Round Two with the Gore Creek Trail

I woke up with an ardent appetite for the foggy valleys of the Olympic Peninsula. Rolling onto a painfully empty stomach, I slid into my pillow as effortlessly as I slid back into an incognizant dream. Scanning lost spaces in my mind for better places to be, I remembered the Gore Creek Trail and its lush, mossy floors, reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest…

The last time I set foot on this trail, Crockett and I were racing back to the car, fleeing an unexpected storm. After four hours of hiking alongside the creek, up steep switchbacks, and filling our bellies with wild strawberries, we were not more than three quarters of a mile away from Gore Lake  which I was impatiently beginning to believe didn’t exist. When it started to rain, I turned to Crockett, the usual voice of reason, and studied him for uncertainty. Just a little while longer, I assured myself sitting sheltered under the thick branches of a pine that had seen hundreds of downpours just like this one in its lifetime. I nervously forced my focus to Takoda, who had morphed into the most perfect doughnut-shaped ball under my thin two-dollar poncho. The hair on my arms tickled as they stood up on its ends.

“Is that…static?” I heard him ask through the rapid beat of hail cracking against boulders. My heart dropped knowing that we were too close to the clouds and we’d have to turn back. Not only would we be at risk of dangerous weather, we’d be sleeping on wet, cold ground — we opted to sleep safely in warm beds, a short drive away from the trailhead. It took all of our strength to pick ourselves up with tender knees and blistered soles and revamp our motivation to walk.

I was never too familiar with the terror some feel about being deep in the backcountry. I had never concerned myself with wildlife, I never wondered about other humans lurking in the trees, I never worried about any physical harm that could possibly befall me – until I had to walk six miles in total darkness, using only an iPhone flashlight to guide the way. Slippery rocks taunted us, tempting our bodies to collapse under the weight of our packs. Nearby rustling leaves tricked our brains into believing something was close. But of course, our fear was mostly imaginary.

Still, I’ve never been so comforted by the sight of city lights…

Reawakening, Takoda’s tongue was my first real image of the day: the black birthmark imprinted in the center, the way it leaves dew on his graying beard. It’s his way of begging me to take him on an adventure. Today he is lucky; we were going to return to the trail where his paw-prints were over a year old.

This time, the absence of mushroom colonies at my feet was filled with soft snow banks. Every last trace of green had turned gold a month ago, but is nonetheless its own kind of beautiful. We worried that we wouldn’t have enough daylight to make the trip up to the lake and back to the trailhead, and we were right — but I couldn’t let myself turn back early for the second time.

The last 50 feet leading up to the shore, I felt fully satisfied in my redemption. It’s disappointing to have your eyes set firmly on a goal and come so close before having to pull away from it, so to be able to sit there and see the Gore Range from its base was moving. Surprisingly, this isn’t what I’ll be taking away from this experience.

Sometimes I feel like the mountains have their own human-like presence. Looking at the photos I took from our first trip next to this round, I feel like I’m growing in my understanding of their personality. While not ideal, getting pelted with angry icicles and trekking through fields of exhausted foliage, I got to know my beloved White River National Forest in a new way that I’ve never known before — and I didn’t even have to reach the lake to see that.

blogMarley Jeranko