Life Del Campo Peak: Sublime
posted by August 5 at 17:58 PMon
On Saturday, my friend Ben and I drove an hour and a half into the Snoqualmie-Mt. Baker National Forest to make the 12-mile round trip hike to Del Campo Peak. It was a cool and overcast day, seemingly usual for summer Saturdays in Seattle. Isn’t it August already?
The trail began flat and wide, an old logging road that, maybe a quarter mile from the trailhead, was completely washed out. A vehicular bridge we were meant to take had been utterly wrecked by winter storms, so the trail diverted up and around it. We strolled past early season thimbleberries and munched on any ripe ones we found, which were few but delicious.
After a half mile or so, the trail narrowed from logging road to footpath and turned up into the forest. The fecund floor was dotted with fungus galore, from robust, apple-like mushrooms to a weird, jelly-like, pus-colored goo spackled along dead tree stumps. Tiny symphonies of birdsong lilted down from the trees; the sun occasionally broke through the canopy above and fell onto the trail.
The trail steeped suddenly and significantly—100-some years ago, this area was heavily used and abused by miners who, employing mules to carry their heavy loads, had little use for switchbacks. We’re talking staircase-steep, which demanded strenuous effort but was effectively an expressway to the higher elevations we were after.
Eventually we made it to a low-elevation viewpoint, which was nice but not spectacular.
Right beyond this view the trail rounded a bend and veered into a cataract coming down from the peaks high above. I totally forgot to take a picture, which was dumb, because the spot was beautiful. Beyond that we walked past another two smaller falls—not so much dramatic deluges as steeply dropping granite crevices shiny silver with running water.
After another mile or so, the trail climbing steadily but not drastically, I passed an old man sitting on a rock taking pictures. “Nice view, eh?” I said.
“Is hard for me. I 74 years old,” was his thickly-accented response. Maintaining my quick pace, I hustled past. I almost instantly regretted not speaking more with the guy.
Eventually the trail crested, and I was greeted by a blast of air colder than the warm breeze below. At roughly 5,300 feet, I had reached Gothic Basin.
In the epic poem “Mont Blanc,” Percy Bysshe Shelley writes of the sublimity—that is, the fearsome grandeur—of the famed French peak. In florid poetic verse, Shelley claims the mountain, its highest heights obscured by clouds, is most imposing because its full form cannot be fathomed. It’s too big; the clouds hide its definite shape. Perhaps the mountain rises to all the way to heaven.
Wreathed in heavy clouds of its own creation, Del Campo Peak was likewise unfathomable. Sure, I'd have loved to see the whole thing, but there's something about a half-hidden mountain that is, as Shelley offered, unknowable, magnificent.
At Del Campo's base was the aptly named Foggy Lake. I got one good shot of the bottom portion of the peak reflected in the lake before a huge cloudbank poured down and whited out the view.
We ate lunch as a cold wind blew across the lake and froze our fingers. Isn't it August already?
Despite the cloud cover, the water was a rich glacial blue and the rocks a rustic, rusty ochre.
We had planned on climbing to the top of Del Campo peak, but conditions rendered the plan both unsafe and pointless. Even with another 1,000 feet or so of elevation, there would be no view from the top of the peak, and given the thick fog, it would've been easy to make a wrong turn off the side of the mountain. We turned back. Hiking around dripping snowfields on the way out of Gothic Basin, we passed the same unnamed lake as was pictured at the start of this post, seen here from the other side.
I was disappointed to not make it to the top of Del Campo peak, but it was still a good hike to Gothic Basin. I was lost in thoughts on the way back down when I passed the same gray-bearded old-timer, taking pictures not far from the spot I saw him an hour or so earlier. This time, I stopped and spoke with him.
Turns out this ruddy 74-year old is a meteorologist from Moscow named Eugene. In very broken English, he told me he sends his nature photos back to Russia to sell. He tried explaining something about the climate that I didn't fully understand; I believe said I shouldn't worry about global warming, that it's the excess energy of the cosmos and similar changes happened on Mars, Venus, and Jupiter. (But look what happened to them, I thought. I probably wasn't properly deciphering his earnest efforts at communication.)
After an ethusiastic but rather halting conversation, we traded email addresses and shook hands. The fact that I spoke with the guy made the entire trip.