No one says a word as we cross an open snowscape along Mount Spokane’s southern face. The air is cold and thick with fast-moving clouds, and our break has been cut short by a sudden snowstorm.
What was intended to be a leisurely lunch turned into a quick snack, but it’s more than enough fuel to get us back to our car near Selkirk Lodge, just a couple of miles away. We could’ve stayed longer, but with four of us — my fiancée and her parents — we thought heading back was a wise precaution against losing our fresh snowshoe tracks to the incoming storm.
The snowfall becomes harder, and soon some packs between my right eye and glasses. I dig the snow out with my pointer finger and bring my hand up to block any more from entering. It’s an hour before sundown, so there’s still plenty of light, but I can barely see 10 feet in front of me. Suddenly I comprehend how easy it would be to become disoriented in familiar territory.
The sky flashes and rumbles. “That’s a half-mile away,” says my future father-in-law, something of an amateur meteorologist.
I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure when lightning strikes, one of the last places you want to be standing is on a treeless expanse of the tallest mountain around. But here we are.
My mind races — visions of toting lightning-struck bodies on my back add to my sense of dread. Then I realize I have at least six inches on all of them: I’m the candidate for the electricity in the sky. I hunker down. And I’m the only one with a cell phone in my pocket, which I’m sure is sending little messages to the clouds about its location. I hunker down farther.
Snowshoeing isn’t dangerous, they say. And generally, I agree. Most trips through the snow-frosted woods are pleasant. The quiet is pervasive, and tranquility permeates every inch of the forest.
For instance, on the second day of this year, I tramped my way up snowy Beacon Hill, on the eastern edge of Spokane. There was not
a thing in the sky, save the bright sun. The snow, which covered everything, was blinding.
Though it was still a handful of degrees below zero, the sun’s heat was melting the snow off the branches. The insistent pitter-patter of melting ice was interrupted only occasionally by the engine’s roar of a small plane circling Felts Field. Commanding views of the area filled my vision. From the cottony puffs of the paper mill in Millwood to the tiny tower of the Spokane International Airport, from the plateau of Five Mile Prairie to the blinking beacons on Tower Mountain, the built environment of Spokane was on display. As on most snowshoe trips, my mind was clear and I had a smile on my face.
But in this moment on Mount Spokane, I’m terrified. We’re approaching the longest open stretch of our hike. Most days, I look forward to this part of the mountainside, for its commanding views. Up here, when we’re even higher in elevation, the Inland Northwest presents itself: Green Bluff, Liberty Lake and countless other points of interest dot the valley below.
But today, my view is of blustery snow, and everything is a dully lit white.I encourage my fiancée to walk faster, as I hunch my shoulders and pray the clouds have no interest in my cell phone.