The Decision to Turn Back

4 January 2016

Rattlesnake Ledge, Issaquah Alps, North Bend

0 miles, 0 ft. climb to 0 ft. maximum elevation

After coming just short of sending a letter at Mailbox Peak yesterday, I was itching for a quick solo hike this morning. Now that my junior hiking buddies have returned to school after a long two-week winter break, I really wanted to get back out on the trail for one of my weekly conditioning hikes. I decided to do Rattlesnake Ledge today since I had last been on that trail over two months ago. Once both kids were safely at school, I made the drive out to North Bend.

Although I checked the weather forecast and travel conditions earlier today, it didn’t occur to me that within 15 miles from our rain-sogged home the weather would quickly turn into a wintry mix resulting in accumulated snowfall throughout North Bend. I knew of the expected closures throughout Snoqualmie Pass this morning, but I must have misread the hourly forecast within my neighboring region. I was honestly surprised by the heavy flakes floating past my windshield on Interstate 90. I figured I would still be able to make it Rattlesnake Lake without a problem in my 4WD – I was right. However, I didn’t anticipate being the only person or having the only vehicle in the large parking lot when I arrived just after 9:20 am. The road into the park itself was not plowed, so I followed on the sole tracks of the ghost vehicle before me.

View of Rattlesnake Ledge from the parking area

I was already at the trailhead, fully geared up to go for a snow hike. I could have just parked and started on my way. But, I thought it better to heed the advice I often present to my junior hiking buddies: “Short-term decisions have long-term consequences.” Keeping that in mind, I went through a detailed list of potential risks in my head:

  1. Road conditions: Although travel along I90E was manageable with the slush, the roads throughout North Bend were windy and unplowed. I had already driven past several cars stranded in the snow on my way into Rattlesnake Lake. I wasn’t so sure how the roads would fare later this morning during my post-hike drive back, especially given the number of tow trucks already out for the rescue.
  2. Snow conditions: It was still snowing rather steadily in the Cedar Falls section of North Bend. I wondered how manageable would it be for me to pull my SUV out of my parked spot after two more hours of snow accumulation.
  3. Solo hiking: While it’s one thing to be on a trail without a group, it’s quite another thing to be the only human on the trail for the foreseeable future. Even though Rattlesnake Ledge is considered an easy 4 mile in/out trail, today’s winter conditions made for potentially hazardous conditions on the ridge. (And, now that I know there’s a bear up on Rattlesnake Mountain who’s not really interested in napping, I thought it best to weigh my chances with him under consideration.) I didn’t think it was wise to take the risk of injury under these unique conditions.
  4. Timing: Under temperate weather conditions, I typically enjoy this hike at a somewhat leisurely pace – with ample time to roam around the ledge – before making the drive back in time to pick up my Little Hiking Buddy from preschool. Having read recent hiker reports about icy conditions on the trail, plus the accumulated snow throughout North Bend this morning, I was pretty sure my trek would be more taxing than relaxing.

Having systematically weighed these four major perils, I decided against doing a hike here today. I continued my drive through the empty lot without even bothering to stop and park. The snow hadn’t ceased to let up at this point, and not a single engine had driven past during my few minutes in the area. With the comforting image of my loving family welcoming me home, I surrendered to the winter war this morning and disappointingly drove back to Issaquah. By the time I returned, I didn’t even have enough time to do a quick jaunt up Poo Poo Point in the rain.

Rather than moping around the house upon my return, I decided to use my time positively. As much as I have grown to love being outdoors, either in my hiking boots or on my mountain bike, my sense of physical strength first came almost five years ago when I started practicing vinyasa yoga. Although I no longer practice as devotedly as I once did, I still have a regular stretching routine to maintain joint mobility, build muscular strength and relieve mental tension. Instead of my typically short flow of salutations and joint openers, I engaged in a full 1.5 hour practice.  It was intoxicatingly detoxing.

Me in my happy place out on the trail (@Gold Creek Pond Snowshoe)

It felt luxurious to be able to unwind a month’s worth of holiday stress ALONE in the quiet comfort of my living room. Once I changed out of my unblemished hiking attire, I turned on the music and unrolled my mat. I felt revived within just minutes of my initial stretches in child’s pose and downward dog. After the relieving the tension in my muscles and the kinks between my joints with the fundamental sun salutations, I took the extra time I had to play. Yes, there is a lot of fun to be had during yoga. I got to twist and fly, bend and flex, and most importantly, remind myself of how mentally adept I am at working with transition. I even held my handstand stronger and longer today than ever before. If nothing else, that accomplishment alone erased my misadventure on the trail this morning.

Building strength and agility for the trail

Following yesterday’s vertical ascent of Mailbox Peak with my full winter pack and gear on, I really needed to stretch out my back. It felt so good to do standing back bends that I did a set of 10 before finishing up with a few variations of happy baby and a prolonged corpse pose. It was nice to make something out of nothing after my initial disappointment. As bummed as I may have been on my drive home, I’m so glad not to have taken the undue risks this morning. The trail will still be there for me, and I will be more prepared to enjoy its challenges. And it’s a great thing that I didn’t even get out of the car because I later noticed my crampons dangling on a hook at home, still drying out from yesterday’s hike. A hike truly wasn’t meant for me today…but, maybe tomorrow?

My favorite way to bend!

Disclaimer: this is not a tutorial or demonstration of how to practice yoga. 

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