“How many, in this world of devices, now live through a lifetime of tides, nights of clean wind and clear stars above the roofline, know genuine exposure to cold rain, cold water and stiff fingers, know how to be steady there? Are you not also made of what you receive?” John Hay
Following some customary last minute planning, I find myself aboard the Black Ball Ferry en route to meet Yassine in Port Angeles. While he was running the Deception Pass 50km race, I was busy organizing options for us for a couple days in the Olympics. Where to go? How far? How light? Feeling indecisive, I lug an expedition’s worth of gear across the water defering any real decision making until we reach the trailhead. My thoughts are fixed on the Valhalla’s, an infrequently visited range on the Western side of the park that I’ve wanted to explore for quite some time. Given my tardy arrival hour, the prospect of more driving, long stretches of bushwhacking and unreasonable amounts of snow, my proposition sounds a bit ambitious to Yassine. Understandably, he is a bit worn down from the morning’s racing, followed directly by the long journey to meet up with me.
We agree to seek out options closer to town which leads us on a wild goose chase to find accessible trails. Every road we go up is closed, for winter, trail restoration or washouts. We finally settle on the Barnes Creek trail as it starts directly off the main highway. Too tired to go any further, we stop to sleep in the back of the car in a pull out on the side of the road. We’re greeted to an early wake up call from the ranger, who informs us of the illegality of our actions, but lets us off with a warning citing that our crammed sleeping quarters were punishment enough. We concur. We set off from the Storm King ranger station out into the woods. We carry enough food and gear for comfortable immersion, but keep things light enough for fast forward progress. We jog the flats and downs and maintain a solid hiking pace on the ups. To the tune of incessant chatter, interspersed with oohs and ahhs, marveling at the majesty of our surroundings, we rapidly gain higher ground. The soft pine needle path soon disappears under a blanket of snow. The surface is crunchy and icy, but we punch through enough to justify putting on our snowshoes. We’re glad to not have hauled these up in vain. We follow orange tree markers to stay on track, which is pretty effective until a large snow slide leads to confusion. We abandon our search for the trail opting for the direct route to a rock outcropping, at what appears to be at treeline. Too much use on mixed terrain have left the crampons of my snowshoes as blunt as a butter knife giving me no purchase on the icy slope. Yassine ascends without issue thanks to the razor sharp teeth under his feet. Half way up, I lose my footing and begin to plummet down the hill. While amusing at first, I gradually gain momentum exasperated by the wait of my pack. I reach for a small pine tree only to have it slip through my hands. Then again, and again, until finally I grab on to the last little stump. Four hundred feet below, my fall would have been stopped by a cluster of broken trees and bushes, nothing life threatening, but enough to snap a leg or an arm making for a slow, painful slog back to the car. Yassine joins me down at my perch. From this vantage point, we miraculously spot the next orange marker indicating the continuation of the trail. In our summit driven conditioned minds, we’d forgotten to stop to really look around. Funnel vision, with eyes on the treeline, had us head down cranking up the steep slope with no regard for other options around us. The ease of the switchbacks now lead us into deeper, fluffier snow. We push on, still fixed on the hope of catching a view out of the mist and thick canopy, but to no avail. As night fall draws closer we debate on sleeping in the snow with the intention of pushing further along the ridge in the morning or returning to a lower, warmer location allowing us to tag Storm King Peak on our way out. We choose the latter, floating a three thousand foot descent to the most perfect camping spot. Pine needle bed, fresh creek water, tucked away in the old growth, all provide for some quality forest therapy. We enjoy some hot noodle soup, with sardines for me and Moroccan burrito for Yassine. I wake early to brew coffee and roam around camp. Sinking my feet into the thick mossy floor, I lose myself for several hours in the wonders of this enchanted place. Following our slow morning rise, we are now pressed to storm the king if I am to make my ferry at two. We drop our packs and extra layers in the bushes, with Yassine comically realizing he’s still wearing his race number under his pants. We run steadily up to the foot of the chossy basalt peak. These last two hundred feet make for a fun scramble. However, we proceed cautiously as the rock is loose and interlaced with ice. There’s nothing like a little ice to make things a touch more precarious and keep us focused. Finally, we’re treated to spectacular views of Lake Crescent and the surrounding mountains. We make quick work of the descent, congratulating ourselves prematurely on the perfect timing for the ferry ride home. We reach the car and a loose connection has caused the battery to die. Thumb out, in my running tights, with a crazed look on my face, I somehow get picked up and make it back to the port with ten minutes to spare. Shortly thereafter another car stopped for Yassine to give him a jump. All is good. The sun setting is lighting up the peaks and blazing on the American flag, flapping in the wind at the back of the ship. Feet up, with a hot bowl of chili, I smile.