“I can’t believe the news today. Oh I can’t close my eyes and make it go away.” Of course, these U2 lyrics weren’t written about the recent news, but the sorrow still rings true. And even though I can’t make it go away, sometimes I do want to “close my eyes” by running away to be alone and surrounded by stillness – even if it’s just for one night.
I had been eyeing Mount Townsend for a couple years. June is not a month with many options for escaping into the mountains (without an ice ax at least) so I was sort of saving it for the “perfect” time. With a weather forecast of party cloudy, and a world forecast that felt like doomsday, it seemed the right moment to cash in on Mount Townsend.
The trail reports warned that this is a place to be avoided at all costs on weekends or holidays, so in addition to the other “perfect” conditions, I knew I needed to take advantage of what could be my only opportunity to go on a weekday. Feeling pleased to find just a few cars when I pulled into the parking lot after what felt like driving forever (the forest road alone will take you 45 minutes) I was not feeling so pleased to find that “party cloudy” was in fact “one giant all encompassing” cloud. Being this hike is ALL about the view at the top, I was sad to realize I had cashed in my one shot at Mount Townsend at the wrong time – but I was still happy to be alone and determined to make the most of it.
With 3,000 feet of elevation in four miles, I was considering stopping at Windy Camp a mile short of the top…it’s not like I’d be able to see anything anyway. Except I never found it. (I have since read you need to go left where a little sign is directing you to go right to follow the trail. I kind of figured that must be where it was at, but at this time, it is very obscured by snow.) Until the switchbacks stopped, I didn’t even realize I had made it to the top, such was the state of the complete white out. I had read there were places you could put a tent on the ridge, but I could barely see 20 feet in front of me; so as soon as I spotted a do-able spot right next to the trail, I set camp.
As I ate my dinner looking into the white, I hoped maybe I would wake up to something different. And though I couldn’t savor beauty, I could savor the silence – which was eerily saturating. After hitting my sleeping bag early to get out of the cold, I decided I’d better pee one last time before I fell asleep. (If you are considering doing this as an overnight trip, be warned there is NO PRIVACY whatsoever. Thank God I was alone, because my butt would be out for all to see. Also, be aware you need to haul all your water up as well.)
Tears came as soon as I unzipped my tent. Pictures can never capture what it feels like to be surrounded with such overwhelming beauty. It felt like I had hit the jackpot.
The four miles down the mountain took a third less time (three hours up, two down, for a total of eight miles) and today I have a body that hurts as much as my heart. It feels right and good, and I am incredibly grateful to Mount Townsend for all it gave me.