For years I have found myself fixated on the idea of escape. This kind of impulse is based on the notion that I do not want to face reality. I want to be disconnected from the things and people around me. I want to be disconnected from myself. It’s dangerous, it’s cowardly, it’s what happens when I let fear take over.
Since before I can remember, my family took annual trips to Yosemite. There are pictures of me in the Merced River as a three year old with unruly puffed up curls. I remember taking my first “big” hike up Bridalveil Falls when I was about eight years old. It was hard for me to scale even the slightest of incline — it’s still hard for me now, but I loved it. I used to marvel at the thought of my grandpa and my parents making the climb up Half Dome. When I was in my teens I told myself that I would get in shape to make the climb myself one day. Then we stopped going to Yosemite. Then I broke my leg in my freshman year of college.
I’m a chubby girl with a wonky leg and the athleticism of a potato, but camping and hiking were always my thing. Setting out on a trail was the only physical activity I’ve ever liked, but I denied myself the option of even trying. I resigned myself to giving up on the climb up Half Dome. Our annual camping trips to Mammoth Lakes or June Lake became a nuisance to me. I didn’t want to explore the local trails or venture out on the lake. I didn’t even buy into the new trend of LA area hiking that gets plastered all over Instagram. If anything, it repulsed me even more. I felt myself letting go of nature when I needed it most.
When I began making plans for this Spring Break with my best friends, I knew that Seattle had to be a destination for us. It was an easy and obvious choice. I spent the weeks leading up to our trip researching all kinds of mountain ranges and trails in the area. This was my virtual daydream. When I didn’t want to do homework, when I wanted to destress, when I wanted to escape, I lost myself in places I knew I could never be. Though many of the locations I looked into were within driving distance from the city, it simply wouldn’t be feasible for me. The hikes were too long or too difficult and I was worried about wasting the limited amount of time we had. But I didn’t limit my road trips to nowhere online.
Last year, I visited Seattle for the first time. From the moment the snowy summit of Mount Rainier came into view from my airplane window, I knew the Evergreen State would have a piece of my heart. One my oldest and closest friends, Stephanie Milioto, was my host during that trip. She introduced me to the several distinct neighborhoods in Seattle and gave me a taste of local living. I saw Seattle for its obvious charm — the coffee, the rain, the skyline views from its many hills. Beyond that, I fell for the way nature is seamlessly integrated in the city’s landscape. Flowers bloom in between the cracks of pavement, parks of all sizes blotch the city with fertile greenery.
By the time we made it to Seattle, we decided on a short hike to the Big Four Ice Caves. Janette, Stephanie and I set out on a two hour ride from Seattle to the Snohomish County wilderness. The trees and creeks that lined the route welcomed us to the heart of the Mountain Loop Highway. The loop is 51 miles of paved and unpaved road, winding through the entrances of campgrounds, trails, rivers and recreation areas. The southeast portion of the loop edges on the Pacific Crest Trail with under 10 miles of wilderness separating the road from the PCT. As we entered through the south west portion of the loop, we stopped at the Green Gables General Store and Visitor Center to get more information about the hike. We were warmly invited into the store by a couple who owned the center. They gave us maps, told us stories about the area and sent us on our way to the Ice Caves with enthusiastic smiles.
We drove down to the entrance of the Big Four trail and set out on our short 2.2 mile hike. The clouds hung low in the mountain valley as we walked toward them in the light rain. We crossed over creeks on small man made bridges and stopped every few minutes to take in the view. Even as the rain came down, Janette crouched with her camera every few steps to capture the moment. We embraced the showers, it felt cleansing and right. Near the end of the trail, we came across signs posted on a tree that read “WARNING: COLLAPSING SNOWFIELDS” and “ENTERING AVALANCHE ZONE.” Though a woman did die a few years earlier due to an avalanche at the caves, we went on and fully intended on entering the cave.
As the winding path of trees, moss and streams opened up, the ice cave came into view. We stopped. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, feeling the cold of the rain and snow, listening to the wind and trickling of water. A vast plain of fallen mountain rocks and streams flowing through the cracks stood between the path and the foot of the glacier. We made our way to the cave, crunching the gravel with our shoes, jumping rock to rock over the streams. When we finally reached the entrance, I stood there for a moment and let Stephanie and Janette go before me. A part of me was terrified. The cracks of the cave created leaks from the melting snow and waterfalls of the Big Four mountain. This shit could totally kill us. I thought, but I wasn’t about to miss out on this, so I stepped in the cold and blue cavern.
I’ve always liked the idea of being secluded in the woods or the mountains. The peace and quiet, the views, the clarity that comes with being in the crisp air of mountain ranges, the feeling of being away. It’s intoxicating for me. The thought that I could remove myself from this place and put myself in the way of beauty (as Cheryl Strayed would say).
I had a hard time wrapping my mind around it, even when I was in it. The cave reminded me of the beauty this world is capable of. It made me feel more present than I have been in a very long time. For once, I wasn’t escaping. I was just happy to be here.