“‘O where are you going?’ said reader to rider,
‘That valley is fatal when furnaces burn.
Yonder’s the midden whose odors will madden,
That gap is the grave where the tall return.’
‘O do you imagine,’ said fearer to farer,
‘That dusk will delay on your path to the pass?
Your diligent looking discover the lacking,
Your footsteps feel from granite to grass?’
‘O what was that bird?’ said horror to hearer,
‘Did you see that shape in the twisted trees?
Behind you swiftly the figure comes softly,
The spot on your skin is a shocking disease.’
‘Out of this house,’ said rider to reader,
‘Yours never will,’ said farer to fearer,
‘They’re looking for you,’ said hearer to horror,
As he left them there, as he left them there.”
—W. H. Auden
Winter’s brush only crimps the color palette in the redwood grove.
Camping overnight at the trailhead did not sufficiently acclimate me for this hike’s altitude, so my progress is slow and patient. Much of the trail follows the hardened pahoehoe lava flows gently upwards, its surface as smooth as a paved nature walk. The lava is everywhere, and everywhere is lava. Only snow and the gasping thin sky overhead break its flows.
Four kilometers up and the remaining winter snow, which started as occasional patches, is forming large drifts. I haven’t seen a plant or animal all day.
At the summit crater, the mountain expands away, level in all directions. The dried surface is only as old as I am. It resembles an abandoned parking lot in a forsaken city: roughly textured, glimmering black, carelessly crumpled and folded. Underfoot it crunches like crusted snow.
No other hikers are staying at the summit cabin. I am alone in this wasteland palace in the clouds.