Excelsior "Mountain"

North Cascades, Washington

September 29 - 30, 2008

Dave Svilar, Mom and Dad


Son and mother looking fresh at the Exelsior Ridge trailhead.  (Don't know how this picture got so big... sorry)

For Mom planning a trip can never start too early.  All summer she had been bombarding me with hints to take her on a hiking trip.  "I hope you don't go back to Minnesota before we get a hike."  Or, "My schedule looks REALLY open... for the next two months."  It's not that I don't value and enjoy these trips.  True, they tend to proceed frighteningly slow and never really get very far from the car, but the real reason I hesitated to pin down the date was for Mom's sake.  I knew that - no matter how long the trip was planned in the future - my Mom would start packing NOW.  I could take the not-so-subtle "take me hiking" hints.  It's the "what should I pack for a snack on the second day" inquiries that tend to drive me nuts.

I call it her "Sphere of Worry."  Mom thrives on worry and when she falls below a certain threshold she will search high and low, even fabricating worries out of thin air if need be.  The worries are rarely about herself.  This is precisely why she has so many friends.  If you have a problem you can rest assured knowing that it is now Mom's problem too.  Nothing satisfies her Sphere of Worry more than when it involves one of her children.  Besides being generally inadaptable to adulthood I've provided Mom with few reasons to worry.  One exception was a few years ago when I mentioned in passing that I was struggling with my bowel movements.  Within days her thoroughly researched program had me on the road to recovery.

The downside of this intensity can be seen prior to a small trip, such as an overnight hike.  Over 100 hours before leaving Mom had the contents of her pack neatly laid out on the guest room bed.  "Davey, can I show you what's going in my pack?"  No, we don't leave for a week.  A few hours later, "Davey, do you think I'm leaving anything out?"  The questions about the pack were only slightly more popular than questions about where we would be hiking.  "Davey, when are going to tell me where we're hiking?"  Originally I had attempted to explain that I never know exactly where we're going until a few days before in order to stay flexible for the weather.  To someone with Mom's mindset this kind flexibility and lack of a concrete plan is nearly incomprehensible.  Therefore it was labeled as a surprise: since I hadn't made up my mind on the exact plan a 'surprise' would make it seem like there really was a master plan while allowing me to switch my mind at the last minute.

When confirmation arrived that splitter skies were forecast for the days of our trip I gave Mom the plan - Excelsior "Mountain".  Calling it a 'mountain' is an insult to the North Cascades, and should really be classified as the high point in an alpine meadow, but I thought this would sound like more of an achievement for Mom.  Once the day of our trip truly approached I examined Mom's pack belongings, took about half out and promptly ordered full-scale cookie production.

When my parent's picked me up at a friend's in Bellingham on Monday morning the weather could not have been better.  The hike started high - at least by Cascade standards - and quickly had us above the trees and in colorful autumn meadows below the ridge.  For all my teasing, Mom is quite the trooper on the trail.  Her parents never took her outside, and apparently didn't contribute much in the way of athletically-favorable genetics.  It's difficult for someone Mom's age to learn something new - especially when that something is hard, uncomfortable and scary.  But, Mom with her pack loaded a full week ago charged up the trail at a very reasonable clip.  So reasonable that we found ourselves constantly waiting for Dad.  He was in much better physical condition but found himself no match for Mom's enthusiasm and positive attitude.

By early afternoon we were on top of Excelsior 'Mountain'.  The question now was what to do with ourselves for the remainder of the afternoon.  These kinds of concerns rarely arise for Dad as he's always in the mood to sleep.  Mom's a busy body, but unfortunately her body was already spent from the 3.5 mile hike.  Just after Dad had started sucking in his first gasps of sleep I dumped the contents of my pack and instantly recognized a grievous mistake.  The Cookies!  When taking a water break I had carelessly left the cookies by the side of the trail.  Hikers tend to be honest types, but I would hesitate before leaving something expensive beside the trail.  The resale value of Mom's cookies haven't been determined, but their intrinsic value to a tired hiker is nearly priceless.  To the tired hiker that bag might as well have been full of gold.  To my surprise the bag was still sitting by the creek when I returned.  This trip might still be a success after all.

After some cookies Mom decided that a walk across part of Excelsior Ridge was possible.  We set up the tent on the flat space that an old fire lookout used to inhabit on top of Excelsior 'Mountain.'  Before Mom had finished erecting the tent Dad was asleep inside.  We promised Dad that with 12 hours of darkness he would get all the sleep he wanted later.  We walked - slowly - east along the ridge enjoying the changing views, colorful meadows, and mostly how cool our tent from afar perched on top of Excelsior "Mountain."  I've never personally measured, but would have to guess that this series of alpine ridges - on the north side of the Nooksack - are the most extensive on the west side of the divide.

Once the end of September arrives I lose a lot of interest in overnight trips.  The nights are just too long.  Dad and I enjoyed star gazing and playing with the camera after it became dark, but we all still found ourselves awake the next morning over 2 hours before the sun rose.  I didn't venture far from camp to take sunrise photos, and after quickly tiring of that I picked some blueberries for Mom's porridge.  While picking the berries Mom spotted a bear grazing in the meadows far below.  I was glad to see the bear but even more glad that, uncharacteristic of Mom, she didn't panic.  Perhaps I thought, Mom is cut out for the wilderness.

After the morning porridge we proceeded with relative ease back to the car.  On the car ride Mom's anxieties and fears gave way to exhaustion, and I think, satisfaction.  For now there would be plenty of other things to worry about besides an upcoming trip, but when the days start to turn longer and the winter's snows melt, I hope I'll hear Mom say, "Davey, where is this year's trip going to be?"


Scenes along the trail.  Bottom photo by Mom


Mom arrives at the summit of Excelsior "Mountain."  Colorful alpine meadows and ridges spread as far as the eye can see.


Nap #2.


Dad and Mom hiking along the ridge towards Mt Shuksan.


The mighty Excelsior "Mountain."  Squint your eyes and you can see Mom's tent pitched on top of the bluff in the foreground.


Mom and her tent atop the "mountain" at sunset.  Photo by Dad


Dad, Mom and Mt Baker shortly after finishing dinner.


Mom's tent glows at nightfall.  The lights of Puget Sound glow behind Mt Baker.


Mt Baker and colorful alpine brush at sunrise.

  - written November 2008

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