Sunday, August 25, 2013

Feeling Small

I turn on my headlamp and start to walk. All that I have is a map and a small cone of light in front of me to find my way. I can barely see the silhouette of the mountains nearby and it is faint because there is no moon. It is easy enough to get lost in the trees when it is light, but the only light I have today is powered by two AAA batteries.

I walk around a chained gate and follow an old road that was probably once used for a mine. My map is telling me that my route starts at the end of the road, so my first goal is to follow the road to its end. Soon I come to a creek that flows across the road. It's only a few inches deep, so I decide that I can just walk across in my boots. I get halfway across and realize that the road is not on the other side. I look downstream and upstream and I'm not sure what happened to the road. No more than a quarter mile into my hike I've already lost my one landmark. Hopefully I can find the road again if I can get back on dry ground so I start to hike into the trees. The mental picture of my map reminds me that the road does not head straight uphill, but to the right some, so I choose to turn to the right and there the road is, just 50 feet away. This would all be so much easier if I could actually see where I was going.

On the road, I'm not lost anymore. I pass through an opening in the trees and I can hear the trickling of a stream just before my boot splashes into it. Soon I come to the end of the road. The end of the road should lead me to a gully with ridges on both sides and sure enough I can hear the stream again, which tells me that there is a gully for the water to flow down. I can just make out the silhouette of a ridge on the right side of the gully. Everything tells me that this is my ridge, but I'm hesitant to make a big route decision with such limited visibility. But I make my decision and head up the ridge.

This is a very steep, sharp ridge and I'm impressed that these trees can live on such a steep hill. Step by step my legs burn and slowly but surely the trees start to thin. I am finally above the treeline. The sky opens up and I can see the Milky Way again. It is relieving to be away from the trees. A dark forest is one of the scarier places to be walking alone.

This ridge does not relent. It's so steep. I stop frequently to give my legs a break and sometimes I turn off my headlamp to look at the stars. They are so far away. It's so dark my peripheral vision can't distinguish between the ground and the sky. I feel myself falling and put my foot out to catch my fall.

It is quite the feeling to be here, alone, above the treeline, off the trail, and in the dark. I've never felt so small. What little light there is draws my attention to big things. Silhouettes of grand mountains far away and light from giant stars that has been traveling for years just to get to my eyes. In the distance I can see a light from a climber's headlamp on Gray's peak -- Just a tiny speck of light beneath the stars on a vast mountain face.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?