6 min read

Back to Tahoma

Back to Tahoma
A view of the the Burroughs (hills in the foreground) and Tahoma. 

It’s July, but there’s snow under my hiking boots. It’s summer and I’m wearing a warm pullover fleece. But the collar is unzipped, or unbuttoned, and I’m wearing shorts.

And we’re sliding.

No sled, no snow tube, no ski gloves, hats, or hot chocolate in a thermos. Shorts soaked, riding down the hillside under a cloudless sky; sun shining.

Dad is somewhere just outside the frame in this memory. It’s Mom and me who are slipping and laughing down the hill—her anxiety completely overcome by joy as I go feet first back toward the trail. All of her fear becomes small in that moment and she joins me—steep grade of the hill be damned—and Dad is probably watching, sweating after the hike up Hurricane Ridge. He’s probably thinking about finding a place to shower that isn’t the tiny bathroom in our rented 21-foot R.V. He might be letting himself live vicariously through Mom and me, our cries of joy taking him back to the slopes in Central Vermont, before he quit skiing cold turkey and refused to ever take me a ski hill. He’s probably allowing himself a smile.

There’s a snapshot kicking that depicts this scene. I think someone took it with Mom’s old point-and-shoot 35mm. The photo used to be on her desk, amongst a wall’s worth of photos of me. Or maybe it was pinned above Dad’s computer. Now it’s packed neatly away in a box in storage somewhere, patiently waiting to be shipped back to the very state in which it was taken twenty years ago.

In July 1999, the summer before I started fifth grade, we went spent two weeks in the Pacific Northwest. Usually, when people ask me if I like living in Seattle, I tell them about this trip. I tell them that I fell in love with the looming volcanic Cascades, the sheer and isolated Olympics, and the busy waters of the Salish Sea and Puget Sound.

And that’s true. I loved the places we went on that trip. Orcas Island, Victoria, Hurricane Ridge, Ruby Beach, Mt. St. Helens, and Mount Rainier. But as I entered my teenage years and my twenties, I forgot that I proudly wrote about this trip, answering the prompt written in chalk on the blackboard during my first day of fifth grade. “What did you do with your summer?”

At the tail end of our trip, just before we flew from Seattle to the Bay Area to visit my dad’s best friend, Dad skillfully maneuvered the small RV up the access road to Sunrise, on the northeast shoulder of Rainier. The three of us decamped from the parking lot, the highest lodge and visitors center in the park at 6500 feet, and walked up into the wildflowers of Sourdough Ridge, snaked our way around Frozen Lake, and slowly tiptoed our way a mile on loose rock to reach Fremont Lookout.

It’s a 6.5-mile hike, out to the Lookout and back—a healthy challenge for a nine year-old with a short attention span, who’s just as likely to be fascinated with the 14,411-foot dormant volcano as he is with the idea of playing NBA Jam on his Game Boy. And though I was completely exhausted the next day—to the point that I sat down in the middle of some switchbacks on a hiking trail lower down on the mountain and threw a tantrum until I was allowed to return back to the RV and said Game Boy—Rainier and the sheer edges of Sourdough Ridge kept me focused and thrilled. I probably got an bonus adrenaline rush from teasing Mom, whose anxiety reappeared to tax her every step along the loose rock on the trail, barely cut into the side fo the ridge, that leads to the Lookout.

Back then, Frozen Lake was still frozen, even in July. The lake is a busy junction , where shorter trails lead down into the meadows to the White River and the Wonderland trail creeps over another one of Rainier’s shoulders. It’s a pit stop on the highways and byways around Rainier. The memory of small crowds meeting and departing from the lake slowly chilled in my mind, to the point that it was kept on deep freeze until 2015.

When Michelle and I moved to Seattle, my desire to return suddenly reappeared, as the mountain does when the clouds scurry away and reveal it, towering over the Cascades around it that are half its height. I could picture Frozen Lake. Every time we talked about hiking somewhere new, I thought about going back to Sunrise, and instead of turning right at the lake to head back to the Lookout, choosing the upward sloping trail that looked as it it right up onto the summit.

Burroughs Mountain. The name rang familiar when Michelle and I made it back to Sunrise over Labor Day in 2016. And for the next three years I lusted after the hike—nine miles out and back peaking at 7800, a small sibling in Rainier’s shadow. It sat bookmarked in my Washington Trails app. I spent the spring telling any friends who would listen that I wanted to do it this summer.


Just about three weeks ago, we finally did it.

We packed up for a long day trip, piled into the car with friends just before 7AM on a Sunday, and treated ourselves to a cloudless, idyllic adventure that matched a memory of mine that was almost exactly 20 years-old to the day. From Frozen Lake, we took that left and rolled up three consecutive mini-mountains. The photo above is taken from Second Burroughs, staring out at the two snowfields we’d cross in about a mile before reaching the trail’s end and our scenic lunch location.

Riding home in the car, sore and sun-drenched, I thought about sliding with my Mom and sitting breathless in the cab of the RV next to Dad as he piloted the awkward and slow-turning vehicle up mountain roads.

And I was glad to be back.

This Week (sort of)

Along with everyone else in the country who rightly landed her on the New York Times Best Sellers list, I’m slowly savoring every knowing word of Jia Tolentino’s essay collection Trick Mirror.Her essays are powerful and, I’m sure, will live on as some of the first-best articulation of what it’s like to live in a world where digital media and it’s addictive architectures have slowly eroded the way we relate to each other.

“The everyday madness perpetuated by the internet is the madness of this architecture, which positions personal identity as the center of the universe. It’s as if we’ve been placed on a lookout that oversees the entire world and given a pair of binoculars that makes everything look like our own reflection. Through social media, many people have quickly come to view all new information as a sort of direct commentary on who they are.”

Stuff I Finished Recently, But Have Already Mentioned You

Ahead of Damon Lindelof’s adaptation of Watchmen, I finally finished my reread Alan Moore’s masterful and iconic graphic novel. Watchmen is the kind of story that keeps on giving, and Moore’s mad-scientist style is the type writing that reveals new character and plot-related intricacies with every recursive visit.

Also in service of knowing Lindelof’s writing better, I powered my way through his last HBO series, The Leftovers. Then I read Boris Kachka’s sprawling longform pieceabout how Lindelof and the show’s team landed the wild and melodramatic plane they built over three seasons.

What are you reading? What are you listening to? How are you doing?

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