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Enchanting Heather

Photo: Kick-As(gard) fun. Enjoying the scenery atop the notorious pass leading into the Enchantments.

Enchanting Heather: by Andy Dappen

"What’s the secret for getting your kids to do this?" she asks as we cross paths half way up the rubbly route leading to Asgard Pass. Before overtaking us, the woman and her husband have apparently noticed that my daughter has not only been keeping pace with me but that she’s been chatting pleasantly as we ascend the steep trail.

It’s a complicated question and a few truthful answers come to  mind: ‘luck’, ‘genetics’, ‘exposure’. In the end, I settle for ‘patience.’

The woman, a mother with two younger boys, asks my daughter, Heather, whether she’s always liked doing this stuff. From the ice axe on Heather’s pack and by merit of this being a harder-than-average hike, the woman figures Heather, 19, must be a hardcore hiker. In the presence of her all-knowing father, however, Heather comes clean. She explains how she’s always done some outdoor pursuits with parents – weeklong canoeing and rafting trips, car-camping trips, day hikes, downhill skiing trips. "But it’s only in the last year that I’ve come around to enjoying more physical backpacking trips or that I’ve wanted to climb easy peaks."

I mention that Heather has always been a bit of adrenaline seeker so she’s liked whitewater and downhill skiing, but formerly strenuous exercise only appealed to her if there was a ball to chase – hence her interest in soccer and lacrosse. "Now she’s figuring out that exertion, for masochistic reasons that have no real explanation, can be enjoyable. And it can get you to places like this that amaze."

We leap-frog the couple for the next hour and, at each passing, get some of their story. They’re parents of boys, ages 7 and 10, who are currently at summer camp. While they all get out on the occasional day hike, this is the first backpacking trip the couple has enjoyed since having kids.

"It’s tough," I empathize. "When they’re small, there’s so much stuff to take for overnight trips – it’s backbreaking. And once they’re big enough to actually shoulder a share of the load, they’d rather be playing their own sport or playing with friends."

I mention that some of our adult friends took the cod-liver-oil approach and forced outdoor medicine down the throats of their kids, figuring it was good for them. "We always felt these activities should be of their choosing. Trying to ‘make them’ like what we like, we thought, was more likely to backfire than succeed."

I explain how, as our kids got older, we just kept offering the opportunity, kept sharing pictures taken in beautiful places, and kept telling stories from our adventures. "Luckily some of this seemed to rub off. Toward the end of high school, both of our girls started taking a shine to some of the more physical outdoor pursuits."

At Asgard Pass, the couple mentions they should probably turn around and get back to Colchuck Lake where they are camped. We still have nearly five hours of daylight ahead and I suggest that they walk another mile or two down into the Enchantment Lakes Basin. "It’s magical," I tell them. "Take a lot of pictures and let your kids see them. No need to say anything, just plant seeds."

Photo: Climbing the snowfields leading up the easy side of Dragontail Peak.

Heather and I split off and climb the snow slopes leading to the top of Dragontail Peak. Stepping on the summit is a sobering experience—easy scrambling suddenly leaves you peering down the ultra-steep, technical cliffs characterizing the western and northern aspects of the peak. It’s been sweaty work getting here, but Heather enjoys the airy perch.

Photos: Part of the view from a spectacular whole in the sky atop Dragontail Peak.

We look north to the vanilla cone of Glacier Peak, northeast to the golden wheat fields of the Waterville Plateau, east to the brown deserts of the Columbia Basin, southeast to the green irrigated I-90 corridor, south to the white domes of Adams and Rainier, and west toward the black silhouette of Mt. Stuart. "It’s like you can see the entire state from this little hole in the sky," Heather says appreciatively.

Photo: Granite everywhere: littering the ground, lining the lakes, accenting the skyline.

Later, we’re off the peak and hiking the main corridor interconnecting the lakes. Huge boulders of white granite litter the ground, smooth slabs of granite rim the lakes, and long shards of granite form spires accenting the skyline. Heather notes that Nature is as creative with granite as were the Incas of Peru where she recently spent 9 months traveling.

Photo: Magic and enchantment -- cellophane waters, green life springing from inert rock, blue-tarp skies. The goats are enchanting, too, ... until they harass you while you relieve yourself.


The next morning is particularly magical as we walk through the Lower Enchantments after breaking camp. Golden light illuminates the spires and walls, cellophane streams rush over white slabs into emerald lakes, vibrant green trees explode out of inert rock, and the blue-tarp of sky spreads its umbrella over all of it.

"I really like the word ‘encanta’ in Spanish," Heather comments as we walk. "’Enchanted’ in English can mean ‘being under the spell of,’ but we’ve diluted that meaning by using the word too broadly. In Spanish, the word is so specific in its connotation," she says. "This place definitely draws you in and holds you under its spell – in the Spanish use of ‘encanta.’ Now I understand why so many people around here rave about the Enchantments."

Her comments make me believe the seeds of her upbringing are germinating. The Enchantments are a showy flower, a billboard, that smack you, full-on, with their wonder. If you fail to be amazed here, God help your connection to anything natural. Watching Heather as we walk, I can’t help believe that she’s on her way now. If she stays with this she’ll soon be seeing wonder in the small, less obvious details of nature.

I’m anxious to know how her journey along this path unfolds – partly because I know it to be an enchanting path, partly because (like most parents) I want to share what I love with those I love. Nonetheless, this is not my voyage. While I can expose her to possibilities, the course she chooses must be shaped and fueled by her passions. So I wait, patiently, to see where all of this leads.

 Photo: Parent and child (on the right??) with outdoor loves (temporarily) in synch.