“There’s no glory in climbing a mountain if all you want to do is to get to the top. It’s experiencing the climb itself – in all its moments of revelation, heartbreak, and fatigue – that has to be the goal.” -- Karyn Kasuma
We don’t conquer mountains when we climb them, of course. But we conquer something within ourselves, and the mountains help by being there. It’s the climb that rewards us; the view at the top is like a pat on the back, a ‘welcome home’ when you walk in the door after a long journey from far away.
The mountains were calling. Kath and I had just finished some big assignments, so we looked for an adventure to celebrate our accomplishments and challenge our bodies. But mountains are in short supply on our islands. Mt. Erie is the tallest on Fidalgo. What about Whidbey? Well, the honor of the highest point on Whidbey goes to a non-descript mound near Strawberry Point. A mound is not a mountain. Goose Rock, closer at hand, has a real peak, and a view. Great. That’s where we would climb.
It’s just a little over 400 feet above sea level, so I guess it’s not exactly a climb. Our real goal was just to be outside, to be in the forest, to feel our heart beating and know that we are alive, to smell the scents of life returning as winter fades, to get the good tidings of life, to be one with the earth.
"Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way!” -- Dr. Seuss
It was late afternoon. We had less than two hours of daylight. The sun hung low in the southwest, its light already muted by the woodlands.
I had forgotten my Discover Pass at home (me, of all people…) so we parked on the shoulder of Cornet Bay Road. The trail there drops down to a small wetland, which we crossed on log bridges that feel like a part of the water and woods. This trail heads to Cornet Bay, at the foot of Goose Rock. The summit looked high from here! Daylight was burning; it was time to get going, straight up the southern trail.
We ascended slowly, easily, catching my breath when I needed to, pretending I was taking a picture or studying the beauty of a tree or listening to a bird song. A hiker passed us going down, remarking that we were taking the hard way up. Indeed.
Step by step, rock by rock, tree by tree, we climbed higher, and higher, and soon we were on the last switchback, the trees fewer and smaller. And then we were going through an alley of fences at the summit.
Some of you may personally know the beauty of a bald head. The top here is bald too, sporting rocks slickened by the glaciers of just a few thousand years ago.
On one slick and sloping rock, Kath took a seat rather quickly, skinning her arm as she landed. We had removed our first aid kit a few days earlier for some reason; so we used a towelette wipe and an unused doggie bag to create a bandage of sorts… use what you have, right?
Then we strolled over to the highest point on the rock as the sun gave its last light above the Olympics. We were at the summit! We were above the rest of the local world. All our other plans, accomplishments, worries and dreams fell away into the emptiness of light and space around us. Others were here too, enjoying being at the peak, being together, being alive.
The time always comes to go back down. We took the northwest trail down to the Discovery Trail, then through the woods and back to Cornet Bay Road. We both felt drained and yet deeply refilled.
Directions: The trails to Goose Rock begin at the Deception Pass Bridge parking area at the north end of Whidbey Island, or at the Deception Pass State Park office, or along Cornet Bay Road west of the Retreat Center.
“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddam mountain.”– Jack Kerouac
By Bus: Take Island Transit's 411W north from Oak Harbor, stopping near Cornet Bay Road, or 411W south from the March's Point Park and Ride near Anacortes.
By Bike: Highway 20 is a busy high-speed highway with narrow shoulders and rolling terrain. The bridge itself is particularly challenging to get across, with no shoulder and a narrow sidewalk with railings on both sides.
Mobility: The trails up Goose Rock are challenging, with between 250 and 400 feet of elevation gain in less than half a mile on trails that are rocky, crossed with roots in places, and very uneven footing.
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