Some ideas are the product of meticulous planning and deliberate thinking, while others just seem to happen. When three friends and I decided to climb a 7,000 foot mountain at 3:00 AM to herald the sunrise with our trumpets, it was decidedly an idea of the latter variety. It had begun as a relaxed weekend backpacking trip. We would leave Saturday afternoon from the trailhead in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and hike 6 miles each day, returning Monday. Often, backpackers will go to extreme lengths to eliminate excess weight, buying ludicrously expensive tents, counting out—to the calorie—the amount of food required, and even drilling holes in their toothbrushes. We four, in contrast, dedicated members of the Mercer Island High School Marching Band trumpet section, decided at the last minute to bring our trumpets along, nullifying any weight-saving efforts with our heavy instruments.
The seemingly irrational decisions didn’t end there. After ascending 3,000 feet in about 6 miles, we reached our camping spot for the night. We had planned to wake up late the following day and amble to the next campsite. The expansive skies above our idyllic meadow campsite gave us other ideas, however. Navaho Peak, a grueling ascent of over 1,000 feet in less than a mile, lay to the east. Smoke from recent Eastern Washington wildfires promised a spectacular sunrise. Once again, we threw our plans to the wind, set the alarm for 3:00 AM, and collapsed, exhausted, in our sleeping bags.
The unwelcome cry of the alarm greeted us less than 5 hours later. I snapped awake and began to pack. The weak beams of our headlamps did little to illuminate the other-worldly landscape surrounding us on the climb. The rills and fine stones of Navaho Pass truly resembled those of the moon. Multiple times, I wondered if, as in the fantasy novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, we had been mysteriously transported to another planet, unaware and utterly alone in the dark. The incline, devoid of vegetation, spread seemingly endlessly in all directions as we reached the half-mile mark. The majority of the elevation gain remained. Calves searing, lungs scorched by the frigid desert-morning air, we kept straining for the dimly lit summit above. As we rounded the first switchback, we noticed a pastel glimmer of red on the fringes of the horizon. The sunrise imminent, we resumed our crusade with renewed vitality. Twenty agonizing minutes later, we reached the summit. Just as we staggered onto the highest rocky outcropping, the golden sun began to float into the sky. The wildfire smog distorted the neighboring peaks and diffused the light, saturating our view with gently mingling layers of reds, yellows, and oranges. Pulling our trumpets from our packs, we welcomed the new day with “America the Beautiful” and several Baroque Quartets. We spent the rest of the morning recuperating, throwing our sleeping bags carelessly on the summit’s craggy outcropping, too fatigued to mind the sharp rocks. That afternoon, we descended to the trailhead, forgoing an extra day and hiking over 12 miles to enjoy the comfort of arriving home early and plunging, utterly spent, into our beds.
Exploring the Pacific Northwest, I’ve taken part in trips choreographed to the minute, designed to maximize enjoyment and minimize effort. But of my excursions, my trip to Navaho Peak holds a special place in my heart, and offers a relevant lesson. Yes, do plan your trips. Don’t show up unprepared. But take every crazy, ridiculous-sounding, scary opportunity that presents itself. Perhaps it might just turn out to change your life.
Trip Information: www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/navaho-peak#trailhead-map
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