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Thursday, August 30, 2007


My backpack sat open on the driver’s seat. I was stuffing last things into it. I made a little nest out of a fleece pullover, put half a dozen bananas in it, and carefully stowed it in the top of my pack where it wouldn’t get squished. (Monkey-cams, in general, become very cross on those occasions when you proffer bruised bananas as reward for risky photography work.)

I could see the Monkey-cam sitting in the passenger seat of the car, staring out the side window, sulking. (Note: The Monkey-cam and I, by mutual consent, have agreed not to call each other by our given names. We believe that this policy will help depersonalize our working relationship and allow us to more easily recover from grief should disaster befall one or the other of us during our photo expeditions.)

I ducked down and leaned into the car. “O.K.,” I relented, “would you feel any better about it if I agreed to carry all the water?”

The Monkey-cam whipped his head around and glared at me as if I was the world’s most stupid child. He scrunched his lips together in a stereotypical chimpanzee frown and shook his head back and forth so that his lips and oversized ears wiggled in a parody of whiplash. Then he extended a long hairy arm and pointed at the digital readout on the dashboard radio. The chunky green numerals said 3:29 P.M. He bounced up and down in his seat to emphasize his point.

“So what.” I said. “The hike isn’t that long. We’ll have plenty of time.” I placed my roast beef sandwich next to the nest of bananas. I put extra batteries, a flashlight, and my keys in there too.

The Monkey-cam just got more agitated, especially when he saw the flashlight. He quickly raised his hands to his ears and stuck his elongated fingers up in the air as if they were some kind of horns or elaborate antlers. Then, quite without warning, he screamed and charged at me as if he were a bull. People don’t seem to realize that chimpanzee’s are typically much stronger than humans. Monkey-cam’s pantomime charge was impressive enough that I flinched. As soon as I flinched, he retreated with his hands held over his eyes all the time pretending to run into things.

Suddenly it occurred to me that he was describing the incident at Lava Canyon which had been somewhat traumatic for both of us. I could see that he was worried about getting caught out in the wilderness after dark.

“Look, it’s only about a three mile round trip to the shelter. Besides, we’re practically at the timberline…there isn’t much dark forest to worry about.”

There was no convincing the Monkey-cam. He screamed and pointed a quivering finger at me. Then he pantomimed driving a car, turning the steering wheel back and forth. Then he pointed at himself. Finally he grabbed himself, squeezing his disproportionately large ‘berries’.

I tried to ignore his comment. “Ya’ know,” I began, “technically, you’re not supposed to be able to construct novel sentences like that.”

He went back to sulking and staring out the passenger window. As a kind of casual afterthought, he flipped me ‘the finger’.

Now it was my turn to get agitated. “Listen you!” I tried to sound assertive. “I’m going to take care of some business at the Cloud Cap trailhead restroom, but by golly, when I get back you had better have that camera ready and your pack packed or I’m taking you straight back to the zoo!”

I stormed off to the restroom.

When I came back to the car, I noticed the Monkey-cam was rooting through my pack…no doubt pilfering bananas. I tried to sneak up on him, but I guess there’s a reason for those disproportionately large ears. I almost caught him when he had to dive past me to get to the campground, but once he made it to the trees it was no contest.

It was probably just as well. I wasn’t sure how I was going to tell him that I had forgotten to bring the guidebook again anyway.

I picked up my pack, slipped my arms through the straps and cinched up the left one a little bit because it was loose again. I locked the car doors and shut them. I walked through the campground to the trailhead.

It looked to me like there were three, maybe four trails to choose from and it seemed that all of them were unhelpfully labeled ‘timberline trail’. Without the guidebook, I just guessed and went up and to the right. I eventually wound up at the base of the east edge of the Eliot Glacier Moraine. When the glacier is advancing, it pushes rock and ash before it as if it were a giant bulldozer. When the glacier recedes at the end of summer, or during bouts of human triggered global warming, it leaves a tremendous scoured out path.

(click on this image to see larger version)

NOTE: There are signs at the trailhead warning that parts of the Timberline trail are impassable - I think particularly heading west to Elk Cove. I believe this section of trail rising out of the West side of the Eliot Moraine is the problematical area, though I suppose getting across the Eliot Creek is also a challenge. From my distant vantage point, it looks like a detour path is beginning to stand out over the top of the slide. The part that worries me is the unstable nature of the moraine wall in general. There are big rocks just waiting to tumble down and it seems that walking down to the bottom of the moraine and out again is a little like playing Russian roulette.

The moraine walls are steep and not very stable. Rocks about the size of Volkswagens periodically tumble down the wall. Unfortunately, it is hard to get a sense of the immense scale from this image.

There are four or five mountain climbers headed back down the mountain on the trail at the right of this picture (at about the midpoint).

As I continued to climb, I suddenly heard the commotion of car horns blaring and tires squealing. Though I could make out Cloud Cap Inn perched on a little hill at the base of the moraine, the trees from the campgrounds obscured the parking lot, and I was unable to discover the source of all the noise and evident pandemonium.

As I gained altitude, Mt. Adams - previously invisible - began to poke out above the clouds.

The crest of a moraine edge provides a wonderful vantage point for observing the intricacy and character of glaciers. It is hard to imagine a more paradoxical presentation of the concept of motion – paradoxical in the sense that every crack and fissure shows that the glacier is pouring downward under the relentless tug of gravity, but as far as your eyes are concerned, they might as well be looking at stationary rocks.

(click on this image for larger version)

This is where rivers are born.

I ran out of negotiable moraine and was forced to traverse over to Cooper Spur proper.

It wasn’t too long before my path intersected the Cooper Spur trail which meandered its way through a field of truck sized boulders. The trail switched back and forth a lot and thereby resulted in a very reasonably graded path. What wasn’t so obvious was the fact that all the switches to the east were a little bit longer than the switches to the west so that ultimately, the net effect was to cause the hiker to actually progress around the mountain in a clockwise fashion. Suddenly, topping a crest, the whole southern horizon came into view.

I kept expecting to run into the Cooper Spur shelter - the one I described to the Monkey-cam - but by the time I reached this windbreak, I began to suspect that I had somehow missed the shelter long ago and that I was now on the more difficult, longer trail rather than the short easy one. I decided the best plan at this point was to utilize the wind break and eat my sandwich. I opened my pack and pulled out the sandwich. “That’s funny,” I thought to myself, “none of the bananas are missing.”

At 8000+ feet, I learned a hard lesson about photography. When your fingers are numb from cold and your body heat is wicking away at a dangerous rate because of your damp cotton/polyester blend T-shirt, setting up your tripod really seems like a low priority task. However, when you get back home and review all your blurry, not sharp pictures, you realize setting up your tripod is the whole reason you went there.

Winter never goes away. It just stays up high swirling around the mountain tops, waiting impatiently for any excuse to start its yearly campaign for territory.

I got the uncomfortable impression that the sun was accelerating as it neared the horizon. The shadow of Mt. Hood began stretching inexorably toward the East. I felt kind of rushed eating my sandwich.

Eventually, a full moon peeked out from behind a band of clouds. I relaxed a little as I began to anticipate its silvery light for accompaniment on my long night journey.

I passed through the plains of giant boulders with nothing but the moonlight for illumination. It was quiet and beautiful, both strange and familiar. I started singing quietly, “I hope that my legs don’t break…walking on the moon.”

Eventually the trail led me past the shelter I had given up finding.

I lost the trail when it descended into a valley of looming shrubberies - hidden from the moon. Fortunately, I had previously established a useful waypoint on my GPS device. Though I was essentially lost in a dark depression, to my left, the massive wall of the Eliot glacier moraine thrust up into the night sky and glistened in the moon-glare. This landmark - coupled with my waypoint - it was all I needed. All the same, I was glad to have spared the Monkey-cam this brief moment of uncertainty.

When I got to the campground, I stopped briefly to get my keys out of the pack. I knew they had to be in there somewhere, but as I dug around and probed the deep recesses of the pack, the horrible realization began to dawn on me that I had lost them. Maybe it was at the windbreak when my hands were numb? Maybe they fell out when I grabbed the sandwich? But just because my hands were numb, I reasoned to myself, doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have heard them if they did fall. I was stumped.

Then it occurred to me. Maybe the Monkey-cam took them when he was rooting around in my pack. And then…Oh no. Maybe that explains the turmoil in the parking lot.

In a cold panic, I ran to the spot where my car should have been. It looked a lot like my car except it was missing the rear bumper. All the windows were rolled down and the radio was playing mournful cowboy tunes. Through the back window , spread out unconscious among an extraordinary quantity of beer cans and whiskey bottles, I could see the Monkey-cam, snoring loudly and quivering spastically now and then to dreams that only a chimp can have.

The keys were in the ignition.

Not too much later, I found my bumper hanging on mile post 3, its chrome flashing under my high-beams.

That monkey is going to get such a spanking when we get home.

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely breathtaking photos.

    And I like the montages a lot!



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