Hiking Solo

I’ve hiked for years, but always it has been with at least one other person. A couple of years ago, I found myself between hiking buddies, yet still with the urge to get into the mountains. So, why not just go alone?

(The worrier-me has reasons: ¬†What if I fall and hurt myself? What if I startle a bear and the probability of his horribly maiming me is 100% instead of the 50% or less I’d have if I was hiking with someone else? What if Mount Baker chooses that moment to erupt and I’m buried under hundreds of feet of ash?)

One thing helped sway me in favor of going in spite of all of these dangers — my new(ish) Nikon D50 digital SLR.

One of the first solo hikes I went on was to Lake Ann. The trail is one of my favorites, passing through meadows and finally switchbacking up a rocky slope before coming up to Lake Ann and, more importantly, a stunning view of the backside of Mount Shuksan.

View of Mount Shuksan

Mount Shuksan, and my boots

The day was one of those perfect Northwest days of sun and cloudless blue skies. Being alone on the hike made it feel like an adventure.

Later that same year, I took the Heliotrope Ridge trail, another popular trail in the North Cascades. However, this was in September and the clouds meant I was almost completely alone on the trail — especially when I veered off the main trail to follow a climber’s route.

This branch was not as well-traveled for two reasons. One, it diverted from the most common destination for hikers on the trail — Coleman Glacier. Two, it was very steep. When I left the main trail, it was raining lightly, but it didn’t take long to gain enough elevation that the rain turned to wet snow.

Heliotrope Ridge trail

Light snowfall on Heliotrope Ridge

Climbing up a trail through falling snow surrounded by misty fog hiding the spectacular view of Mount Baker that would normally be there, I was completely alone. The only sounds were the flakes (well, drops really) of snow hitting the ground and my Gore-tex coat, my boots hitting the ground as I walked, and my breath when I stopped — often — to rest and wonder what the hell I was doing out there alone.

The truth is, though, that I kind of liked being in a place where, at least at that moment, no one else had chosen to be. If only I had a hiking buddy to share the experience of being there alone. Oh, wait…


My butterfly friend

I often feel absurdly pleased when an animal “likes” me — especially if it’s an animal that doesn’t typically like people. You know, like the dog that comes over with her tail wagging and the owner says, “Oh, Abby doesn’t usually *like* men.”

But how many people have had a butterfly befriend them? (Okay, so maybe it’s more common that I’d like to believe, but I don’t want to know if that’s true.)

We were having lunch at Hannegan Pass in the beautiful Cascade Mountains, and I saw this cool little blue butterfly. It did that random fluttery thing butterflies do and fluttered its way to where I stood admiring the view. As it flew close to me, I held out my left hand. I guess I just did it out of a futile hope that the butterfly would land there, but I was still surprised when it ended up settling on my index finger.

Blue butterfly

My butterfly friend, Oscar

He (Hey, how the heck am I supposed to know if it was male or female? [flips coin] Male.) just stayed there and did whatever it is that butterflies do when they’re not fluttering or eating sugar. At first I tried to be so careful not to move too much because I *wanted* him to hang out on my finger. But, after minutes passed and he just stayed there, I began to move around, walking in the little meadow in which we found ourselves.

The whole time he stayed, clinging with his six little white legs, enjoying (I hope) the ride, and I took pictures, showed him to my hiking buddy, and was amazed at how long this tiny little creature seemed content to hang with me.

So, why was I so tickled by this? I mean, is it really such a significant thing to have a bug land on me? But, it was a butterfly, a beautiful thing. It was also more rare than, say, the flies that had no problem paying us all too much attention at times during our hike. And, its attentions were more gentle, more sublime (at least, so I felt in my fuzzy little brain).

It’s as if I was being honored by the little fella. Here was a living being, much smaller than me, who trusted me enough to rest on my finger. And, maybe there was some weird background idea that animals (even butterflies!) are somehow able to sense the innate goodness (or badness) in a person, so this funny blue critter hanging out on my finger was almost a sort of stamp of approval, like, “Hey, this guy’s alright.”

And maybe with our pets, or with the animals we encounter in nature, we can imagine some spark of consciousness that is not bogged down with all the crazy human crap that fills our minds. “I like you.” “You scare me.” Simple, straightforward.

Or, maybe I just want to be one of the few, the proud, the liked-by-butterflies…