Adams to St Helens

As a young man growing up in the Pacific Northwest, one of the greatest pleasures I had was to visit, play, and live in the Cascade mountains. My home town is located on the arid steppes of Eastern Washington, but on the western horizon the high, snow-clad peaks of the mountains always beckon. During my first two years of college at the local junior college, my friends and I would often spend a weekend of climbing. We were naturally lured to the larger volcanic peaks which stood out above the rest of the mountains and, from the town of Yakima, that usually meant mounts Adams, Hood, or St. Helens. These three mountains are the subject of one of the most beautiful Indian legends of the Northwest, the Tahmahnawis Bridge, or the Bridge of the Gods. The Columbia River cuts a gorge through the Cascades separating Mt. Hood (Wyeast) on the South from Mts. Adams (Klickitat) and St. Helens (Loo-Wit) on the north. The story relates the tale of how chiefs Wyeast and Klickitat broke the peace between their peoples over their desire to win the heart of the beautiful maiden who lived at the stone bridge over the river. The Great Chief had built the bridge so that the people could visit each other. To Loo-Wit He had entrusted the keeping of the sacred fire so that all the people would have warmth. In their quarrel, the people of the chiefs forgot their friendships and angered the Great Chief, who then destroyed the bridge and extinguished the fire. Loo-Wit fled north away from the destruction and she, along with Wyeast and Klickitat were transformed into mountains. They are known today as the Guardians of the Columbia.

One of the most beautiful experiences I have had in the mountains occurred among the Guardians during a climb on Mt. Adams. In the mountains it was our usual custom to break the climb with a night campout somewhere up the side of the mountain, usually just above timberline where the views were especially good. I was with my friend Paul Boving and we were taking the standard route up Adams. The approach to the mountain is from the south and we had parked our car somewhat below timberline in a place called Bird Creek Meadows. Our route would take us up a spur of the mountain which jutted out towards the southeast of the mountain. The top of the spur is called the Lunch Table. For the majority who prefer to climb the mountain in a single day, the lunch table is the usual rest spot. From there the main ascent starts as the mountain is now covered in eternal snow and the slope is fairly steep. Paul and I had arrived in the late afternoon to begin the climb. We hiked up the spur towards the lunch table in the clear evening light and chose a campsite near a small clump of stunted alpine fir a bit below the table. In the distance we could see Mt. St. Helens to the west, and Mt. Hood to the south, silently watching the Columbia. We cleared out a flat spot in the snow and fixed our camp, ate, and went to sleep.

The morning always comes early in the mountains. On the exposed ridge we soon woke up in the early light. The cold went down to our bones and with difficulty we moved about and prepared a warm breakfast. Sunrise was most welcome as we greeted the warming rays of the sun. We decided to wait for the sun to rise on distant St. Helens before we set out with the ascent, giving us time for another cup of hot tea. With the sun already at our backs, we figured we had just a few minutes. The wait began to drag and for us the sun was getting quite high. We wondered and discussed why St. Helens could remain in the shade. Soon we noticed the bright sunlight falling on the many smaller peaks to each side of St. Helens and finally, at the very top of the mountain, the dull blue-gray changed to a streak of brilliant white, sunrise had finally arrived. We realized at that moment that the delay was caused by the shadow of Mt. Adams! We could now quite clearly see the shadow extending out in perfect alignment, falling on the other mountain about 40 miles away, an event occurring only twice a year. Soon the side of St. Helens glowed in the morning sunlight and the profile of Mt. Adams was silhouetted against it. At one point during this show we even recognized the profile of the spur we were standing on and, moved by the obvious logic of the situation, raised our hands and cast rabbits on St. Helens, undoubtedly a record of some sort. We stayed and watched the event until the entire mountain was bathed in sunlight, then we stirred ourselves to our own appointment with the summit of Adams.

I think that the beauty of the mountains is often found in such unexpected events. They remind you that there are hidden moments and pleasures that only reveal themselves after a considerable investment of time. These moments become jewels in my memory and I guard them jealously.

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