My second night spent alone on the summit of Washington's 10,541-foot tall Glacier Peak, in August 2000, a gentle breeze blew in from the east and through the open tent doorway. The view outside was almost overwhelming. What a place to live. While making notes on a small travel calendar it occurred to me how twenty-eight days was an incredibly long time to try to live up there, just like with Mount Baker and Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams before it. Outlining squares on the calendar, sore and tired already, it didn't look good for the home team. Yet I would rather die trying to live like a lion out in the wild for a month, than to live caged up in a zoo for a lifetime. Most of us would.
A ghost of my former self after twenty six harsh but enlightening days spent with “The Queen of the Cascades,” the time finally came for this lion to head on back down to the world. Back at home after nearly four weeks spent in the wilderness, I came closer to dying in the darkness of my bedroom that first night than at any time on the mountaintop, and this is really saying something. More about this later.
I invite you to take an unflinching look here with me at portions of my childhood, adolescence and emergence into adulthood. While not always pretty, goodness no, it was all those ups and downs that led me to seek out solace in the Cascade Mountain Range in the first place. Included in this story are the names of many people who molded and shaped my life from early on, as well as those who made the mountain years possible and survivable for me. To anyone I missed please forgive me.
After all, it is our experiences and our memories of those experiences that make us what we are today. Without family, friends, and even special beloved pets here and there along the way, who would we really be anyway? I would be willing to bet that none of us would get very far.
Reared by two loving Christian parents, my upbringing was a normal one for the most part - aside from the fact that I had an especially strong desire to grow up too fast. Didn’t we all? This is part of being a kid. Then came the day that I no longer had a choice in the matter. But let's back up here, since the best place to start any story of course, is at the beginning.
Born at Seattle General Hospital and raised in the Puget Sound region, some of my earliest recollections are of my Texan parents working their property under the shadow of Mount Rainier. My mother bequeathed to me a small sunflower patch in our garden that summer we spent in Enumclaw. When a wild tortoise happened to wander up to me one morning, this started something which would go on for the rest of my days. The first real great and astonishing discovery of my young life, she made sure to take plenty of time with me side-by-side at the border of the tilling to officially name him "Willie" at my request. And yet maybe this was a 'she', mom suggested. Willyette? We really couldn't tell by looking at its butt. Who can with a turtle?
was tall and the sunflowers were so tall and I was really quite small and slow at the time, just
like my prized new friend on that warm day back at the very
edge of my memory. We all have our own cherished memories, don't we though?
Once Señor or Señora Willie Turtle the First and who-knows-how-many of his or her descendents living on to this very day became a part of our family, mom gave me a baker's dozen of "special eggs" to warm up under a heat lamp in my bedroom. Oh boy, there must be at least 50 million of them by now! "Willie Chicken this" and "Willie Chicken that" followed me around like I was their momma or something. Helping her take in bleached clothes from the line and a batch of wooden close pins gathered up in my tiny hands, giggling at a bunch of chicks running about at my feet, these are some of my oldest and fondest memories.
You see my folks were a pair of sweet and intelligent, determined and fun missionaries, building churches in a new and often hostile land. Since moving up from Waxahachie Texas in the early 1950's, our Baptist parents had maintained not only their Divine purpose, but also their bright sense of humor! They always saw hope in the hopeless. Like me at the time.
Tonight I have another powerful memory coming in of mum laboring to prepare country gravy for us in an ancient cast iron skillet. This simple pan is now perhaps my most treasured possession. I still use it almost every day. Let me tell you that the gravy would go over the best biscuits made from scratch on this planet, perfectly ready in the oven at that very moment we rolled out of bed for breakfast in the morning. What my surviving siblings and I wouldn't give right now for some of those biscuits, since this tried-and-true recipe was lost right along with Katherine LaNelle Williams one day in 2001. Or some of the out-of-this-world Texas Toast; a regular evening treat for our family. Or the heavenly smell of roast beef and baked potatoes, which almost always inundated our house on Sunday afternoons as we returned home from church.
Motherly clockwork ..... there's still nothing like it in the whole world!
Baring illness or snow, it was pretty much the same routine for us every Sunday morning - at least until I started to rebel and make up my own mind at around the age of, well, gosh, I guess it was 'round about the age of twelve. Yikes! No wonder my dear mother was almost completely gray-haired within a few years of my birth. And no wonder I was the last of us four kids.
Thinking back on it now, may I ask what women should charge for each load of laundry, every piece of ironed clothing or for so much as a wiped nose? Let's see here, how about every packed lunch box or cleaned bedroom or scrubbed toilet or vacuumed rug or swept floor or made bed? Then what about Doctor's fees. What is this worth to a desperately sick child, or to their father? Teacher's fees? So what else have I left out here?
If you are fortunate like me, there are very many things.
As I sit behind this keyboard late in the night on Mother's Day of 2006, I am missing her very much. Most of us have such special stories locked away in our memory from when we were ill - or completely faking it like I often did right before church, only to suddenly recover and be out riding my bike by noon with my buddy Steve. Until then I would plop onto my mom's warm bed for a long catnap the second they closed the door, from all the tough work of being a kid. Uugg!
Doubtless, at least I hope, similar memories echo throughout the years of your own childhood.
* * * * * *
My life was forever changed one day in late summer of 1968 when I happened to meet a kid at a local playground. He was the only one there as I blasted into the grounds in a swirl of dust on my Stingray bicycle, trying really hard to look cool. My family had recently moved from the city of Bothell to a 4.5-acre farm on a hillside overlooking Woodinville. I had felt insecure and out of place there ever since, not to mention bored out of my mind. The cool side of me only masked the fact that deep down inside I was sad, since only a few months earlier I was forced to leave my first puppy-love, Ramona Magersa, and all my other friends behind. I poured my heart out to this boy as we swooshed back and forth on the swings. He shared with me his own stories.
Six-year old Billy Peterson soon took me by the hand and led me to their house only a short distance away, where he introduced me to his tough ranch-hand sort of brother, Randy (my same age of 11). Compared to me, Randy almost looked like he was fifteen or something while he roped a cow in a corral as their dad - Wayne Peterson - at the time a King County Sheriff with a badge and a gun and everything, calmly watched on. They hardly noticed us.
And so this little boy grabbed me by the hand again and led me into the backyard, obviously hoping for some attention from his kin. Right away their gorgeous sister, Margie (10), entered the yard from stage left. Marge was always a drama queen. I could barely breathe. Then came a sinking feeling that she obviously wasn't one bit interested in me. I was devastated. Crushed.
Just then a voice came from the doorway of their immaculate white home with the green trim. Looking round the corner and into the kitchen I first met eyes with their mother, Noni Peterson. I shall never forget her looking back at me, wondering, "Who the heck is this kid?" Never could she have imagined.
When there was a commotion behind me, I turned to find Billy standing proudly beside his other older brother, Steve (9). I hadn't heard about him. He seemed like a totally right-on dude as we stood there sizing each other up like a couple of young roosters at first. As we quickly discovered, he owned a bow and arrow set and I had a brand new Daisy BB gun. We were hunters. Not only that, but we both had playing cards affixed with clothespins to the spokes of our bicycles, and each of us had been to the Wild Mouse ride at Seattle Center. Most importantly, we sported the same "butch" haircuts. We even used the same brand of Butch Hair Wax.
Like, WOW! The hair wax thing was almost cosmic.
So what could be a better basis for a lifelong best friendship than all of this, from that day forward?
The Peterson family gave this skinny little newcomer to town such a warm welcome, that I agreed to stay for lunch, then dinner ... and kind of sort of never-ever left.
A few days later I happened to find myself alone with Margie in an upstairs room of their home, where I very nearly dropped dead when she started to move toward me with those luscious red lips of hers. And there it was, my first kiss from a real live girl! It was kind of yucky as we ground teeth and lips, but I could live with it.
I leaned back in for another kiss grind.
While riding my bike home later that day and on to our 4.5 acre farm up on the hill, I realized that at 11 I had just become a man after those kisses. It was icky, but still way cool.
Of course our folks would have flat-out killed us if they had known what we were up to. Like our highly secretive hitchhiking adventures into Pike Place Market or Seattle Center, every weekend we could sneak away. These began at the ages of 12 (me) and 10 (Steve). Yes, you read that right. Marge came along on a couple of our trips at nine or ten because this was cool.
(Our parents would never hear anything about this to their dying days.)
Sworn to secrecy and only every now and then, Steve and I would even allow 7 or 8 year-old Billy to come along with us on our 40+ mile adventures. Preteens as we were, Steve and I fiercely looked after them and ourselves while out on the road.
Heart be still.
Yet all in all our primary goal was simple: to buy fresh batches of leather, beads and incense at the Market, ride The Mouse at the Center and have plain old fun in the super scary and crazy adult world of hippies and other weirdo's. The ability to hitch-hike cross-country as Steve turned double digits in age, had set us free! It was pretty easy: Glenn would be staying at Steve's, and Steve would be staying at Glenn's. Then we'd hit the road and do whatever we wanted. Of course.
Back in those early years we were quite the two brother warriors, with big razor-sharp hunting knives strapped to our small sides. Heaven help anybody who might try anything with us. Mighty fearsome-looking in our ankle-high leather moccasins with furrowed brows, we were highly trained to react and attack in a split second if need be. Like Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett in the modern age, by no means were we ignorant of the bears out there who might want to get us.
We would have messed 'em up something awful -- for real.
we ever really wanted was to obtain some goods for me to make
more beaded rings, headbands, moccasins and pouches for us to
wear to be hip with the girls.
We were all such sweet little darlings back then. Practically.
* * * * * *
From the very start of his career as an ordained minister my father had worked secular jobs to support our family, as well as to help finance the building of a long list of churches alongside my mother. They were not in this for the money.
Then one day, one special day, dad returned home from his job with Washington Natural Gas Company in Seattle as usual. Only this time he was obviously quite upset. Late that evening, listening around the corner, I caught wind of them talking in the other room about a certain 'something' which would go on to greatly influence my life. No, it wasn't another little bouncing baby in the basket on the way - because with me, mom had made sure I was the last. Understandable.
When they saw me listening in, they asked me to come into the
hallowed, respected ground of their bedroom. It turned out that dad had just lost his
job after 14 years at the gas company. We all knew how
arthritis had set in on his knees from riding jackhammers all
those years, breaking up pavement in preparation for the
installation of gas lines. Here they had "let him go,"
cruelly, without a dime of compensation. It was obvious
that we were about to go from poor, to poorer.
I was not to be concerned mom and dad said, even though I saw their worry lines increase from that day forward. My parents were confident that considering his long and impeccable tenure with the Southern Baptist Convention and the many churches they had founded or my dad had been Pastor to, surely my father would be smoothly ushered into his first full-time, nice paying position within this denomination like some great big warm and fuzzy hug.
In fact in their entire lives,
neither my dad or mom had ever once said a swear word, taken a
drink, or inhaled any sort of smoke, even once. They were
the real deal. Surely they would be taken care of. But
boy were we ever wrong. In fact, the SBC was colder and less
concerned than the gas company.
also remember the day some creepy, well-paid SBC Administration
official came over and offered us a church, not in Bothell or
even in Washington State. No, we were going to be shipped
off to Galilee Baptist Church in El Dorado, Arkansas. We
would have to sell the farm to keep it from foreclosure,
leave most of our pets behind and pay our own way down there for
the privilege of a small parsonage and a $400 per month salary.
We had no choice. That's when we basically lost
That's when we basically lost everything.
the end of the school year I had to leave the tenth grade at
Bothell High School. After saying goodbye to all of my
friends in town, again, once the truck was loaded I also had to say
so long to my beautiful, adored German Sheppard,
"Shadow," along with a precious calico cat or two.
Desperate as we were, we
never would know what happened to them. Since he was small
and travel-easy, our semi-poodle, "Pondy," got to go with us.
(Before long, he was killed by a truck in front of our new
Worrying about the others so much almost every minute of every
day, surely this left some deep scars upon me as a youngster.
Pets, after all, had always been a big part of the life of this
so we drove away toward one hell of a time in southern Arkansas.
long after the school year began at Parker's Chapel School, I had
gained my PhD in drugs and alcohol and tobacco. This
school consisted of around 110 students K-12. Soon my folks saw
what was happening - it was impossible to miss - and transferred me to El Dorado High School in the
city instead, with several thousand students (and assorted
thugs). Raised to be completely colorblind, from the start
I was still
one scared kid.
On my second day there I got in a bloody fistfight with a big African-American boy who had jumped my case about being from "Yankyville." Hey, I thought we had fought for them! Whatever. Already a veteran of schoolyard brawling from sixth to eighth grade in Bothell Washington, I went at him with everything I had and eventually lost this one, but would win the next. Or maybe not.
I fought fiercely during my second major
encounter with this same tough kid a week later, felling him briefly with a
skillful kick to the knee and then pounding his face again and
again once he was
down. The crowd closed in on us as he rose to his
feet and proceeded to beat my
white little ass quite
I fought fiercely during my second major
encounter with this same tough kid a week later, felling him briefly with a
skillful kick to the knee and then pounding his face again and
again once he was
down. The crowd closed in on us as he rose to his
feet and proceeded to beat my
white little ass quite
feet and proceeded to beat my white little ass quite seriously.
Welcome to Arkansas, kiddo.
Returning home later that day
after another call from the office, bleeding all over, my mother and I began to make some radical plans for me. I thoroughly embraced
these ideas as she mopped up my face again with
rubbing alcohol on cotton pads. Mom called me "courageous"
- another moment I will never forget.
Returning home later that day after another call from the office, bleeding all over, my mother and I began to make some radical plans for me. I thoroughly embraced these ideas as she mopped up my face again with rubbing alcohol on cotton pads. Mom called me "courageous" - another moment I will never forget.
I walked in all bruised up and cut up and quit school the next day - just like that - banged my fist on the vice principle's desk and walked out. What was he going to do anyway, expel me? I had just quit them! Gosh this felt good.
next day I landed a delivery job with Stover's Auto Parts in El
Dorado, where I earned some money and prepared for a whole new
life in Revelstoke, British Columbia, living with my
sister-in-law, Jody, and my baby nephew, Noah Moonlight
Williams. With my earnings I bought an orange backpack (which
many years later I would carry to the summit of a mountain
in the Pacific Northwest, planning to take my own life).
With my earnings I bought an orange backpack (which many years later I would carry to the summit of a mountain in the Pacific Northwest, planning to take my own life).
arriving in Seattle two weeks later, I didn't
even call the Petersons to let them know I was there, preferring
to hitch hike right to their door and surprise them.
Getting rides from Seattle to Woodinville was a time-honored
tradition for me.
So I spent that night in the compassionate care of the
Petersons, even as I was worried sick about my parents back in
that miserable hole down south.
Noni and all the family
welcomed me in as always, yet with special and warm concern this
time. Noni, my second mom, fed me so much that this little guy
nearly burst. Then my
best friend and I went out and talked for hours and hours
that evening, about everything, like all best friends do. I was back in the world.
Noni and all the family welcomed me in as always, yet with special and warm concern this time. Noni, my second mom, fed me so much that this little guy nearly burst. Then my best friend and I went out and talked for hours and hours that evening, about everything, like all best friends do. I was back in the world.
Heartbreakingly, our pets were nowhere to be found up on the hill the next day. This toughened me up even more for that which lay ahead. I cried and cried about them to no end as a teen. Still do sometimes.
* * * * *
My plan all along was to get up to Canada and land one of those high-paying construction jobs we had read about in the papers. What the SBC would not do for my parents, I would.
Since winter would soon close in on the Bugaboo Range of British Columbia, there was no time to waste. Noni and Steve drove me to a good place along I-90 East and set me off on my way, waiting until I got a good ride. Then I hit the road again over Snoqualmie Pass and north on Highway 97 toward the Okanogan region.
I really liked the open road. There was so much uncertainty and trepidation, self-sufficiency and adventure involved in waiting for that next ride, even as I had yet to turn sixteen-and-a-half years of age. However, this is not all about getting in and out of cars, for you also do a lot of walking, camping, and protecting yourself as well.
One time a station wagon passed me by very slowly somewhere north of Wenatchee, Washington. I was as afraid of them as they were of me. Like the Manson family or something, the parents stared out at me suspiciously from the front seat with a look of utmost fear in their eyes, while their two kids laughed and made mean faces and finally flipped me the bird out the rear window as they sped off into the distance.
I dropped my pack and flipped them BACK with both hands!
Who would have got in that car anyway with this carload of freaks?
My folks, especially my mum, insisted that I always remained well mannered, Christian-like and presentable-looking to the kind and decent salt-of-the-earth folks who gave me rides -- and likewise defend myself with whatever it took against the flat-out dangerous people I would certainly encounter along the way. Well of course.
that day not far south of the U.S.-Canadian Border as the sun
began to set, with no other cars in sight in any direction along
this lengthy stretch of county road, a portly middle-aged
traveling cutlery salesman stopped and offered me a ride.
He said he was on his way to peddle his stuff to some restaurant
up north. I could see boxes of knives neatly stacked in the
back seat of his station wagon. So I got in. Looking me over really good
from the second I closed the car door, within about fifty miles
he tried to engage me in a conversation about how I would make
a terrific bed-warmer for him that night at a motel room.
When he reached for me I told him to stop the car so I could
get out. He ignored me and casually drove on, smiling, now
with both hands on the wheel. So I drew my trusty hunting
knife from its sheath and calmly put it up against his throat and said
with great purpose and clarity, with my teeth clenched, "man, I
told you to stop!" This time he got the
point, pulled the car over and brought the vehicle
to a sliding halt lest his blood begin to spill. Young or
not, by then I did mean business. Once I took the
blade from his neck he stomped on the gas pedal ... and I barely
got out with my backpack, after nearly having to teach
this dude a severe lesson about his own product. Spinning gravel,
the car chirped rubber as the wheels banged up onto the pavement
and took off.
Once I took the blade from his neck he stomped on the gas pedal ... and I barely got out with my backpack, after nearly having to teach this dude a severe lesson about his own product. Spinning gravel, the car chirped rubber as the wheels banged up onto the pavement and took off.
Lucky him. Lucky me.
this close call swimming through my head, from there on and for
many years afterward, whenever threatened seriously, it
wouldn't take much at all to make me extremely aggressive and
potentially violent all within a matter of seconds.
Walking along that empty roadside again in the dark, with my
knife still out of its sheath, I made camp in a pleasant orchard with happy
and friendly coyotes yapping away nearby. They were
my roommates for the night.
daybreak the next morning I walked up to the main house and
knocked on the door. After politely asking the elderly owner if he would hire me to pick
apples for him for a few days, while I slept out in the field in
my sleeping bag at night, he hired me on the spot.
Three days later I collected my pay and continued on my way.
it to say that you don't ever want to pick apples for a living,
or sleep alone in a field.
along the roadside with my thumb out, north of Kelowna, British
Columbia, after slipping through the border unnoticed in the
back of some family's car, smiling sweetly like I was one of
their kids, snow piled up around my Dingo boots. And so
came my first of many experiences with hypothermia.
Finally a wild and stoned-out couple of guys picked me up in
their old Mercedes, whisking me away to Revelstoke. With
directions in hand, I caught another ride from this tough
town directly to Jody's doorstep, by the grace of a fine elderly couple.
a week or two I had landed that long-awaited, big paying job,
working as an apprentice brick layer on the construction of a
school building in three feet of snow in Central British
Columbia, at $6.25 an hour. Big bucks back then. I
had a resume, and
used it to my full advantage. And so for the next nine weeks
I dutifully thumbed it back and forth each morning and evening,
to and from home in the elements, as Jody and I were poor and
struggling for every dime we had. Eventually Canadian
Immigration officials caught wind of my presence there via my
Social Security Number. As they were on their way in the
front door, I was on my way out the back door and on
my way to the Border again and then toward Oregon, where my parents had recently moved.
After thumbing it back up to Revelstoke again, since I loved my artistic hippie ways with Jody and Noah, I thumbed my way down to Chula Vista, California to live with my sister, Becky, and her husband "Duke." Then I met up again with my folks again at Dash Point, near Federal Way, Washington, where they had gone to build another church. Amazing people my parents were, like Jews wandering the desert or something.
By the time of my return to school, at Federal Way High, I was King of the Road and not one to be messed with. Even the biggest bullies there seemed to recognize this about me -- as by then I was a very serious young man. I excelled there with good grades and a high level of confidence and leadership. Soon I met my hilarious, long-haired Distributive Education Class of America (DECA) teacher, Ron Hammond. For me he was like a safe harbor against a lifetime of stormy waters.
Looking forward to this class above all, I would often laugh so hard at his cool mind and funny demeanor, I would nearly fall out of my chair. Because of his outrageous teaching style, this curriculum really resonated with me. I got straight A's in this course.
Before long Ron and I formed a rock band together in the basement of his home across from the Taco Time restaurant on Sixth Avenue in Tacoma. Since there were already the Beatles and Monkeys and because we played in a basement, we decided to call our band "The Moles." Ever heard of us? Huh, huh?
Having already seen "The Who" and "Yes" and "Santana" and many other top-flight bands in concert several times each - right up front of the stage in the Seattle Coliseum totally cooked - just like these icons of rock and roll, I had copped one major attitude as a wanna'-be rock and roll star.
Naturally, The Moles also gained its own collection of girly groupies who would come listen to our blistering rock music and stay with me on the couch I regularly slept on, when I was not in condition to drive home. I played lead electric guitar with my semi-hollow bodied Telecaster - banging and wailing away on my guitar like the next Pete Townsend or Jimi Hendrix way into the night - while Ron played rhythm on a Gibson Les Paul and sang, with our big Fender amps blasting the small room and ourselves apart on Rainier 6% Green Ale. Many times I played until the fingertips on my left hand bled all over my guitar.
But the gals were fun.
So was the beer.
Then one day I realized that I totally sucked at playing music, and started making modern art instead.
I guess another notable event of that era was that my first real love in life, Robin Perry, whom I had first met at my dad's latest church, slipped from my grasp solely due to her ultra strict, over-the-top religious parents. For some reason, they never liked her long-haired rock and roll suitor, bearing leather wrist bands and beaded necklaces and all. One evening my mother stood with me in the kitchen of our home as I wept my heart out over having had to say goodbye forever to Robin, consoling me like only a mother can do. Robin was like broken glass to me now and for years I rued the loss of this aqua-eyed beautiful young lady, who understood me even then and probably would have become my wife forever.
Then one day soon I met Trisha.
* * * * *
And thus my remaining teenage years sailed by like a cool autumn breeze. Well almost.
While working the swing shift for the U.S. Postal Service at Seattle Terminal Annex one sunny Sunday morning, at barely 19 years of age, suddenly my name was called out over the loudspeaker. “Glenn Williams please report to the medical office.” I tried to think of what I had done wrong while shutting down my sorting station as soon as possible. Probably lots of things.
Extensive X-rays had been taken in lieu of a promotion to a career position with the USPS. How stunning it was to learn that serious congenital problems had been discovered in me, including spina bifoda in my hips, severe scoliosis in my spine, a fracture in my neck, as well as a broken vertebra in my spine at T-6. One leg was also shorter than the other. Structurally speaking, I was a real mess. Before having to fire me, Dr. Dominic E. Puzzo carefully explained how disk degeneration had already set in at the worst stage and arthritis was on its way guaranteed. These were sure to cause me a tremendous amount of grief over the long haul. Pointing at a backlit box on the wall, this 68 year old doctor said, “your X-rays already look more like mine do, than yours should. It is our conclusion that you will have serious trouble looking up at the stars by the time you are in your thirties or forties, and you will doubtless end up in a wheelchair before very long." Nice choice of words.
He forgot about my fifties.
"I am sorry to tell you this, but we have to let you go.”
(All of this was later confirmed in second and third "opinions.")
No, just like my dad before me, I had actually let these wonks go.
Seated behind the wheel of my gold ‘74 MGB that afternoon with the ragtop down, nothing could touch me now. I scanned the gauges and hammered the gears at 70 and 80 miles an hour ... one hundred miles an hour on I-5 North toward Vancouver British Columbia and an uncertain future. For days on end now, I had been out there waxing her down to reduce the wind drag. Good thing 'cause now I had a need for speed, more than ever before.
A dozen years before, at age seven, I had fallen off a stairwell and onto a flight of stairs below. My brother Jerry reached out for me first, then my sister Becky, only an instant too late. This is when I broke my neck and back. I will never forget the look on their faces as I tumbled over backward out of our blanket walled fort and hit the wood steps hard.
My father sat at the edge of my bed and tenderly cared for me after I returned home from Vancouver BC late one evening, as my life had just been torn apart again. My dad, my Pastor, said, "Glenn, although it may not seem like it now, I believe that this is a tremendous opportunity for you to reach out and touch poor and disabled people around the world. I'm not sure how, but God will show you the way son."
W.D. Williams was a great man of God, a man of vision.
Over the next few years my life was transformed from that of a studious and thoughtful and somewhat religious postal clerk, to that of a wild and dangerous and self-destructive young man. My parents tried all they could to reign me back in, with little success. Before long I had lost everything I had worked so hard for. Those thousands of miles of hitchhiking I had done across the Western U.S. and Canada by age 17, while in search of adventure as well as high-paying construction work to help support my struggling family, meant nothing now.
With everything I presently owned now neatly contained inside my backpack and with not much more to lose, I headed for a peak in the heart of the North Cascade Mountain Range, where I planned to take my own life. Like so many young people these days, the future looked bleak and hopeless to me.
The sun had scarcely set by the time I entered the lookout atop mile-high Mount Pilchuck, forty-five miles or so east of Everett. Indeed, this was a fateful month for the entire Pacific Northwest, just as it was for me personally: May 1980. Reaching the summit of "Chuck" was no small athletic feat for this burgeoning climber, since it entailed a 3.5 mile and whopping 2,400 feet of elevation gain, wading through waist-deep snow wearing only tennis shoes and jeans. While the contents of my backpack consisted of little more than a goose-down blanket in place of a sleeping bag, matches rather than a stove, a pan or two and a gallon jug of water, this was a magical place to me.
More than ever, it still is!
This is where my story would end, for what did it really matter if I fell off the edge of the world anyway?
Rife with guilt and despair, lying prostrate on the floor of the lookout that moonless night, I distinctly felt the presence of something enter the building. This must have been the Holy Spirit there to beckon me back from the edge. For sure, countless desperate prayers had been directed my way over the years by my parents and others. Here was an extremely angry and bitter young man at a turning point. I hated God, if indeed there was one. Not long before my MGB had gone for a ride without me on the back of a tow truck, along with pretty much everything I had ever owned or cared about. Always a scrapper, I was beaten up a lot in my teens and very early twenties, mostly due to my smart mouth. Roughly half the time, though, I got the better of my opponents in these sprawling fistfights. Ready to punch it out again now one final time, with my very existence held delicately in the balance, what did I have to lose anyway?
Then, there in the lookout, none other than Jesus Christ came into my life.
this alone didn't take that fighting spirit out of me
completely, it has perhaps
served to temper and soften me in some
respects over these decades. I sure hope so.
I sure hope so.
As I left the lookout the next
morning, now a Christian, I thought about the artwork I had made
some years before. Everyone seemed to like it. This
alone gave me hope for the future, a candle to light my way.
It would be over thirty years before this reached fruition, yet each
of us has a great purpose in life to fulfill.
Entering the lookout of Mount Pilchuck again on Independence Day of 1985, by then I was a changed man for the most part. This time I had gone there looking for solitude and a front row seat after dark on hundreds if not thousands of fireworks displays in Puget Sound Basin. Back then you could spend days at a time in my little home away from home, without anyone passing by.
A reserved but rather pleasant pipe-smoking hiker soon entered the lookout as the sun grew westerly. Little could I know how this moment would inalterably change the course of my life. His name was Dennis Grummer and as it turned out, we both liked mountain photography in a big way. We exchanged numbers. The next time we met was in the parking lot of Mount Pilchuck later that year, the day after Christmas 1985, for an overnight stay atop the peak. This mere mile-high mountain happens to look out upon Washington's five active volcanoes: Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens and the very top of Mount Adams.
Through the streaming, steaming fog of our breath the next morning, December 27, with four-foot icicles plastered to the outer walls of the lookout, we began to dream about the possibility of climbing 10,778-ft. Mount Baker and spending a week or so on its flat-looking summit plateau. It never even occurred to us at the time that a week atop Baker had never been done before. What did it matter anyway?
Because those five nights and six days that next summer nearly killed us, the experience haunted my day and night dreams for months to come. It was only a matter of time before I would have to return to the mountaintop for a four week solo stay, to take some photos of my own.
Steeped in ancient legend myth and lore, Mount Baker will last far longer than humanity itself. Historians over the centuries have attempted various translations for the mountain's Native American name of Koma Kulshan, including "Big White Mountain" and "Great White Watcher." Nice try guys. Many of us today simply call it our mountain.
Europeans first noted the Stratovolcano in 1790 as Spanish explorers navigated the Pacific Coast.
The next year it was accorded its Anglo-Saxon name by British explorers aboard HMS Discovery as Captain George Vancouver named the peak after his Third lieutenant, Joseph Baker, who happened to be the first one aboard the vessel to spot the volcano as they entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Joe was up on deck, maybe having a smoke or something. Lucky, naughty him. Lieutenant Baker doubtless hollered out something like, "yea, hearken Captain, yonder doth a mighty mountain betroth the horizon in mighty splendor!" Once on deck himself, Captain George caught his first glimpse of the mountain and may have casually responded by today's parlance, "Yo Joe, give me some of that, dawg. So how about we name this one 'Mount Baker'?"
Less than a Century later, in August of 1868, the English explorer Edmund T. Coleman led the first successful ascent of Koma Kulshan - err, "Mount Baker." We weekend warriors can only imagine the extent of their punishing ordeal. To this day I often think about Captain Geo, Joe Baker, Peter Puget, and Ed Coleman & Company. Wish I could have journeyed with them.
In a way, perhaps I am.