Heather Lake

I was 21 years old (or thereabouts- I just know I was of legal drinking age). It had long been a goal of mine to be a hiker. I love being outdoors in the woods, I love the mountains, it made sense that I should love hiking too… Except the fitness part, the climbing hills part, the switchbacks, the two-foot-high steps, the log bridges, and the slippery mud parts. Those were not appealing and, frankly, at my weight and level of fitness, they were fairly dangerous.
But still. The spring when I was 21 was full of new friends. We lived in crappy apartments eating cheap vegetarian food while drinking way too much tequila. In fact, one of those tequila fueled nights lead to my first ascension of the Heather Lake trail. One night, after hearing my friend Amy wax on and on about the pool near the waterfall at the glacial end of the lake that looked as though fairies flew there, we drunkenly decided to go… and the next morning I found myself in a Volkswagen van with several people, my boyfriend included, headed through Granite Falls, fresh lunch and cigarettes packed safely in my backpack.
We arrived at the trailhead and most of us gleefully ran into the forest. At that moment I got a little worried I was in over my head. They were literally running up the trail. Running. But nevermind that. I decided I could power through for the day. I would be out of breath, but I would fake my fitness and run up the hill alongside my slender and experienced hiking friends. I mean, we’re talking real salt of the earth types who did this all the time. These were people who hiked up to the top of the mountain with beer- the least potent alcohol- without a second thought to conserving energy. Hiking was fun for them. They did it every weekend. Easy. Me, on the otherhand? I was wheezy. Out of breath by the first switchback. Wheezing by the second and thinking about the irony of those cigarettes in my backpack.
My boyfriend and one other kind friend stayed behind with me while the rest of my friends literally bounded up the trail. I pondered heading back to the car and spending the day there, but I really wanted to see the fairy pond and I really wanted to just DO IT. I decided to send the friend ahead, as it seemed way too embarrassing to admit to him what I was going to request of my boyfriend: to go as slow as I needed, to take lots of breaks and to make my way to the top. And eventually I did just that.
As I sat up there, by the lake, smoking my well-earned cigarette, I thought of the irony, first, of spoiling the gorgeous, clear air with that cigarette. Nor did it escape me that my brief, yet dedicated, smoking habit may have contributed to my difficulty in getting up those 1100 feet of elevation. Just maybe. But I also thought about my weight and my dietary habits. I realized then that I needed to change some things.
I’ll admit that I did change my behavior after that* to a degree. That spring prompted a lot of walking, a change of diet and a series of hikes that the boyfriend and I took throughout the Verlot area, but I have never returned to Heather Lake… Until TODAY!

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I’ve had a hankerin’ fer hikin’ all spring, but we were too darn busy to hike out of the city. Yes, St. Edwards is outdoor trails and they are miles and miles long, but they are, like, 10 minutes from home and don’t actually remove one from the city. You often hear cars, rarely cross a stream and it is highly unlikely that I’ll cross through a mountain meadow or walk by a glacial lake. I’m not a religious person, but I am very spiritual. My church is in the mountains and and woods. My spirit is filled there and I feel that large, tearful kind of emotion when I find myself completely ensconced in the forest. I get giddy and so happy and so full of beauty. I know I’m so full of precious cheese right now, but I’m completely sincere about how I process hiking.
Anyhow, Heather Lake has kind of been a litmus test for me. If I could hike it now, it means I made it. Today I sailed up the trail, parts of it I even ran. The trail is really hard. It’s a little over two miles, each way, of roots and rocks and treacherous ground. Some of the ‘stairs’ were waist-high to Jude, about thigh high to me. Leg lifting was important as was lifting ones feet high enough off the ground, but never once did I get exhausted or worn out to the point that I wanted to stop. Not even a little.
And at the top, I made it around to the fairy pond. It was blue like the Mediterranean and cold like hypothermia. My little fairies didn’t fly, but they did splash, dive and swim through the water, my little water sprites! It was one of my most perfect days on record EVER. Like, ever.
I have a friend called JOhn who hikes this trail year round, looking for birds and burning calories. I’ve seen pictures of this place in snow and under ice- it looks beautiful. Perhaps I’ll have to see this place again, but next time in winter. 🙂
Happy Hiking!
Heather Lake

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*
My smoking career was spawned by some ‘bad’ friends I had at CWU who actually smoked marijuana. Wanting to be ever the good girl, it only made sense for me to smoke legal (but more toxic) Marlboros. This fit in nicely with the new, grungy, Seattle-edgy, goes-well-with-a-boyfriend-in-a-Mohawk-and-dog-collar look I was trying to achieve as well. I smoked on and off until we broke up two years later, then didn’t smoke much at all until I smoked my last cigarette on the Eve of my wedding. Hopefully I won’t have any lasting effects from my temporary stupidity.

One Comment

  1. Cheryl

    I love your description of both your first hike and second hike at Heather Lake. The story of your 21-year-old self could have been taken from the book of my life as well. I love that your return to the trail was so triumphant.

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