“To a living wilderness size is critical, you cannot have a small wilderness. It is a contradiction in terms.”
-Lois Crislet hearing on the Olympic National Park in April 1936
I was alone on the rain swept summit of The Brothers in the Olympic National Forest. Up at 6, 866 feet in the crazy wind and vertiginous mist, the jagged flanks of the summit floated like the points of some ghastly crown around me.
My day had started 10 hours ago and 6,000 feet lower at 5:30 AM that morning on the other side of Puget Sound. I drove in the dark drinking huge quantities of coffee to the Hama Hama River on Hood Canal.
From there I hiked in the pouring rain, somewhat muted to huge drips from the branches, to Lena Lake at 1,800 feet. I rounded the lake and walked up the East Fork of Lena Creek.
By the time I got there around noon I was soaked to the bone and the temperature had fallen to about 55 degrees. That most people get hypothermia in weather like that rather than winter wasn’t far from my mind. I was shivering as I set up my base camp and tried to warm up with tea and a Toblerone chocolate bar. I was only partially successful in warming up and I contemplated not going for the mountain top.
Putting thoughts of a warm sleeping bag and wasted afternoon behind me I shouldered my day pack and started up the mountain. It was hard going following cairns and surveyors tape over avalanche slides, through the tangled remains of a 2006 forest fire, up a wet gully and out onto a talus field. From there is was another 2,000 feet up.
At times the wind whipped so intensely that I had to lean at a 45 degree angle to keep from sliding backwards down the rocks. Then the wind would cease and there would be no sound at all save my labored breathing. The last 1,000 feet were a maze of scrambling and loose rock. There is no snow pack in the Olympics by now and what were normally routes over mild snowfields were instead ankle deep talus and scree. Route finding became difficult in the mist and I had a few false turns before I finally picked my way onto the rocky summit.
I huddled behind a boulder to get out of the wind and rain and marvelled that I had kept myself going for three hours in terrible weather to reach a summit that had no view. It was hard to know what I had just climbed with the mist so thick around me. There was no feeling of elevation gained and no sense of the mountain’s looming bulk about me. Yet I had set out to climb it and climb it I did. Two hours later I stumbled back into the relative warmth and calm of my forested camp. I made dinner from my dehydrated rations and ate an apple and half a block of cheese when I was still hungry 15 minutes later. For dessert I broke into the flask of Oban 14 year old Single Malt Scotch I had brought along.
My tent had held off the rain all day and now it was a pure joy to snuggle into my sleeping bag. The drip drip of rain, the eye watering winds, and the slick rock of the climb had created a psychological tension that I had been too busy to notice until it was already easing away under the influence scotch and dry socks. Exhaustion was taking its place as I read from Ruby L. Hult’s dated yet classic history of the Olympic Peninsula, Untamed Olympics. The east fork of Lena creek babbled in my ears. Rain pelted my tent. Sleep took me unawares sometime around 7:30.