On one of our very first patrol trips, my partner Emma and I headed up to the Pyramid Mountain Trail. You access the trailhead via Shady Pass, a steep, gravel road that takes you from my home district, Entiat, up over the mountains and down the other side to the Chelan Ranger District and Lake Chelan. At the top, there is a road to a forest service cabin and an undulating 9-mile trail along the ridge climaxing at the 8,200-foot summit of Pyramid Mountain. From the top you look down 7,000 feet on Lake Chelan, with views stretching from the top of Mount Rainer, over to the North Cascades, and the hundreds of snowy mountain tops in between.
We took our time doing some trail work en route to Pyramid Mountain, checking on snow conditions, and hopefully meeting some users along the way. On our way to the top, the familiar terrain struck my memory. My dad and I had climbed this mountain back when I was younger, when we had just moved to Wenatchee from Ohio. I remember there being a summit register (this is non wilderness, so it isn’t removed) with candy inside, and how the views from the top reminded me of Jurassic Park, craggy peaks and a steep decent down to Lake Chelan. It was also hazy from the Tin Pan Fire, and my 14 year-old self imagined Pterodactyls flying amongst the smoke. At the top, I turned in circles as I took in 360-degree views, trying to reach into the deep parts of my memory for names of peaks that looked familiar. I then saw the old summit register, it was still there!
I opened it up and, no candy this time, picked up the summit log, where you can write the date, a comment, and your name. I started flipping through and realized it went back to early 2000s. Surely my entry was in here somewhere! I started from the beginning and within a few minutes found my entry from July 18th, 2006, reading “Great views! Yum Yum Skittles Taste the rainbow. I’m leaving Twinkies next time!” Signed Hankie (my dad’s nickname for me) and Wildernessed (his trail name). The entry above it was from a woman we frequently hiked with back then named Action Betty; I had forgotten we did this trip with her!
I couldn’t believe it, a 12 year-old entry! I thought back to the point in my life, a few months before beginning high school. Perhaps one of my last backpacking trips before I started training very seriously for running for what would be the next decade. Nearly everything about myself had happened since that point in my life. I got a little emotional thinking about the path I had taken: dedicating my early 20s to an elite sport, studying a field I no longer wish to work in, my greatest achievements and then my most painful disappointments. I spent so much time away from the part of myself that loved being in the wild, so when my identity built on running fell away, I genuinely asked myself, what did I used to do, before I dedicated my life to running? Backpacking? Yes, Hankie Hiker!
The mountains gave me the courage and inspiration to reinvent my life. I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, started working in experiential education, and then this moment. My life had somehow brought me back to this place, standing on Pyramid Mountain, this time as a ranger. I had gone off into the world, lived my life, and forgotten about wild places. But now, I’m grateful everyday that these special places are protected, so that they will always be there to remind me of who I am when I am wild.