Wilderness Ranger Ryan Lawrence signs off for the season. Enjoy his reflection:
I’ve come to think that I’m charmed since being here, this wonderful, dangerous, ever changing north country. On my very last journey into the dark glen of the Upper Entiat, during a wham-doozy of a winter weather onslaught, I set down my backpack on the trail and turned away to arrange my shirt to dry. A simple thing, right? No, not at all, because this trail, the Pyramid Mountain Trail, was at this particular spot cut into a steep slope, and silly foolish stupid me, Pavlovian in my response to an absentee sun which had just made a cameo, bullheaded about making the most of this suddenly available solar energy, neglected to consider the consequences, in this case great and grave.
As I splayed the arms of my shirt to soak up those sweet sunrays, I saw a flash of blue from my periphery. My Osprey backpack is blue. I whirled around just in time to see it take a tumble, ass over cap, down down down. It moved down the mountain so fast, with such violence, like a loosed boulder, that I just stood there in shock, no no please no, like it was myself that I was watching fall. I felt something like indigestion, a hot pressurized bolus behind my sternum, my body sensing doom.
In seconds it was out of sight, gone, lost, and with it my food, my clothes, radio, headlamp, the keys to my rig. The weather had scared everyone away from the wilderness, so I was alone, nobody would come to help, and I felt the unbearable weight of that, that instead of standing on the world, it was standing on me with all its terrible might.
I started down, first quickly, then with more care as I realized I couldn’t catch up with it. If there was hope, it quickly burned off the first 200 feet from the trail, as there were a few trees that could’ve snagged my pack, but somehow didn’t. In fact, it seemed almost impossible for my pack to ping-pong through so many obstacles without getting caught, but it had beaten the odds. The only thing left to do when you’ve ran out of hope is to confirm the hopelessness. So I kept scrambling lower and lower, the trail and my slightly drier shirt fading behind me.
At some point soon, though, I knew I was going to have to make a tough decision. I was basically naked, without any type of communication, and there was only three hours of light left to use. With a lethal snowstorm ready to bust open the day, my choices were simple: gamble on finding the pack and my supplies, or start walking out. And then: another flash of blue where blue shouldn’t be. For a second, I think I went crazy and was unable to convey a windfall of emotions, a happy hysteria. But only for a second, as I unleashed my throatiest YES! that nobody heard.
There it was, resting at last near a small fir and some shrubs, its torso soaked through from wet ground, its straps muddy and twisted. It was a beautiful sight. Somehow all the buckles held and damage was minimal: a lost water valve; a ripped stuff sack; an avocado turned to guacamole. I looked farther down the mountain and felt a hot ripple of pressure in my chest again — there lay an ever steeper drop, with nothing to slow its roll to the North Fork of the Entiat River, which had been recharged by the rains. Writing this now, my skin gooses up thinking about what ifs.
I have to say, though, it’s a great ride if you make it to the bright side, a 0-60 from utter despair and terror and hopelessness, to raw unfettered joy at the finish line.
Truth is, I’ve been lucky just to be here, and I’ve felt that tremendous fortune throughout the summer. It’s the best season of our lives (I saw that when I was a kid) and I’ve always felt keenly the loss of its going. Summer is an analog for the best part of our being, a time of risk and romance, when we’re sparkling with power and light, when our inner coyote is most playful. But I ain’t glum, nope. Wistful, maybe, with a teaspoon of bittersweet, but I heavyhanded the sweet.
I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Brendan Norman at Mt. Adams Institute, and to Mason Schuur and Randy McLandress at the Entiat Ranger District for giving me a chance and allowing me experience in a constructive way the breathtaking northland they call home. Like the swift currents of the Entiat, which is the Natives’ word for “rapid water”, summer swelled and receded, and suddenly vanished. Now the lakes are low, the larch trees have dressed themselves in a pale tangerine coat, snow has flown (oh yes it has). One moment the moist dirt is level, the next a boletus crown has broken through. Poof, just that quick.