Box in Mt. Baker — Snoqualmie National Forest

I was born and raised in Southwest Oklahoma. Frederick isn’t famous for rolling hills and impressive mountain ranges. Frederick is flat for as far as the eye can see. As kids, we used to ride our bikes all over town. We really never coasted down hills nor did we ever struggle. We just peddled and peddled and peddled… Needless to say, as I made the transition to Western Washington, I found myself unaccustomed to neighborhoods built on hills and glorious ranges occupying my every view. As I began to hike, I often found myself winded, out of breath and with legs on fire. My body just wasn’t used to dramatic changes in elevation. Hell, even walking or biking around Seattle is a test of will.

Five years have blown by and in that time I have gotten much better at tackling steep hikes or so I thought. When I printed off the directions for the Yellow Aster Butte trail inside the Mt. Baker — Snoqualmie National Forest, I was quickly warned of the steep ascent. Feeling a little cocky, I shrugged it off without a second thought. I filed the directions away in hopes of getting to the trail before the end of the summer.

When my buddy Jordan booked a trip to Seattle, I asked him the question I ask everybody who comes for a visit, “What would you like to do?” As an aside, I usually follow up that question with a firm declaration of protest, “I will not take you to the Space Needle or Pike Place Market.” Luckily, Jordan wasn’t interested in those things. Instead, he wanted to get out of the city and into nature; one of the many reasons this guy is such a good friend. Instantly, I knew we should make an attempt at Yellow Aster Butte.

As we drove north of Seattle toward Bellingham, we found ourselves in awe of the landscape; trees, mountains and water surrounded us. Soon, Mount Baker came into view. Before we knew it, we were in the park. After firming up directions and paying the entrance fee, we headed for a forest service road. Now, I could probably write a very imaginative piece about the life of this road. In its past life, it must have been used as target practice for bombing raids or the forest service was slowly trying to build the world’s largest inclining swimming pool, because there were potholes everywhere… for four miles. Inching forward at 5–10 miles per hour, it took us thirty minutes to get up the hill. I should take this opportunity to apologize to the Lancer and my tailbone; neither fared well on the trip.

Surviving the drive, we set on our hike. Within minutes, we came to a simple conclusion; they were not joking about this thing being steep. From the trailhead to the finish, was a straight climb. As much as I have hiked in my years here in the northwest, nothing prepared me for this. It was so freaking steep. Taking frequent breaks and drinking lots of water, we trudged forward. With each step, we hoped the pain was worth the reward.

After an hour or so of hiking, we came to a split in the trail. To the left was Yellow Aster Butte. To the right was Hidden Lake. After some discussion, we decided to head toward Hidden Lake. Sorry, Yellow Aster Butte. Don’t worry, you’re still on my list and I hope to visit soon. Luckily for us, the steepest part of the hike was to Hidden Lake. Lucky for me, I am a glutton for punishment. Summoning all of our energy, we pressed forward. Again, hoping what was over the ridge was worth the effort.

Here, I should mention everyone in our party was from Oklahoma; Jordan, Patrick and I all call the Sooner State home. Hiking with Oklahomans is like watching fireworks with a child on the 4th of July. Every 5 minutes or so, someone uttered, “wow, ooooo, or awwww.” This reaction is expected when you are from the flatlands of America. I like to think we appreciate the beauty and majesty of nature better than most.

Right before we found ourselves on death’s door, we made it to the ridge overlooking Hidden Lake. Instantly, the work was worth the reward. Before us was a sweeping valley, crisp blue water and snowcapped peaks. I quickly threw my pack off and was overtaken by the vista. In that moment, I felt all things I seek when I hike. I felt insignificant. I felt joy. I felt small. I felt privileged to be in this moment with such dear friends. It was one of those moments I will hold onto for the rest of my life.

After such an arduous hike, you think we would be done. Alas, the pull of the lake was too much. We needed to sit near its shores. The hike downhill to the lake would be easy. The hike out would be just as steep as the hike to the ridge. Still, the pull was too strong and before long we working our way down the hill. The things I will do for the perfect photo. After a half hour of hiking, we found a flat spot near the lake. Patrick and I snapped photos. Then we all ate some much deserved food. Sitting there, we laughed and talked of life. No one was around for miles and it felt like the world was ours. As I stared back up at the ridge, the thought of the strength it would take to get out of there and back to my car flashed through my mind. It was very real concern, but the right price to pay to be there in that moment.

Be good to each other,

-Nathan