On the first day of our honeymoon, way back in 1992, we climbed into our rental car and headed for Mt. Saint Helens in Washington State.
We had two small water bottles with us, thinking we could get more water at the ranger station. Little did we know, there were no ranger stations at Mt. Saint Helens. We were disappointed, but it was going to be a quick hike so we shrugged it off and started our hike with our two little water bottles.
The first part of the hike was a typical easy walking trail. We were hobbits skipping along and enjoying ourselves and the fresh air.
We climbed past the tree line, and the nice easy trail became large boulders that we had to hop.
Soon the boulders were replaced by a barren landscape of fine sand and glacier at a nearly vertical incline. One step forward slid two steps back… over and over and over. When I was so tired that I couldn’t walk one step further and was brave enough to look up, I’d realize I wasn’t making any progress at all.
After the fatigue set in, I stopped being brave enough to look up. I forbad myself to look anywhere but at the next boulder or stone in front of me, and I promised myself that if I could only make it to that next stone, I could rest if I wanted. Using this technique of aiming for one stone at a time for what seemed like forever, I finally made it to the top.
I had long run out of water. In desperation, I went against all the rules of safety and drank from the water dripping off of the glacier. I can still remember how cool and delicious it was to my parched lips. That water probably saved our lives.
When we finally made it up to the rim of the volcano, we’d been hiking for about 5 hours. Evening was descending. There wasn’t another creature or human in sight. We sat on the rim and looked down. Lava swirled, fiery and steaming, way down in the bowl of the volcano. The volcano shook with a low booming sound, as though somewhere in those depths was a sleeping mountain-sized dragon. We felt tiny and vulnerable, literally speechless with awe and maybe more than a little apprehension.
We only had a few minutes to gaze into the mouth of this underworld before we had to turn around and figure our way down.
Light was disappearing slowly, luckily. When we got to the boulder hopping we could barely see where we were stepping, and I was afraid one of us would slip and break a leg or worse. But the gods were on our side and we made it down and somehow found the path. In our glee to still be alive, we almost ran the rest of the way. It was 10 PM when we finally reached our car.
Mount Saint Helens is possibly the hardest hike both mentally and physically that I’ve ever done. But the sight of that active volcano while sitting on its rim was truly humbling, surreal, and was the greatest reward I’ve ever been given for a hard climb.
What’s the most surreal experience you’ve ever had?