Magic on the Mountain
October 13, 2012
The cold moisture-filled air, the low gossamer mist, and the crunch of hardened snow are whispered memories of a childhood long ago. Mt. Rainier National Park…a vacation spot much frequented by my family, was an old friend. My dad was a Pearl Harbor survivor and had his fill of the ocean. He craved the mountains, the solitude, and the majesty of it all. It would be the same every year. No matter how we begged to spend time at the ocean, his choice stood firm.
Small excursions got us conditioned for the long hike. After a few weekend trips, we were ready. Fifteen miles to Eleanor Lake, fishing poles strapped to our heavy packs, tin cups banging against an aluminum pan to keep the bears at a distance, and our half husky, half Collie canine pal, Sparky heading the single file line. I was thirteen and hated every step. We would be sequestered for seven days alone with just the family, living on fish, hardtack, and berries. I was horrified, at first. No friends, no boys, no television, only my overbearing sister and my dumb brothers. A teenage girl’s nightmare.
It took all day to hike fifteen miles, mostly up hill, before we arrived at our campsite. The highlight of the trip was crossing Grand Park, a flat meadow. I’m not sure how far across the park it was, but it seemed a very long way. I’d say around three miles. At this point of the trip you could see Mt. Rainier in all its glory and the field was full of wildflowers of every color. Elk abounded here, but so did the bear. Sparky kept them at bay. We were outfitted with hiking books, sturdy jeans, and jackets. No makeup, no hair curlers, nothing for a girl to feel girly about here.
Upon reaching camp, no one rested until the tents were set up and secured. Everyone had their job. By the time all this was accomplished, dinner consisted of hardtack and peanut butter. Time for a good meal tomorrow…one we would have to catch ourselves.
The next day was for raft building. My brothers and I gathered the fallen logs, while my sister and mother stayed in camp to set all in order. Father strapped it all together and selected a tall pole with which to maneuver around the lake. After the raft was finished, we were given our fishing poles and told to spread out around the lake and catch dinner. We each took a turn riding the raft with Dad.
Each summer, the family repeated this camping excursion until Father decided on something different. He wanted to hike around the base of the mountain. Ninety miles. He was going to carry enough gear to make it half way around, enlist a friend to drop supplies at the halfway point, and carry on to the finish. I opted to stay with my grandmother. The problem arose, after a few days, when I missed the freedom and beauty of the mountain so much I called our supply giver and begged him to take me to meet my family at the halfway point. I finished the trip with them.
I live in Texas now. Texas has its own kind of beauty, its own kind of people, and I have made it my home for over thirty years. I keep a picture of the mountain on my wall and cherish the memories of my girlhood. At thirteen, I learned survival. My father had the right idea.
Patty Wiseman is author of An Unlikely Beginning.