The hike to Colchuck Lake.

As I was ready to leave Levenworth this morning, I got the call that my friend, Nelle, had passed over the weekend. It was devastating news, as she was one of the most illuminating souls I have ever had the chance to meet—and although I have not seen her in many years, it crushed me. I rebooked my hotel room and decided I would dedicate this day to her. Last night, I was gifted a handful of wine tasting coupons from a couple I had met drinking spiced cider by the fire, and I knew that would have to be part of my tribute to my wine-lover girl, Nelle. I looked up hiking trails in the area, and found pristine reviews about a place called Colchuck lake- a 5 mile hike up to a mind-blowing view in the Enchantment mountain range. I promised I would make it to the top and dedicate the view to my friend, then raise a glass to her at the bottom.

I always get a bit nervous wandering deep into forests alone, but I saw seven other cars in the lot, and found comfort in the fact that if there was a bear or cougar, I wouldn’t be the first to know. I was over an hour in before I came across another soul. The scenery was so captivating—with snow capped boulders, rushing rivers, and frozen waterfalls—that I wasn’t too concerned about being solo. Yet, after another hour, and another thousand or two feet, it hit me that I was by myself, in the middle of a tundra, with only a bottle of water and a camera. Any other day, and I may have just called it good and turned back for fear I’d become the example of why they say not to go hiking alone—but I was able to move forward because I had a promise to keep. The last mile of the hike was grueling, and I was half in tears just begging the mountain Gods to make the lake appear. I said to myself, “If this were easy, it wouldn’t mean as much, one foot in front of the other, keep moving.” When a spot of blue finally peeked out from the trees, I wasn’t fully prepared for what I felt—my breath jumped, my body froze, and tears came to my eyes. I was utterly alone, standing on the edge of a cliff, crying as I witnessed truth in beauty. The water was completely still—frozen into layers of crinkled cellophane, not a ripple, not a sound. The cascading rock face was drizzled with lines of white icing as it looked down at its distorted reflection below. I’ve never witnessed such stillness in the air—it’s like time stopped— the Universe pausing in a moment of silence for its newest angel. I stood on the verge of rock and water, closed my eyes and felt my mind’s eye drift—I could sense my feet leave the ground and float above, existing neither in my world or in hers. It was a beautiful space in time, a oneness of existence with all that has been. I opened my eyes and witnessed the majesty of the mountain once more. I offered my deepest gratitude, warmed my hands against my heart, and began the descent back down below, carrying with me the last memory of me and Nelle, and knowing that now she is surrounding us everywhere—in the crisp fall breeze, in the smell of a freshly baked pie, and in all the little nuances that she appreciated in her very special time on Earth.

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The Metolias.

Most times, I don’t plan where I’m going to go until the day or so before, doing a fairly quick search on my favorite site OutdoorProject.com or Hipcamp.com to see what sites are available in certain geographic areas where I am near. This week, my end goal was to end up in Sisters, OR, where I had a blind date with a pilot from my company who lived there, and then jump off 20 miles to Bend after. On the drive down from Portland, I encountered nothing but stormy skies, engulfing my path with a whiteout of clouds and rain. I had picked out a specific campground on the Metolias river, which I planned to spend one night, but I was getting nervous that the rain would deter my perfect riverside picnic. As luck would have it, ten miles out from the turnoff, the sky peeled open with clear blue skies. I followed the directions and drove to the very end of the long dirt road past several other campsite turnouts. I thought for sure that this site would be empty, as it seemed a hidden treasure being so far out. Lo and behold, every site was full—save one—but it was right on top of the neighbor site to the right. I did a loop to see if there was anything else, but there was nothing. I pulled in, got out of the car, and took a stretch and a breath while taking in the majestic flowing river which was roaring with gusto right before me. I noticed a man to my right casually fidgeting with his fishing pole, so I walked up to him and coyly apologized for encroaching on his space. He gave me a warm smile, brushed off the supposed invasion, and welcomed me with kind eyes. Moments later, he motioned to his trailer where a beautiful woman emerged, and introduced me to his wife Cathy. From that moment on, the three of us were kind of inseparable. Chris watched in fascination as I popped out my little red riding hood, and within minutes, I was cozily and discreetly perched aside them. A few hours later, Chris and Cathy commandeered a raging campfire and invited me to join them. We corked several bottles of red wine and shared dozens of stories of our collective wanderlust adventures. I learned they were rounding out a four month cross-Canada/America road trip, and that the very next day would be their 39th wedding anniversary.

I wanted to something special for these new friends of mine, so I searched my Mini for anything that could resemble a present or an artistic gesture for such an event. Luckily, I found a drawing pad and colored in a sketch of Venice, Italy which, to me, embodies romance and adventure—the epitome of these two kindred souls I had just met. I left it on their picnic bench first thing in the morning, had a coffee, and then wandered up the river’s edge on a 10 mile hike along the river which I soon learned would steal my heart. Cathy had described the color of the azure waters as they passed under the foot bride, but I had no idea how true her words would be. The colors of the foliage along the banks were breath taking, and the feeling of the water’s rush I could feel in my veins. About three miles in, I was rudely awakened from my splendor my a sharp burning pinch on my butt! At first, I thought I was bit by a poisonous spider, doomed to loose a cheek, but then saw the yellowjackets spiraling up from the ground and knew I had been a victim of their folly. For the next seven miles, I was grabbing my ass and rubbing it with furvor! As I returned to the campsite, I saw C&C gathering their fly fishing gear together, and they came up to me to give me a hug for the gift I left them. “Do you want to come learn how to fly fish today?” Chris asked. Wish giddy glee glee glee I beamed an astounding “YES!!!”—and thus commenced the first day of the rest of my life as a fly fisher… I. Was. Hooked.

My friends Chris and Cathy captured my first hours as a fly fisher :)