Crag Hunting

There’s a chill to the air now. It didn’t pause to introduce itself gradually– no, one day it slid surreptitiously up our shirt sleeves and down our shorts and summer was over in the Pacific Northwest. 100 mph winds are forecast on Mt Rainier for the first storm of the season. Tomorrow, snow will fall above 7000 feet on Mt Hood. Summer is, suddenly, gone.

Mt Hood in Fall
High country damp chill.

For some, Fall represents a certain sort of sadness, or an ending of things. My friend, an oarman, bemoans the coming of Fall, for soon he enters the dreaded off-season. Gardens die, people shop for raincoats, the Emergency Room fills with homeless seeking warmth, and the rest of the population weaves through the rain with their headlights still off. It is a challenging time.

For others, Fall is a time of potential and future-dreaming. Soon, cold arctic winds will freeze waterfalls and turn the rain into that magical snow-stuff. “Yeah, it’s muddy now, but there are nine ski movies showing this week and I’m gonna see all of them”. It’s time to wax your skis and dance around a fire of old planks to pray for snow.

I love fall. There’s something about the minglings of ends and beginnings that evokes the richness of life itself. It is a season of appreciation. The chill pushes friends together, huddling unaccustomed skin near to warm stoves and hot meals.  Summer plans, previously stagnant, are frantically churned into motion under the fading light of a summer sun. We split wood and stack it high in anticipation, strengthening our backs and breaking a hot sweat that steams in the welcome cool air. It’s a comfortable season for me that fits like a fleece coat. In Fall, I can get things done.

Headed Southwest
Here be dragons

This morning I walked off into the woods alone looking for a gem that I’d seen peeking from amidst the greenery. In the Portland area, there is little rock which has not been developed and climbed since before Sacajawea made her first bouldering pad. The prospect of new rock is an interesting one, and so, necessarily, undeveloped rock is either hidden, or hard to get to. The best sort is both.

The woods through which I stumbled were once logged, but are now wild. There are many ways to describe them but none will suffice to describe the very texture of the place. The ground has a rich spring, and lugged soles tear into a thick loam somewhere between dirt and wood. Traveling gradually up the hillside and away from the road, I passed through bands of vegetation; first the Oxalis next the Mahonia, and last the Vine Maple.


Wandering alone in the woods is at once childlike and wild. To explore, reckon, and hazard the landscape brightens the senses and reminds your bodymind that it was made to move. We are, no matter how obscured, hunter gatherers. The eye, when even briefly trained, is exquisite at teasing relevant forms from the forest floor chaos. Even as I grunted uphill, familiar forms caught my eye, and my wind shirt was quickly converted to a gathering-sack.

Use #73 for Wind Shirt (Mushroom Bag): Cinch waistline draw cord. Zip up jacket. Seal the waistline with an overhand knot. Join the sleeves together with a square knot. Throw the sleeves over your shoulder like a messenger bag. Slip in your bounty through the hood.

Dead reckoning is a skill that never seems like such. Steering with a faith in your intuition is a plan that works just until it doesn’t. This morning I thought that I had wasted my time, I was too high on the hill, without a rock in sight. As I resigned myself to a wasted day ,I spied another mushroom patch.

Rooting around in the dirt, I raised my head and saw a stone poking through the vine maples. “I found you, you bastard”, I said to no one, and toddled over for a look.[divider_line] Top Secret Beta:

It tried to hide,
It tried to hide,
Something worth climbing?
Something worth climbing?
And this?
And this?

[divider_line]Fall dangled my loose ends in front of me and pushed me out the door to tie them up.  I’m afraid that now I have one more. When spring comes, it will be time to head back up. Next time, it will be will a scrub brush and some ropes.


Category: Adventures, Travel, & Writing


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