I’ve been out here for four days, twenty miles, eleven teammates, and a menagerie of surprises. I have trod through a perfect ancient forest. One in which my head is shaded by 1,000-year-old cedar, hemlock, and fir trees. The trees have gone away now. My boots weather a divot into the ground as I tighten the straps on my shoulders. I’m at the glorious peak of Battle Ax Mountain. I peer off the edges into the depths from which I have scaled in this past week. The leaders point to the divide between Opal Creek and Bull of the Woods, two of the wilderness areas we have walked through.
We cascade down the steep descent, switchbacks and sand slides in the withering heat. It is nearly sunset when we reach our destination. Beachie Saddle is a sandy, dusty, campsite, laced with mosquitos and flies. It is nearly impossible to put a stake into the rock-laden ground. I execute it only with the aid of some very large stones. At sunset, we scramble up a vertically outstanding climb. Of all the places I have had to sleep, this one is the most treacherous by far. As we watch the sunset I finally start to relax from the day. I let go of my anxieties and watch as the sun dives into the vastness of the west. Many would consider this sunset to be the pinnacle of their summer. Not for me. What I truly await is yet to come.
Everyone has been asleep for hours, buried in a slumber so deep it would be cruel to wake them. This is when I am in my prime. I am refreshed and alone. I unzip the tent and step into the brisk mountain air. A sharp wind bites under my hat. Ambition drags me upwards. Many would keep climbing to sunset rock, or farther for that matter. Not me. I stop on a boulder, the tents pitched behind me, heaps of comrades resting.
I look out into the distance. Although the sun rises slowly I never want it to come all the way up. I long for time to freeze. Of course, this is an unachievable prospect, so I decide to savor the moment. Birds tweet in my ear, pines fume bitter aromas, rays of sunlight illuminate the valley, and dew strung air permeates my layers. I hold close to every breath. This place is all mine, I have no intent to share it. If I never come back I will still have this minute, this morning, this day, this year, this place, this planet, but most of all, I will still have this memory. This is my sunrise rock.
Lillie joined our Opal Creek Expeditions family in 2016 at the age of 12. She returns this year for our first ever Ladies of the Cascades trip. She wrote this essay in response to a prompt about a place she had felt drawn to.