The Cascades

The Cascades are one of America’s most rugged mountain ranges, roughly-hewn, as if carved with a chisel. The peaks stretch over 700 miles, from northern California all the way to southern Canada, but the craggiest sweep surrounds Mount Rainier – the range’s highest point, only 60 miles from Seattle. Scree pours down the ridges like hot soup bubbling over on the stove and lush emerald forests envelop entire mountainsides.

In late June, the grey peaks were scattered with glaciers and snow crunched beneath our feet, though the air was warm. In late summer, I’m told, the horizon bursts into colour; entire valleys cloaked in lupine, heather, columbine, aster and daisies. If there exists a stairway to heaven, then I think it must be here among these snowcapped summits rising up, up, up into the sky.

Some folks are diehard mountain people, as if scree – not blood – surges through their veins. Their coat cupboards overflow with hiking boots and ski pants, there’s a season ticket for the chairlift by the phone in the hall. By my own admission, I’ve never been a mountain girl. Life’s events have conspired to make me coastal, through and through – even in Austria, a nation defined by the Alps, I lived beside the Neusiedlersee in a valley as flat as a frying pan. But after visiting the Cascades, named for the white waterfalls that tumble down high cliffs, I may have to rethink my allegiances.

I left feeling humbled by all the mountains had witnessed and were yet to see. There is comfort in the thought that these unyielding spikes of stone are already far older and greater than I will ever be. I came home feeling somehow softened, and sitting on the tube, I still think about these ancient views.

*A heartfelt thank you to the inimitable Garrels for driving me up into the mountains and sharing their mountain anecdotes (Steve even climbed Rainier in the 80s!) – and for showering me with snacks, providing the best road trip chatter and treating me to altitude sickness-busting strawberry shortcake ice-cream on the way home. I wouldn’t have wanted to go to Rainier for the first time with anyone else.