The mountain bleeds off the horizon's page. The 14,408-foot summit haunts me on clear days: a snow cone visible from my office window if no one's slapped up a chipboard palace in my 48-hour absence.
Rainier's volcanic rock is porous, tatty: a glacier climb. Once, that short stretch would have been a breeze. My parents packed me off to a month-long NOLS mountaineering course, hours after high school graduation, so I'd have some credentials to guide in the family business: Tired Dogs, a walking and hiking tour company.
I first front-pointed an ice wall in crampons on June 21, 1993, when I came of age. A dozen blokes caroled Happy Birthday one in falsetto, so maybe I wouldn't notice being the lone female for 45 whole seconds. Then we crawled into our tents and hibernated through a three-day blizzard on the flanks of Glacier Peak, one of Washington's most feisty volcanos, despite its low-key profile.
I remember all the ice ax drills. Dropping trou to pee, still clipped into the rope ("everybody look at the avalanches now!"). Yakking into a crevasse after a breakfast of scorched, leftover pasta with peanut butter and spike (aka rocket or dried arugala).
Ever the crap chefs, we summited Glacier on a bellyful of potato flakes. Badly rehydrated, they sucked liquid from our systems. But I plodded and peaked-out and saw the rosy fingers of dawn tickle the ivories of the Cascades, which sea-monster-loop from northern California to British Columbia, Canada.
Today, I am only a hiker, though. Just another modest mouse shuffling through the wildflowers.
Yet when we reach a steep, snowy incline, I pull on my NOLS waterproofs. Navy and evergreen patches, these clown pants are as distinctive as camo. But it's only Candace like a sister and me here. No one to point and laugh at my decayed technique.
Then I butt glissade.
That's right I park and slide: plowing a great trench, whooping. Snow crowds my cuffs and soaks my arse. And I do it again. Because, well, because I can.
No desk to fly today. Just the seat of my pants...