Cascade Mountains, Washington
July 14 - 17, 2005
Dave Svilar, Jill Wolverton, Laurie Svilar, Dan Svilar, Ken Peterson, Ruthie Peterson
|"I made it! I made it!" Mom arrives the Enchantment Lakes.|
The plan seemed reasonable at the time. That time being Christmas eve 2004. I've established a reputation for coming up short when it comes to gifts. When my parent's say, "Don't spend your money on me Davey. I just want to see you," I take them seriously. My Dad has received more than one Father's Day gift consisting of no more than a wrinkled piece of paper that promises, "Redeemable for one free 5 minute foot massage." Better yet, my Mom's past four birthday presents have amounted to a contract that states I will call her at least once a week using the cell phone she pays for.
About six hours before gift giving time for the Christmas of 2004 I contemplated my options. My sister measures her presents in dollars spent, so most of my Christmas budget was blown. My Dad was already slotted for a back massage, and my girlfriend Jill, was getting stiffed to make up for the expensive anniversary gift from the previous summer. However, I did want to do something for my Mom. Having less than no money I decided to pull out my favorite poor-man's gift - the gift of my time. Like I said, it seemed harmless at the time, and when my mom chose "Hike in the Enchantments" from the three choices presented on the homemade card, I actually looked forward to working off my present in July.
July 2005, One mile from the car
Most people have some sort of built in trigger that alerts them to disagreeable situations. The animal world has what scientists call the flight or fight. Just have a look at a coyote who will chew off his or her own leg if need be. I'm not sure what mine is called, but heading up the trail, no more than one mile from the Icicle Creek the alarm bells were deafening. Shouldering a pack that most Sherpas would refuse and moving at a rate approaching that of grass growth I feared for the outcome of the trip.
Our objective, the Enchantment Lakes, were still 10 miles up the well-beaten path, and 4,000 feet higher. Instead of looking chipper and well-rested like you would expect from a group who just spent the night in a plush four-star Leavenworth Hotel, we could have easily been confused for a group returning from an expedition. Of course, the first word coming to mind with a quick scan of our group wouldn't be "expedition", but we already did look tired and beaten.
Originally it was supposed to be me, Dad, and Jill shouldering my Mom's load to the Enchantments. My job was to carry most of my Mom's stuff and basically show her a good time in the place my Dad and I had ranted about for the past 15 years. When my Mom announced that we had added two more to the group, long time family friends Ken and Ruthie, she assured me, "Don't worry Davey, they're VERY experienced hikers." Once again, at the time it seemed like a splendid idea. However, at the one-mile post I began to express doubts.
Due to our blistering pace many things had already been discussed by the one mile mark, such as Ken's hatred for hiking. His philosophy was why exercise when you have a car, and for goodness sakes, why sleep on the ground when you have a bed. On the other hand, mention the idea of hiking to Ruthie and she gets that same look in her eye that my Mom's dog possesses when you throw table scraps in its dish. Unfortunately, her enthusiasm could only carry her so far, and it became apparent at this critical one mile point that there was something very defective about her lower body.
I tried to bring up the issue with the utmost sensitivity. "What's wrong with your legs?" In apparent pain, but a smile still showing, she responded, "It's my knees." Are they sore? Did you hurt yourself recently? "No, they don't bend past here." She turned around for a quick demonstration showing that, indeed, her knees wouldn't bend. Hiking is long grueling sport, rife with little pains and discomforts, so for someone with un-bendable knees it promised to be a long four days.
|One mile point: Jill helps Mom go to the bathroom.|
Realizing that my Christmas gift was on the verge of failure, I knew the only hope was for a perfectly executed game plan. I felt the fire burning within my belly, and realized it was time to start living up to my name. David had already slayed Goliath, and this David was going to slay his own Goliath and get these geezers to the Enchantment Lakes. Forgetting for a moment that I was actually named after my blind uncle, I formulated a plan that would ultimately lead to our success.
Just before the two mile mark my Mother began to ask, "Davey, how much farther until the Enchantment Lakes?" Perhaps this was payback from all the times my sister and I used to annoyingly inquire about the distance to the next hotel with a pool. The tables were now turned, and instead of finding ourselves in an unbearably long road trip through the Southwest desert in the back of the U.S.S. Svilar we were now hiking on a difficult, hot, and to my Mom, unbearably long trail. Part of the plan required me to not disclose distances and not let her peak at the map, not that she could read one anyway. I held firm to my rule: do not ask about distances until 5:00 pm.
I'd like to think the plan was perfect, but it did have some chinks in its armor. Instead of giving time needed to the still very distant Enchantments, we broke the trip down into smaller increments. Like the marathon runner taking it "one mile at a time" we would take it one lake at a time. The first being Nada Lake, which according to my memory was coming soon. My mistake was using my memory, and in order to bolster group morale, I made a mistake that nearly proved devastating, "It's just around the next corner." It was more like the next four corners. I'm not sure what was worse, listening to the complaining that ensued, or the "jokes" from my Dad in between the bouts of complaining. How often can one person laugh at the same joke? "Hey Dave, around the next corner huh? I think it's Nada (Not a) Lake." Ha, ha, ha.
When we finally did reach our resting point at Nada Lake I was amazed at how horrible everyone looked. It resembled one of those scenes from the Everest video where people walk in agonizingly slow steps and then collapse onto the summit. I was seeing the same thing here at Nada Lake, except it was four old people throwing off their packs and quite literally falling asleep before their backs hit the dirt. I ate a bag of peanuts and marveled at how soundly they all slept while wondering to myself it I'd ever be able to get them up. Not particularly relishing my role as trail Nazi I began to rustle the troops seeing as how the Enchantments were still quite a march.
|You try to wake these people. Comatose at Nada Lake.|
Based on my experience, I'm not sure which sounds more appealing, waking tired old people or trying to wake a hibernating bear. I'm still not sure how it was possible, but it took a full 45 minutes from the time of waking until we actually set foot back on the trail. I found assurance in Newton's first law of motion which states that objects in rest tend to stay at rest. I figured once we were moving that objects in motion would tend to stay in motion. Apparently Newton's laws do not apply to older folks on backpacking trips as we stopped three minutes later for blister adjustments and bathroom breaks. A long trip it would be.
What we lacked in horsepower we made up for with teamwork. The teamwork went something like this: take all the heavy stuff and put it into Dave, Jill, and Dad's packs. The higher we went, the more of this "teamwork" we needed. You might think hard feelings would result, but this just wasn't the case as each of us derived a sense of purpose and pleasure from our roles. No matter how slow progress became Dad still took up his customary place in the rear, usually driving Ken to distraction with poor jokes and repetitive stories. Jill relished her role as foot pointer for Ruthie, pointing out each step no matter how obvious it was. Mine was simply to look out after the comfort of Mom.
|Yoga: Mom and Jill stretch out the kinks from the previous day's hike.|
That night we camped at the head of Upper Snow Lake on what proved to be a surprisingly picturesque campsite. A mere 1,500 vertical feet and 3 miles of trail separated us from our goal, but the morale around camp was one of nervous anticipation. Apparently someone had tipped Ruthie to the fact that the trail to the Enchantments was very scary. I deftly put down any concerns our group had about the trail being difficult and had them convinced that it would be fine until we passed a hiker coming down from the Enchantments. "Don't go up there. The trails are technical. I almost died." Whatever anxieties I had worked so hard to quench were now back.
I took my Mom up ahead of the group to help her with pacing and any difficulties the trail might throw at us. From my memory of the trail, there were no difficult sections. However, after watching our group walk across rock slabs I've decided that just about anything can be technical if you make it so. I guess technical is a relative thing. Mom seemed to gain strength as we ascended and we reached the Enchantment Lakes in a reasonable amount of time. Soon the rest of the group joined, and we all celebrated, albeit for various reasons.
|Technical? Mom goes down on all fours to negotiate this white granite slab.|
During my previous two trips to this spot I had camped in the same campsite on the highest of the Lower Enchantments, Inspiration Lake. Perhaps, after a memorable trip with my Dad in 1991 and another with Erik in 2002, I was bent on camping in the same spot a third time. I drove our group like cattle insisting that the hiking from here was easy. It didn't matter. After struggling past Leprechaun Lake I finally decided to throw in the towel. The Enchantments are set up in such a way that there are no spots that could be considered any less than beautiful. My poor Mom, and even poorer Ken and Ruthie had earned the right to enjoy the place at their own pace. We settled into a campsite that would accommodate three tents and proceeded to enjoy a lazy afternoon.
|Jill takes a dip in the ice water of Leprechaun Lake.|
|Dave does the same.|
My job responsibilities went beyond simply getting Mom up to the Enchantments. I was also responsible for her having a good time once we arrived in camp. I meticulously planned out meals (which went underappreciated), gave her the largest Thermarest, and even had a chocolate dessert each night before bed. However, no level of preparation could have counteracted the effect of swarming mosquitoes. Mom came thinking she was prepared sporting a sun hat that the marketing department for Ex-Officio had convinced Mom and apparently others that it would repel mosquitoes. I'm not sure why Mom thought the hat would be effective, perhaps it was the large "Buzz Off" label printed on the side, or just wishful thinking. The good thing about having Mom around in mosquito country is that she provides a deterrent for the little pests. They say that only female mosquitoes bite, but in the case of Mom my guess is the males get in on the act too. The "Buzz Off" hat only seemed to encourage them, and after some time at camp Mom had her usual scattering of welts.
A more unlikely pest were the mountain goats that had become a little too accustomed to human contact. Usually the sight of a mountain goat is reason to stop, have a look, and enjoy. Goats inhabiting the Enchantments had an unquenchable thirst for human pee. So much so, that when my poor mother, who was already somewhat paranoid about the bathroom situation (or lack thereof), was being stalked by certain goats when she used the bathroom. When it comes to jobs, Dad, a former Roto-Rooter employee, usually gets the last of the pick. Each time Mom went to answer the call Dad followed along to fight off the goats.
|Scenes from the Enchantments, including Asgard Pass in the bottom frame.|
|Random scenery pictures. Top frame: falls next to camp, Second frame: Prusik Peak reflections, Third frame: tent glowing at dusk|
On our only full day we enjoyed a hike up into the upper Enchantments, finally turning around at the top of Asgard Pass some 13 miles and 6,000 feet above our cars. Mom who thinks two miles is a long hike, Ken who just plain doesn't like hiking, and Ruthie with the unbendable knees had made it on what the Tacoma News Tribune calls "one of America's top 10 hardest hikes." Even though they visibly suffered through constant pain and discomfort you would never know it by any of their attitudes. To them, this was their Everest. They had no business at these lakes, but somehow they had pushed themselves beyond what they believed they were capable.
|Chilly last night. In the bottom frame Mom snuggles into the tent with Hannibal Lechter.|
Most hikers look forward to going down, but for our group gravity working in our direction only meant sore knees. Our last night at the lakes was stormy, which was surprisingly pleasant as the mosquitoes took the night off. Even one last taste of Mom's flesh wasn't enough to bring them out. The long descent to the car was agonizingly slow, as Mom, Ken, and Ruthie felt pain and fatigue with each step. On the "technical" sections I helped Mom and Jill tended to Ruthie. There is something very inspiring about watching others suffer. Some people choose to draw on the suffering of others in their own difficult times, in my case, I'll think of Mom, Ruthie, and Ken the next time I'm suffering in the mountains.
|1) Dad slithers through the squeeze trees. 2) Ruthie's blisters 3) Mom and Dave after a long trip|
Now that Christmas is drawing near it will be time to think of this year's round of gifts. Unlike last year my pockets are full, and it would be awfully convenient to drop by Target to buy Mom a set of matching towels for her new house. However, looking back on last year's gift I just had too much fun. Most of the relationship between Mom and myself is extremely mother-son oriented, which has always worked out favorably from my standpoint. This was a chance for me to show Mom a piece of my world, that being hiking, mountains, bathroom jokes, and mosquitoes. Building memories with family and friends is my favorite pastime, and this one in particular spent with Mom and the others will go down as a classic. As my dying grandmother showed us last year, you can get old, frail, and pushed to the brink of death, but you can never kill a good memory. As the pages of life turn you just never know how many more opportunities there will be to build memories with those you love the most. Looks like another "cheap" Christmas present.
-written October 2005