“Let’s take a look at the map”
We were an hour into our ascent of Mt. Stuart, the dew still glistening on the meadow grasses. Tucked neatly in a waterproof pouch was a rough sketch of the gully system, a typed route description, a zoomed in elevation google topo, and the clif-notes from a friend. All but the memory of the friends’ beta was lost on the trail somewhere behind us.
Our plan was to summit, so UP was clearly the direction of choice. We began to traverse through the trees and over the boulders hoping that the next turn would bring clarity to the route, or not. We traversed a good portion of the lower slopes both to the left and to the right with no trace of a trail or obvious route before finding snow at about 7500ft.
The sun baked the top layers of snow as we kicked our crampons up the open slope. The clouds receded prominently displaying Rainier in the distance. A few small groups headed towards the false summit 1000 feet above, moving like ants across a white blanket. How had we missed their tracks on the way up?
In the last hundred feet towards the summit a thick grey fog smothered our glorious view. We made the precarious traverse across a teetering rock band and one final steep snow slope to the summit. There we were atop Washington’s second tallest non-volcanic peak staring into nothingness.
We cruised back down to the base of the snow slope envisioning a highway worthy “Trail this Exit” sign. Our descent became less of a logical trail finding mission and more of a search for the path of least resistance. Over, under, through, down, across; and there it was, a trail.
Something felt familiar, we popped out into an open meadow, and there resting comfortably trail side was none other than the tidy little waterproof pouch.
*the line drawings included in the route description tucked inside would not have been much use anyway.
** Later evaluation of our intended route conditions revealed that we were far better going the way we had.
Epilogue: On the hike down I was struck by the memory of 5th grade literature when my teacher assigned us poems to memorize and recite. Edgar Allen Poe’s Eldorado has stayed with me ever since.