Walking high up in these mountains, with clouds above and smoke all around, makes this an ethereal hiking experience. One fellow hiker today said he felt as if we were all walking through Mordor. While, thankfully, there is no Eye of Sauron looking over all of us, it does feel a little bit like that. Burned forests, overcast skies, this omnipresent thick smoke from forest fires…it all creates an otherworldly feeling as we hike along. It’s not unpleasant, even, just…unusual and so different.
We started the day by climbing, and climbing, and climbing: it’s 4,600′ straight up from Seiad Valley to the top of the mountains we were to walk along. It’s a climb I’d been dreading for at least a week, and, like many such things, it ended up being not as bad as I’d imagined. Part of that was because we got up at 5:00 AM and were hiking by 6 — I always find that climbs go faster first thing in the morning, and the cooler morning air can make a huge difference when things are tough.
The biggest part of it, though, was that today suddenly was actually cool when compared to yesterday. We got a lucky break with the weather in so many ways: it was cooler, the skies remained overcast almost all day long, and the continued smoke made sure that the sun was hidden. The difference in how this makes you feel is incredible; instead of sweat pouring off us like crazy, like it did last night, we were generally reasonably comfortable and only sweated profusely for a short while. In fact, it actually rained a respectable amount in the early afternoon, which we weren’t about to complain about…both for any help it’d provide fighting these wildfires, and because it cooled things down even further.
The smoke and overcast skies create some very cool views, in fact. Mountains recede into the haze, the farthest ranges appearing only as the faintest blurs in your mind, barely detectable, with each range coming closer a bit more vividly blue in color. It reminds me of how you’d paint mountains in an abstract watercolor. I’m not sure photos really can ever do it justice, even though I took quite a few — if I can capture what it’s like in just one, that’ll make me content.