Written Sunday morning at 5:40 am, after dawn, before the sun crawled out from behind Cascade ridges, during a 24-hour escape from regular life.
I had a mouse on my head last night. I had just faded to sleep with the delightfully wild white noise of an alpine cascade at my feet. Something brushed my hair. I flipped over to see a small dark shadow rocket silently across my tent vestibule and escape under my rain fly. Fuzzy from new sleep, groggy from the evening hike in, I wondered if I imagined it. It could have been my eyes. It was past midnight, one week from solstice. There was still twilight on the west horizon. Bellingham and Anacortes city lights glowed orange below it. The entire Milky Way was streaming out of Mt Baker’s summit, just over my shoulder.
I’d dreamed a mouse. He climbed up the mesh screen of my tent door and brushed my head. I checked the tent for holes. Mice can chew right through tent material to get inside. Then they chew through your food bag and get to what they want. But there was none of that. No proof of any of this. It must have been the light breeze pushing the screen into my hair. It must have been a dream. I drifted back to sleep.
A while later, I woke to the screen brushing my hair again. I opened my eyes without moving. Starlight off the glacier snow cut the silhouette of a mouse hanging from the outside of the screen, directly above my face.
“He’s back!” I yelled, waking the next tent. I smacked the screen, sending the furry nuisance flying to the far side of the rain fly where he landed and scurried away.
Faint gray-blue light from the coming dawn illuminated my tent before 4 am. The nip and moisture in the air led me to believe we were fogged in. I unzipped to check. Clear blue. The magnificent Coleman glacier rested in its moraine just 100 feet away. Occasionally we could hear it groaning or cracking as it flowed slowly down the mountain. I crawled out and grabbed my camera to wait for sunrise.
We’re at 5600 feet. Climbers are ascending from Hogsback, which we passed last night before reaching the lookout at trail’s end and setting camp. The strong smell of sulfur wafted through camp. Baker is an active volcano, I’m even pretty sure there used to be a sulfur mine up there early last century.
“That’s pretty strong. All the way from the summit?” I ask.
“Nah, probably from fumeroles further down.” My resident volcanologist suggests. But the breeze was precise and after half an hour, it shifted, sending the smell elsewhere. We watched puffs of steam appear and rise from the northwest corner of the summit before vanishing moments later.
This year snow is gone early from this area, bringing July and August wild flowers before solstice. Penstamon, lupine, Indian paintbrush, yellow asters are all blooming now, surrounding my tent with the luxury of wild color. Some are a full two months early. Vertical patches of snow clung to high meadows. Our drinking water came from the waterfall creeks below them. At the present moment I am sitting against the base of a huge solid basalt hill several steps from our tents. The side of the rock has been rubbed smooth by glaciers which have long since retreated. I run my hand over it again and again, imagining the massive ice that ground it smooth as glass.
Waterfalls along the path
One of many creek crossings en route to the destination.
Reached the Coleman glacier just before sunset
Camp with Mt Baker and Coleman Glacier
Resident volcanologist, glacier enthusiast, sunset chaser
View looking northwest (Am I seeing Canada?)
Glacier-rubbed rock with remnant glacier in the background.
Top of the basalt rock
Backlit glacier ice.
A marmot before heading home.