I want to describe a moment of insight, but to get there, I’ll have to take you on a little odyssey with me. The Enchantments are a chain of lakes carved out by glaciers in Washington’s Central Cascades – a series of cirques in pale granite amid jagged peaks so lovely you need a very elusive permit to visit in summer. But this year, with the snow level so low, I decided to seize the chance to see them before permit season began.
I invited along a friend who recently completed the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage, walking 500 miles from St. John, France, to the cathedral of Santiago, Spain – with virtually no money. I chose Kacie not only because she’s sober and a skilled through-hiker, but because her connection to God is knowledge rather than faith. Though she’s Christian and I’m non-religious, our spiritual convictions align perfectly. At 33, she’s an absolutely beautiful soul. Here we are, starting out our trip at Colchuck Lake.
I wanted Kacie with me not just to help me tackle this trail, but because I knew she could help me along a second, inner trek. Maybe I’m trying to tell too much in one post, but for me, this trip was more about healing than hiking. I recently posted about having discovered that for two and a half years my alcoholic boyfriend concealed an ongoing affair with an alcoholic girl half my age – named KC, ironically enough. Though I’m glad to have escaped with my sobriety, there’s much grief to process in losing someone you thought you loved for nine years.
Early on, I asked my Kacie for her take on my “happy” memories from those deceit-filled years with Grayson – our teasing as we played ping-pong, comparing cloud pictures as we lay in the sunlit grass, decorating our tiny Christmas tree. She answered straight up: “You need to let go the lie before you can embrace the truth. That was manipulation, it was false, it was poison – every minute of it.” I knew she was right. Her words solidified the ones hovering in my thoughts for weeks: emotional robbery, abuse, even molestation. Because, yes, to con someone into prolonged intimacy, fully aware the truth would both horrify and repulse them, is that bad.
We hiked on. I’d heard a lot about the dangers of climbing Aasgard Pass, with its 2,000 foot near-vertical gain. We didn’t reach the base of the chute until 4:15. There’s no trail per se; you scramble amid sliding talus and scree; you search above you for cairns – stacks of rock people have left to mark a course – praying nothing falls on you. Chest-high boulders with divot toe-holds demand you heave yourself up them despite the 35 pounds on your back and hundreds of feet below you to fall.
We climbed for an hour. Two hours. The wind picked up, and we began to encounter pockets of ice and snow. There were times I thought I’d lost the way completely, boxed in among boulders, until I’d sight a cairn someplace seemingly impossible to reach. Then I’d pray, find handholds, pretend I wasn’t exhausted, and heft Louisa + pack one more time. Ten minutes later, repeat. Finally, three and a half hours into it, a moment arrived when I rounded a rock face and recognized from the outlines of slabs against the sky that we were nearly there. To Kacie, over the whipping wind and cataract tumbling to our right, I shouted, “We’re almost there! We’re gonna fuckin’ do it!”
That’s when the tears came. Thank you, god. Not just for getting me here, but for showing me I have what it takes to do this. In the past, on all our toughest climbs, Grayson led. But no one led me this time, not even a frickin’ trail: just god and the bright life it kindles in me.
While the sun set amid 20 mph winds and the temps dropped below freezing, Kacie and I made camp at about 7,ooo feet. Kacie was so chilled she began dropping things, getting confused. Our stove wouldn’t light at this altitude and the winds snapped at the tent as we pitched it. But we were never scared – not really. I gave Kacie all my extra clothes and released enough gas from the canister to blow up a small dog before my lighter finally ignited it. Once the water boiled I told Kacie to go eat inside the tent while I made her some hot water bottles and picked up for the night.
Neither of us slept much because the elevation throws you off, but in the morning we encountered this, along with the delicate music of snowmelt everywhere running down to Aasgard Lake:
and lots of these guys:
After breakfast, we packed up and set off again, like this:
We covered about 10 miles that day, talking on and on about god, about how god has built right into us our capacity to see, feel, and appreciate beauty as a spiritual language to connect with Him/it. Here’s are some glimpses of what we saw, did, and loved:
Among the many things Kacie said that struck me deeply was this: “The only thing God asks is that we participate in the relationship. It’s like if I were going on this hike saying, ‘Hmm… Louisa might be with me on this hike. That might be her I see ahead of me, that could be her voice…’ but I ignored you the whole way because I wasn’t sure you were real. I mean, what’s more hurtful than just ignoring someone who loves you?! We do that to God all the time, and yet He just keeps loving us. He keeps saying, I’m here when you’re ready.”
Eventually we began our descent to Snow Lake, where we’d spend our second night. That’s when I felt something welling up in me, stronger with each step I advanced between the huge rock escarpments toward the meandering valley below. Thoughts churned. Why did it still hurt that Grayson had ignored my love? Why was it so hard to love myself ?
Here came the revelation: I understood, as I started bawling silently, that to love god in these mountains was to love god in me as well. So I began saying silently to each beauty, however tiny or vast: “I love you, god. I love you in this flower. I love you in the tops of those trees. I love you in that tremendous and intricate stone wall above me older than I can conceive.” Each time I sent out this energy, whatever came back seemed to redirect my inner periscope just a tiny notch or two – away from Grayson’s insult and toward my own wealth of spirit, away from the story of what happened and toward the openness of whatever might.
I crossed some threshold. I saw my journey was on course, that god had sent me a precious gift through every person I’ve ever loved – including Grayson. In the thousand-plus miles we covered together, he taught me most of the skills that embolden me today, skills that let me dare to venture out and meet my god in the rough and dangerous beauty of the wilderness.
What a gift! Not just for me, but now through me to Kacie. “Churches are like big, fancy worship bathrooms,” says Kacie. “I want to be here. God’s Cathedral is here.”
The next day we were met at the trailhead by kind, sober friends who drove us back to my car. The minute I got home, I showered, threw on a dress and heels, and drove to a downtown restaurant to celebrate another sober friend’s 50th birthday. We sang to him as he blushed. Love – that same echo of god’s goodness – rang in our voices.
“God is such a show-off!” I remember Kacie saying as we hiked. “He is! Because He has infinite beauty to show off! Fucking infinite! He pours it into the mountains, into this stream, into us! He wants it a-l-l to be felt!” We joked about the fears that make us check our inner share of god’s beauty, like a bird halting in mid-song for fear of fucking up. This blog is part of my song. I’ll show off, I’ll sing, I’ll fuck up, and I won’t apologize. Because god put inside me what it wants me to share.