In this week’s blog post, I contrast two recent hikes while reflecting on how the changing seasons mirror our personal growth. The first, a five-hour ramble around the summits of West Tiger Mountain, included dirt paths, songs from 18 bird species, and running streams. Familiar, as I historically am a fair-weather, 3-season hiker. On the second, my daughter joined Ajax and me for a lovely snowy visit to Olallie and Talapus Lakes. The changing seasons in the mountains provide valuable metaphors for personal adaptation and stretching outside our comfort zone to find the zest and thrills that make life worth living.

My daughter joined me and Ajax for my usual Tuesday Morning outing, a trip to Talapus and Olallie Lakes near Exit 45 off I-90 in the Cascade Mountains.
My daughter joined me and Ajax for my usual Tuesday Morning outing, a trip to Talapus and Olallie Lakes near Exit 45 off I-90 in the Cascade Mountains.

And people come out in droves. When I finished my early morning St. Patrick’s Day hike on Tiger Mountain, the parking lot was packed by noon. Four cars lined up behind me, waiting to take my space. Parked cars lined the access road clear down to Frontage Road. Fortunately, sticking to less popular trails ensured a hike relatively free from people.

By contrast, on Tuesday we were the first to arrive at the trailhead for Talapus and Olallie Lakes at 9 a.m. Even at 2 when we returned to our car, there were only a couple handfuls of cars. Same lovely weather but on a weekday. Farther from the city. And in snow. Could more visits to snowy trails be the answer to enjoying the mountains without tons of people? And why is that?

My daughter and Ajax pause on the snowy trail to Olallie and Talapus Lakes on the cusp of the changing seasons.
My daughter and Ajax pause on the snowy trail to Olallie and Talapus Lakes on the cusp of the changing seasons.

In the snow, the solitude and silence were priceless. We encountered only 8 bird species compared to 20 two days earlier on Tiger. Even the air felt different. As we walked through the woods, icy pockets signaled nearby snow. How wondrous to transition onto hard-packed snow that muffled the sound around us.

On the trip out, I asked my daughter which she preferred: the same hike in the summer or this one in winter conditions. She likes Talapus Lake in the summer — if she can explore the logjam on the east end. But in the winter, when logs are covered in snow and more treacherous, she prefers Olallie Lake, with its easy access and interesting snow travel.

Each step brought us new challenges and mindfulness, whether the snow crunched underfoot and provided traction, or caused us to slip and slide. By the end of the hike, we were more savvy about picking which sections of snow would hold weight and what would lead to flailing. Obvious highlights included making snow angels, stomping a huge smile in the fresh white landscape, building a snowman named Greg, and walking across frozen Olallie Lake. Such wonderful solitude.

Ajax soaks up the sun while Brooke peers over snowman Greg's outstretched arm. The snowman only took about 15 minutes to build under near-perfect conditions. The arrival of spring reminds me of the changing seasons.
Ajax soaks up the sun while Brooke peers over snowman Greg’s outstretched arm. The snowman only took about 15 minutes to build under near-perfect conditions. The arrival of spring reminds me of the changing seasons.

In addition to enjoying the changing landscape, we also selected different gear. Early spring snow conditions change rapidly, sometimes hour to hour. We brought ski poles, snowshoes, and microspikes in the car with us. But once I saw bare pavement and dirt trails at the trailhead, I left behind the bulkier, harder-to-carry snowshoes and ski poles. Instead, I brought both pairs of compact microspikes and one collapsible pole.

The only snow equipment we ended up using were gloves and the pole. The few other hikers we saw clipped on their traction devices, but we never needed ours. I prefer to carry something we might or might not use rather than suffering from not having it. Proper gear choice speaks to two things: experience and preparation. In the metaphor of life’s unpredictable challenges, the more experience we have and the more prepared we are to face whatever comes next, the better we can handle it.

You can take the hiker out of the mountains, but you can never take the mountains out of the hiker. Whether snow or dirt, I feel completely in my element, at peace and connected when I'm out enjoying nature. One of our favorite trees on the Talapus-Olallie Lakes trail.
You can take the hiker out of the mountains, but you can never take the mountains out of the hiker. Whether snow or dirt, I feel completely in my element, at peace and connected when I’m out enjoying nature. One of our favorite trees on the Talapus-Olallie Lakes trail.

Like changing seasons in the mountains, we experience inevitable changes in our own lives. When my daughter was much younger, just as we started getting comfortable with a life stage… everything changed. The terrible twos. Her first solo gymnastics class. Kindergarten. First friendships. Junior high. Her constant growth forced us to adapt, like it or not. Parenting builds resilience and adaptability. So do injury, illness, changes in homes or jobs, and adversity.

Each of my clients comes to me facing profound change. If we can prepare for the unexpected and face challenges head-on, we can appreciate our journey and the lessons it can teach us. This week I spoke with a client who recently reached the summit of Kilimanjaro. She became a magnet of optimism for the others on her 20-person team who needed a pep talk. She enjoyed each of the diverse experiences during the journey to the top as much as she did the summit.

This winter we didn't get much in the way of snow in the city. So we drove to it to make snow angels, a snowman, and throw a few snowballs. Ajax investigated my daughter's angel.
This winter we didn’t get much in the way of snow in the city. So we drove to it to make snow angels, a snowman, and throw a few snowballs. Ajax investigated my daughter’s angel.

As I created this post, I felt a shift within. Making the time to drive a greater distance with my daughter to reach the snow made me relish and yearn for snow experiences even more. It helped me embrace and celebrate both my Milwaukee roots and over two decades of Alpine travel. And, as a bonus, Ajax tolerated the snow just fine.

I don’t have any big physical objectives this year. My mantra for 2024 is to “turn obstacles into opportunities.” Instead of viewing snow in the mountain as an obstacle that keeps me on trails at lower elevations, I’m heading higher starting in April. Ajax and I will enjoy the snow as much as we can. After all, the summer heat and crowded trails are just around the corner.

Published by Courtenay Schurman

Co-author of The Outdoor Athlete (2009) and Train to Climb Mt. Rainier or Any High Peak DVD (2002), author of Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills/conditioning chapter 4 (3 editions), and Peak Performance column for the Mountaineers Mag (2014-present). Member of PNWA, SCBWI, EPIC. Served on the steering committee for WOTS (2019-present). Completed UW Certificate program for Children's Literature and Memoir. Co-owner of Body Results, Inc. in Seattle. Climb leader with Seattle Mountaineers for over 15 years. Volunteer at Woodland Park Zoo since 2014.

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