Before I was a fly fishing guide I was a back country hiking, ski, paddling, mountaineering, climbing, shoeing, outdoor survival, kind of guide. I did a lot. One of the things I did was hike…thousands of miles. So much so I got a trail name from PCT hikers which is the origins of Tamarack.
At 2 years in I had hiked 2700 miles and over 300,000 feet of elevation gain. One summer I hiked the same 10 peaks, twice…totalling 200 miles of trial and 100,000 feet of elevation. All with minimum 20lbs packed most of the time more. How do you think I started losing weight. Not just rowing. I was a mountain goat. I ate miles and miles of trail up. Saw all I could and all that the forests could offer. I had the privilege of 3 permits for The Enchantments, once with clients, once with my exwife, and once solo. I have summit all but Little Annapurna, I was sick the day of the ascent, and Witches Tower…because fuck that spire. I have been to Mt. Stuart’s 9,453 ft summit 2 times. Once up the Cascade Coulier and a wicked night in the bivy solo. And I technical climbed the other side with friends. Both times spectacular and formidable. I tried for Rainer twice. Never made it. An avalanche 3 years into it all changed my perspective and desire to conquer mountains and ski lines…permanently.
But there is one mountain out of them all…that I touched the summit more times than any. Red Mountain. Not the tallest or the hardest. Save for a section of 2000ft elevation gain in just over a mile, a false summit, and a blasted creek that always ran through the trail roughly 800 ft from the summit always making me lose the trail. Some 20 times I made Reds summit. It sits over 6000 ft in the air. Scraggly and pitchy, with a few crags, lots of scree, and red dirt and rocks that give the lone peak it’s namesake. If you are driving up Lake Cle Elum it is the Red Peak that sits at the head of the lake. Welcoming you into the folds of the mountains, leading the way, ushering you into its embrace.
From it’s summit you can see the entire area. The river below, Ellensburg in the distance on a clear day, just barely, the towns of Cle Elum and Roslyb hidden in the foothills. I have seen more amazing things while making the trek towards the sky on Red Mountain. Before a rock slide took it out there was a spring with a mossy tarn, a place where fairies and otherworldly critters of the imagination would be at home. Pica and eagles would welcome you on your way. There is a section of old growth that is from another age with trunks wider than any tree I’ve seen in the whole ranger district. A secret place with trees older than people being here save for the Sahpatin and Yakama natives that were once in the foothills.
I saw the largest elk of my life on Red Mountain. More points to his rack than I want to admit. Gnarly, almost grotesque, his perplexed look at my human form as if he’d never seen my kind before. Hurrying his herd into the old growth out of site. Still to this day one of the most amazing wildlife encounters I’ve ever had. A lake sits on the back side of the mountain on your way. Small, creek, seep, and spring fed tucked back in the scraggly overgrown trees. Little Joe Lake if I recall. A large lonely male black bear used to call it home when I would frequent. I threw him an apple from across the lake when we met each other one morning. He cautiously pawing it before devouring it and skittering off. I saw him half a dozen times on my trips up there. Always weary when I was in his woods. Only a passerby to and from with awe when he would show himself. Always a privilege.
I loved the hike. Doable in a day, did it twice in one day. Also a trail to hike up and over and down the other side. A short but steep hike. 7 to 8 miles to the summit. Rising from just under 3000 feet to almost 7000 feet. Only a handful of peaks here crest 7000 feet besides The Enchantments. But once up Asgard Pass the upper area of The Enchantments is already above 5000 ft. Air is thinner. More goats. But also more people. I never saw another soul on Red Mountain. Tis why I loved it.
You can see Davis Peak yonder across the rivers north. It’s scarred and scorched sides from a wildfire older than me still showing. It fills in more every season. Spires of granite towering over the forests to the north west looking towards Big Bear Mountain. The more recent scabs on Jolly Mountain to the east. The open and forbidding North West face of Mt. Stuart, it was on the summit of Red Mountain that I felt the first urge to climb Stuart. Wanting to be higher, the highest peak I could see…I wanted it. I would sit on Red Mountain’s summit for hours, sometimes I would bivy in its shadow just at the tree line, amongst the larches. I was there during the first snowfall of an early winter, almost slipping to my death down the slick scree beds, the 3rd time my ice axe saved my life. It was one of the last mountains I hiked after my avalanche, it ushered me into the mountains and bid me farewell when my desire and need for mountains was quelled.
I am camping in her shadow today. I can see the waterfalls I would walk through and drink from, still heavy from the locked in snow under the dense forest that covers the mountains mid section. Old trees, tall trees, ones to hard to get to so never logged. Terrain that is to hard to hunt in, camp on, or frequent. Only a handful of people I knew during the time I was chasing mountains had hiked Red Mountain. The trail was not maintained, had fall overs, was grown over and washed away in many places. I did most of the maintence on it during 2 years. Mostly for myself apparently.
I look at the summit now and have no desire to be on it. But it reminds me and I reminisce about my time in it’s embrace. Of everything I’ve hiked it will always be the mountain that I have the most and fondest memories of hiking. Never with anyone. I only ever hiked there solo. Never wanting to share it. It was always mine. The things I saw, felt, smelled, heard…my experiences. To create similar experiences alone now…is something I know I am capable of, but heavy in the heart to trek forward with. Lonely as the mountain and I were, it was always the 2 of us. I have rivers and trout now. And other waters and fish to find and chase, experience alone or with others…in time.
In the shadow of Red Mountain…I feel calm and peace, foreboding stoicism, solid and unmoveable.
2 thoughts on “Red Mountain”
Would love to see pics, if you have them… and if they aren’t private. Another well written piece man. Nicely done.
Nate- You really are a good writer. A good guide & a good writer- you’ll be a legend when you are an old man. See, Dee Molinar, “ The Challenge of Rainier”.
I do want to buy the book that is in you when it’s published ( e.g. snorkeling the length of the Teanaway). Writing it will become the mountains of your past that you’re climbing now. Like your climbs, writing will mostly be done alone,.
I’m not going to live forever, so get started.typing.
Today. Like, this evening.