experience breaks down barriers and nurtures intimacy. Our trip had six kids with a wide range of ages, and yet they mingled and fused as a unit seemingly effortlessly, with a comfort and camaraderie that was almost familial.
As the western sky turned purple, the kids went into the tent to play cards while the adults walked to a rock outcrop in the fading light. We sat on a ledge, shoulder-to-shoulder and hip-to-hip for warmth, and watched individual stars and then whole constellations emerge. Conversation wandered from the trifling to the weighty as we appreciated the immensity of the sky and our own good fortune to be in that particular place at that particular moment in time.
Once you’ve shared a trip into the mountains with friends, you develop a closeness that is hard to cultivate back at home. We are, I think, most like our true selves when we are in the mountains. Removed from the distractions of daily life in places that invite such confidences, we slowly reveal bits of ourselves, and in doing so we come to know even better the people who are already special to us.