By Tom Groenewal
January 18, 1992
One of the peaks on the basalt ridge which borders the south side of Lake Crescent is the 4500’ Mt. Storm King. According to The Mountaineers Trail Guide, a 2.4-mile trail leads most the way up the mountain to where the rock becomes crumbly and rotten. From there it is a scramble up the promontory, advised for experienced hikers only. I consider myself experienced enough, so I plan to make it to the top.
The trail begins at the lake and follows Barnes Creek for .3 miles before it leaves the gentle drainage of the creek and ascends almost immediately into steep switchbacks up the mountain. Beautiful forest of tall straight trees with dense, moist ground cover, the air is clean as it gets on the entire planet. Particulates are measured and recorded somewhere on the coast, maybe the Coast Guard.
An hour later I am climbing through thinner air that makes it tough to breathe. The forest is changing. Nearly pure stands of Douglas Fir, three feet in diameter, and standing at 45-degree angle to the steep hillside. The trail is becoming more rock and less soil. Between openings in the trees I catch views of snowcapped peaks in the interior mountains, Pyramid Mt. is across Lake Crescent, and further to the north under a thick mat of clouds is the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
I come to the sign that indicates I have arrived at the end of a maintained trail. Beyond I can see the trail continues along a precipice about 20 yards long with the path only one foot wide, and on either side are treacherous slopes.. There is nothing to hold onto, nothing to fall onto if I slip, nothing but a rolling descent for hundreds of yards. I stop and think. I have some fear of heights, actually a serious fear of heights. My fear alone is enough to make me lose my balance and fall. Maybe I should just throw myself off the cliff and get it over with.
There are Mountain Goats up here, so I have heard and I want to see them, so I continue despite my better judgment.
Halfway across the precipice, I let my mind go and imagine myself hanging in midair, with my feet barely touching the thin trail with endless oblivion on either side. I see myself floating. I drop to my knees and crawl but it doesn’t help my fears. I cling to rotten loose rock, crumbling basalt, no way to turn around. I make it. I am mumbling, something about certain death. I remember my mother telling me not to take so many risks as I try to make it to the top of a giant beech tree in our back woods. She said she is not calling the fire department to put up a ladder like they are saving a kitten, it would be embarrassing for her. Make it up, make it down, she says.
I stand and look at the trail and tell myself, let’s go to the top.
No, I’m not going to the top. It’s dangerous, too high a risk, not a good idea and I’m scared to the limit and no fire department, definitely no helicopter.
I crawl back across the precipice and back down the trail for 50 yards to a much safer, wider rock outcrop before I stop. Why did I even attempt such a crawl? Why? Because it was as cool as it was scary.
Clouds of vapor are slowly flowing up the ridge and through the trees. The mountains here are all uplifted basalt. Ice and glaciers have scraped through here, digging Lake Crescent to depths of several hundred feet, etching deeper drainage patterns into the mountainsides.
What a place this mountain. Danger at every turn.