Surprise Mountain

Namo Lokeshvaraye! You see that all things are beyond coming and going, Yet still you strive solely for the sake of living beings – To you, my precious guru inseparable from Lord Avalokita, I offer perpetual homage, respectfully, with body, speech and mind.   –  Gyalse Tokme Zangpo

surp2                                         Heading up to the Cascade Crest on Surprise Lake trail.

I left the car at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon on my annual solo wilderness journey. I do not lightly make the decision to venture alone into the wilderness, traveling in a 55 year old assembly of bone and sinew. The sand of our lives runs quickly out the hour glass though and modern life, with its ten thousand unfinished tasks is like a forever cluttered mind which will never be clear unless you just leave it from time to time.


20141005_101404I arrived at Surprise Lake and pitched my tent. The lake was glassy. The occasional water bug skittered across the mirrored surface. The world was silent. After dinner, the silence deepened. Snug in my sleeping bag, I imagined I could hear a mouse breathing nearby. In the middle of the night, a freight rain rumbled by about five miles distant. I could not hear it, but I felt it vibrating up through the bones of the Earth I slept on.

20141004_173456Granite boulders and slabs in the graveyard of mountains are my companions in the cool predawn air. Quickly, I strip off layers of pile as my oatmeal fueled generator sends power into my limbs. Pant, pant, pant. I reach a clearing and three quail are having a morning conference. I tip toe closer and they suddenly take flight.

surp9 (2) Having left (6:50 a.m.) my tent  and rain gear by the lake, I have only six of the ten essentials – water bottle, filter, extra food and clothing, sunglasses, and a map. (Green Trails: Stevens Pass, WA – no. 176). As I enter the maze of talus beneath Surprise Peak, the path to Surprise Pass is indicated by a dashed green line indicating “other”.


The destination is obvious, a small notch about 800 feet steeply up, but the trail is not.  In awe of the towers of rock touching the morning sun high above, I missed the weathered sign blending perfectly with crumbling rock.


After a while, it was obvious my chosen line was too high, so I traversed towards the middle of the ravine and eventually intersected with the remnants of the abandoned, but still discernible, trail.

There is something about reaching a pass which that hints of birth – the curvature of mountains resembling the pelvic bones defining the birth canal, the breathtaking early morning vistas of never-before-seen places.



Circling around the gentler backside of the mountain, I am a planetary lover exploring the curves, nooks, and mystery landscape. The summit ridge draws closer, with occasional pauses to take in the view of the Daniel-Hinman massif to the south. I reach the summit at 8:30 a.m., sitting quietly for a while, immersed, taking in the view of both the external and internal universe.




On the descent, I pause to build a cairn as an offering to future wanderers – that they may never lose abandoned trails.  Of course, the wind, snow and gravity will knock the cairn to the ground, just as certainly as birth ends in death, gain is followed by loss and the high are brought low.20141005_101326

I am back at my tent by 10:45, pausing in the forest to witness spontaneous magic in unexpected places.


On my way down the trail, I step carefully, putting all my awareness on the placement of my feet, carefully scrutinizing the rock, roots, mud, and water, noting the slope angle, the size of the step, the gravitational pulls of my body and pack in motion. There is no substitute for awareness in avoiding energy. At around 1:30pm. I meet a woman who appears to be taking a rest in the middle of the trail, and having tea. Although she looks comfortable, it quickly becomes apparent something is wrong. She thinks she has broken her leg. Search and Rescue were called two hours ago via a cell text.

A naturopath from a group hiking dropped out of his group to stay with the injured woman, keep her stable and comfortable. Not knowing when Search and Rescue will arrive, I decide to stay too and offer support, primarily moral and spiritual support fortunately. It’s the only morally conscionable thing to do for someone in my position, having a not inconsiderable amount of experience in trauma medicine. Although I do not have any acupuncture needles with me, much healing can happen with just hands and heart.

Search and Rescue arrive at around 3:15 p.m., and continue to arrive – numbering some 25 professionals in total response size, including one person parked out on Highway 2 with his flashing lights on, directing the responders onto the right forest service road.

Yet with all the technology and manpower that EMS can muster, it does not escape me that for the first four hours after the accident, my new friend woman was largely dependent upon her hiking partner, her lap dog, and the good Samaritan instincts of passers by, and her own stamina and mental fortitude – what Buddhists refer to as karmic predisposition.

This story – I am fairly confident in saying – had a happy ending with the injured person receiving the help she needed.  May all who are injured, quickly receive the care they need. May all who are lost, quickly find their paths.



1 thought on “Surprise Mountain”

  1. William C. Johnson


    Beautifully written and deeply moving. Pictures only add to the sharing of your experience. That lake! I resonate with who you are, and your love of nature. Thank you for sharing this with me.

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