Rachel Hart's Mountain High

Our fearless leader talks mountains, chocolate cake and Seattle's soul.
Rachel Hart  |   May 2011   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION

That whole thing about climbing a mountain because it is there? Yeah, I’ve never quite understood that philosophy—unless it’s a metaphor that applies to something like a big piece of chocolate cake that happens to be in my line of vision. Many years ago, my husband and I were hiking Mount Rainier—this was pre-kids, so we were moving quickly and game for seeing how high we could get with minimal preparation. It was July, and it didn’t take long to hit the snow line, and all of a sudden we were scaling a slippery 9-inch-wide snow-covered ridge to get from one bend in the trail to the other—and we were barely a stone’s throw from the parking lot. I knew then and there that mountain climbing would never really be in my future.

It’s easy to feel out of place here if you don’t live for outdoor activities. I enjoy poking around REI as much as the next person, but I have never been part of the anorak culture. I’m an urbanite in a land of mountaineers, but I figure I contribute to the city’s diversity—at least when it comes to outerwear. As Knute Berger writes in his Grey Matters column (page 152), some of us are just happier at “base camp.”

But what I love most about our mountains is their democracy—they are here for us all. This issue’s ode to some of the mountains that shape and define our region (page 92)—what you can see, do and discover there—is written with all levels of “mountaineers” in mind. While snow may linger on the mountains at this time of year, we’ve compiled an issue you’ll want to keep year-round, whether you plan to climb to the summit with an ice axe in your fist, or drive to it with a latte in your cup holder.
Of course, one of the ways we can all enjoy the mountains is to simply gaze at them in awe. One of the reasons that I love the Alaskan Way Viaduct is its brilliant views of the Olympics. I may be one of the last holdouts to support an elevated highway, but I still think it’s one of the few ways everyone can experience the beauty of Seattle’s nearby mountains, even if they are flying by at 50 miles per hour. There is something comforting about those magnificent, craggy silhouettes on the horizon.

As anyone knows who lives here, the mountains are part of Seattle’s soul. When my family first moved from Spokane to Racine, Wisconsin, my mother told me she would look out the west-facing kitchen window while doing dishes and imagine the clouds along the horizon were silhouettes of the Washington mountains she missed. Happily, my parents are back in Puyallup now and have an unobstructed view of Mount Rainier.

When we take our surroundings for granted, it’s good to be reminded of what we have. In town for our wedding years ago, my husband’s East Coast cousins took hours of video footage of “The Volcano!” Driving through the Cascades with my mother-in-law over the holidays—her first drive over mountains ever—listening to her ooh and ah about the snow-covered pine trees—made up for all those times she’s asked us why we live here, where it’s so grey and cold.

Even the vernacular belongs to us. We “chain up” through snowy passes. We gamely ski on “Cascade cement.” On glorious sunny days, “the mountains are out”—and each time we see them again they seem to have thrust themselves higher than before. And when they tuck back behind the grey veil, we take comfort knowing they will be back before long.

Until next month,
Rachel Hart

Related Articles