Side Quest at Golden Ears: Queens of the Castle

It’s odd how as I continue to grow, I keep a childish sense of adventure. Like a mild peter pan syndrome, maybe?

Take the trip to Golden Ears provincial park. (I made a post about the whole awesome trip here.) While everyone else stayed by the top of the waterfall, swimming and reading and snapping pictures, Kimberly and I decided to embark on our own adventure. So we returned to the entrance to the falls, where the path led down through the forest. We didn’t follow it, though; we looked left. We looked up.

Needles from the trees mixed with the dirt. And the actual trees, and gnarled roots, bushes, weeds, poked out from uneven soil reaching up, up, up.

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“Let’s go,” said Kimberly. She placed her foot on a ledge and hoisted herself up.

***

As we walked, we noted the obvious paths. People had trodden here many times before, stamping out narrow trails up the little mountain. We gripped strong tree roots that stuck out above our shoulders to pull ourselves up steeper parts, and kept climbing and climbing until the path flattened out.

At this point, the route split two ways. “Which way now?” This didn’t really matter, but it’s the kind of question that people like us like to ask. After a moment’s hesitation, Kimberly pointed to a large tree stump, where a pink ribbon was tied around a little branch that sprouted from its middle. Shrugging, she said, “follow the pink trail markers? They are trail markers… right?” I shrugged back and off we went.

What we thought were trail markers probably were trail markers–only not for us. At one point in our travels we passed another ribbon that read SEARCH & RESCUE SEARCH & RESCUE SEARCH & RESUCE repeatedly. We marched on.

Eventually the markers made less sense to us (so yes, clearly they weren’t meant for wandering teenagers); far and few between, sometimes neon pink, sometimes neon yellow. Heading to no particular path in sight. Certain narrow paths led to the edges of cliffs, ending as abruptly as the sound of the water rushing hundreds of feet below flooded our ears. On these occasions we would carefully climb back to safer ground before trying another route.

Our conversation, as we walked and hauled ourselves around, was peppered with “I wonder where we’re going”s and “hm, which way now?”s. At some point we decided to just go up. Up, to the top of the mountain.

Boulders high above us blocked our sight, but we knew it had to be close.

“Doable,” Kimberly said of the proposition. I looked at my watch–we had to be back at the falls by 3:30.

“Let’s try going straight up,” said I.

Up we hiked. Soon we were met by an unusually flat, wide path, winding around a large boulder. Logs aligned from the tip of the giant rock down past the path, making a curious, sparse rooftop over our heads.

Kimberly giggled. “This is fun,” she said. I smiled, because it was.

On the other side of the boulder the path narrowed again. To our left, the ground plunged steeply down the mountain. Thirty feet below us, wedged horizontally between the crevice, was a massive, ancient tree trunk.

I looked down at my feet, thinking if that I slipped on this rock, or tripped over that root, then I’d go tumbling down the side of the mountain.

“Hey,” Kimberly said, “you think that log down there would break our fall if we fell?” gesturing to the same fallen tree I had been thinking about. It stuck out like a tourist attraction.

“Maybe it would break us,” I said, thinking about my spine snapping at just the wrong angle after hurtling down from our ledge.

***

Soon the path widened. Gazing up, we could see the mountaintop. It was hard to contain our excitement. “Let’s go, let’s go!” “Up, up!”

Another pink trail marker to our left again read SEARCH & RESCUE SEARCH & RESCUE SEARCH & RESCUE.

Farther up, there were no more discernable paths to take. I did a 360 take of our surroundings: all the tall, identical trees and mossy green shrubbery, the pebbles and sticks. I realized that although the same trees still shot up through the ground as they did all over the mountain, the ground beneath our feet had changed ever so slightly.

Shrubs now consumed most of the ground, and now moss and hundreds of thousands of twigs were everywhere, forming thick, hollow layers over the dirt. Every step was one loud crunch and snap after the next, but at the same time the earth below was spongy, like nature’s own version of a trampoline. As we forged our way through the undergrowth, too–now getting whipped by little branches and leaves poking out every which way–we began stepping over old, mushroom-covered fallen trees.

And not the strong, dead, fallen trees we were used to. These were very much decaying, soft chunks of wood. After several feet had fallen through collapsing wood, we became more careful about where we were stepping.

We laughed, no longer able to pull ourselves along by grabbing onto thick branches. Once, Kimberly reached for one, and ripped it clean from its socket. She held the branch up, looking at me like she had just pulled the arm off a living person, and we both burst out laughing. “This is ridiculous,” we said to each other.

Finally we came to the base of the mountain hilltop, and we cheered. The time between now and when we first left the falls hadn’t been long–fifteen, maybe twenty minutes–but it felt kind of monumental. There were no more SEARCH & RESCUE markers; beer cans left by careless wanderers had long, long gone. We’d made it, and up here we were alone in the world.

I breathed in.

Maybe our trip up this little mountain would have felt different ten years ago. Verging on nine, I would have been too small to make it up some parts (I was a really short kid). I probably would have been scared.

But I could imagine us going up the mountain with different eyes. Paper crown hats, wolfskin capes, conjuring beasts from Where the Wild Things Are, seeing them poke their heads out from the side of the mountain, over boulders and cliffs, waving kindly claws at us.

Now, in this moment, verging on 19 (well, Kimberly verging on 20), we climbed at last to the top, zig-zagged around each obstacle and through all the shrubs.

We made it. Pride filled our lungs.

***

The rest of the forest, though trees still stood high above our heads, tumbled down below our feet. We were at the top, together alone in the world, and it was peaceful.

We had brought nothing along with us, nothing to commemorate our trip. I didn’t think about fantastical beasts anymore, but I did think briefly about the people I knew back down below at the falls, now in another world.

… I don’t think I quite have the eyes I did back as a child. But I felt, a bit, like I could wear the crown and wolfskin cape.

Maybe ten years ago, Kimberly and I would have danced around the hollowed out dead tree that lay beside us at the top, our little paper crowns bouncing on our heads.

We didn’t dance. Nothing else to use, we strung some leafy shrubbery around my hair elastic and tied it to the highest thing we could reach–a root from the hollowed, upended tree that stuck out just above our heads. It made a hilariously sad looking bouquet.

So, we don’t have the eyes, the imagination we once had. But I have to say that the feeling is still here. Even if it wasn’t fantastical, it was such an exciting adventure. Even if we didn’t try and invent another world, at the top of the mountain, with us two the only human beings breathing up among the trees, we didn’t have to. We were in one.

All the best,

Miriam

P.S. photos by my good friend Julia.

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