Purgatory must feel like driving on state Route 161 through Puyallup, South Hill, and Graham. Every time I worked my sticky gear stick up to fifth gear, a traffic light blinked into view. A tunnel of strip malls surrounds the straight road and the endless red lights that divide it. I could hardly see the clear cuts beyond the Vern Fonk insurance agencies, Jiffy Lube’s and storage units.
After successfully passing through this vision of purgatory, my beater Subaru hummed up a gravel road in the direction of gathering thunderheads. I was on my way to High Rock, just south of Mount Rainier National Park. High Rock is just what it sounds like. A high rock. And it has a cool view of Mount Rainier. It’s a short hike but I planned on spending a long time on it.
Sometimes I meet people who don’t like hiking. They think hikers like walking and exercise and nothing else. Maybe hiking is about walking and exercise for some people. For me it’s about the views.
My favorite hikes are long, but that’s only because I like to see a lot of views. I must admit, I do find satisfaction in being tired and pushing on until I finally get to camp or return to the parking lot hungry, tired and aching. My girlfriend says people of European descent feel the need to accomplish something, even on their days off. And I think she’s right.
Once on an overnight hike through an obscure patch of Central Washington wilderness, my friends and I picked ticks off our bodies, found animal carcasses, and even stepped on a few bull snakes. The terrain reminded P.J. of the hills surrounding a farm where he once worked on California’s Central Coast. He worked with mostly immigrants and some of them had hiked through the desert for days just to get to America. Thinking they would be interested in hiking, P.J. told them about his plans for a weekend backpacking trip. The immigrants thought it was weird that he hiked for fun.
Halfway up the 1.5-mile trail to High Rock, I lingered at timber line while lightning flashed every 10 minutes. After 40 minutes of crouching in the bushes, I continued up to High Rock, where I saw one of the best views of Mount Rainier I have ever seen. I got comfortable and stared at crevasses and rock faces, and I stared at the incredible difference in height between Mount Rainier and the foothills below it. Even the Tattoosh Range and the Goat Rocks Wilderness – which seem like grand mountains from most vantages – looked inconsequential and hardly worthy of having a name next to The Mountain.
At sunset I headed down. It was a four hour hike but I only walked for an hour.