Monday, July 17, 2006

As the Worm Flows

Yesterday, I found myself clambering hand over foot—for two miles—over these enormous, abrasive hunks of lava.

Worm Flows

It got old real fast. Never mind the fact that Mount St. Helens was looming right in front of me—heck, I was actually on the slopes of the ding-dong thing—I couldn’t really focus on the grandeur of it all, because I am too much of a chickenshit.

These boulders were the size of kitchen appliances and with every step I gingerly took, I envisioned myself losing my footing and careering to my doom at the bottom of the Worm Flows. There was no trail, just a series of widely spaced guideposts and cairns. The idea was to just make your way to the next one “hopping” or in my case—scrabbling—from one boulder to the next.

I had other things to fret about as well. There was the very real possibility that we wouldn’t be able to find the connecting trail that would make the loop trail we were trying to do possible. Here I am, finding that out mid-hike. You can’t tell I was fretting, but, trust me, I was. Note that the boulders seem to extend as far as the eye can see. So if we couldn’t find that connecting trail, then what? We’d have to backtrack over all those same treacherous boulder fields. As darkness fell and it grew cold. Were we prepared to spend the night camped on a Worm Flow? No we were not. Did I even have a jacket with me? No I did not. And weren’t we, after all, on a farking active volcano? Why, yes, we were. Was embarking on this hike without properly acquainting ourselves with the terrain perhaps not the most brilliant thing we’ve ever done in our lives? Yes.*

The irony here is that B and I had planned on an easy hike. B was feeling a little run down and sinusy, and I had a hankering to see Mt. Saint Helens up close. The June Lake loop seemed perfect. Five and a half miles; 1,000 feet of elevation gain. Nothing. The hike to June Lake was basically a stroll. Little kids and women in Keds were all making their way to the lake.

June Lake was lovely—a glassy mirror of green-ness with a waterfall spilling into it—but not enough of a challenge. Well, we asked for it. I don’t know how long it took us to cross the first 1.3 miles of lava fields. Maybe a week. We reached our second destination, a pair of falls** that B pronounced “cool,” but that he later downgraded to “not worth it” after having to cross nearly another mile of boulder fields on the last leg of the hike. Poor B. We when we reached that second field of boulders, B gamely climbed up to a high point, thinking he’d just have to climb a few more yards to get back to a “real trail,” but when he realized that there was, once again, no end in sight, I could hear real dismay in his voice. The kind of dismay Magellan might have felt somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The good thing was that, at that point, at least I knew we were on the connecting trail (such as it is), although I also knew it was going to be a bitch to have to pick our way across more blobs of lava. Crouching and crawling takes it out of you, I’m hear to tell ya.

Obviously, we made it back to the trailhead parking lot (at 7:45 PM—it took us more than 4 hours to hike 5.5 miles!), not too worse for the wear. Considering how many pumice boulders I clung to, by rights, the palms of my hands should be a lacerated, bloody pulp, but they’re totally fine. I have a scrape on one shin and on my shoulder. B skinned his knee (very minorly). We don’t even have any sore muscles today, surprisingly, given that we were definitely calling upon some of our lesser-used muscles (read: gluteals) to scramble across those endless fields.

Karaoke, by the way, proved to be way less scary and taxing than yesterday’s hike. I chose to do “We Will Rock You” by Queen, a suggestion given to me on Friday by my dental hygienist. She recommended it by telling me that (super square and unhip) “Dr. Ken,” my dentist, managed to pull that one off. Just to be on the safe side, I asked B to go up there with me. I acquitted myself quite respectably—since it doesn’t involve any actual singing. And I learned that no one need ever fear karaoke. Here’s why:

A) No one (OK, almost no one) else can sing in tune.
B) No one can hear you, because they’re all talking.
C) No one is listening anyway (not even the people in my own party! Hmmmf!)

That said, I don’t think I’ll ever again set foot in a karaoke bar. It just isn’t much fun. And the beer selection sucks!

*A qualified “yes.” I am normally very careful not to tackle something out of my comfort zone when hiking. People who do that die sometimes. No joke. But in my defense, I’ll say that my hiking book was a bit misleading about what crossing the boulder field would entail. I’ve crossed many a boulder field before that had a sort of a path trampled into it. No big deal. I assumed (and that was my mistake) that this would be no different.
** The falls are known as Chocolate Falls, so you can understand why we had to hike to them. They weren’t looking too much like chocolate milk yesterday, though, more like a trickle of reconstituted nonfat dry skim milk.


Post a Comment

<< Home