It was a crisp clear morning toward the end of September. All were properly attired in layered outerwear and with backpacks packed with food and beverage as well as the requisite all purpose knife, thermos, and traveling tea set.
After a beautiful 40 minute drive, we arrived at Wahtum Lake, trailhead for our destination: Tomlike Mountain – one of the most remote destinations in the Columbia River Wilderness. Michelle and I had never been there before, but Regena was an old hand at taming the ridges of Tomlike. From the parking lot we immediately began our gradual ascent. Our goal was to reach the highest peak at the north end of the ridge. A long hike lay a head of us. We forged ahead at a relatively quick pace with our goal fixed in our minds. Fortunately, (depending on your perspective) we quickly got sidetracked and slowed down to a crawl. The cause: Cantharellus kauffmanii. As you can see from the photo, it is quite an eye catcher. Unfortunately, none of us brought our mushroom, wildflower, or any other field guides. We had no idea what we were looking at, just that it was quite intriguing looking. From there, our forward and upward zeal went downward and downhill, becoming a “let’s move at a snail’s pace and cover every inch of the area” kind of zeal. It turned out that the Anthill Trail to the top of Tomlike Mountain was teeming with mushrooms. Scores of the beautiful and exotic looking Amanita muscaria as well as melting Boletus edulus and other assorted fungi. As excited as we were at our discoveries, it was quite clear that we had missed the sweet spot for edibles by about a week. Everything was on its way back to the humus from which it arose.
We finally gave up the ghost and returned to our onward and upward moving zeal. We were cruising along at a nice pace now, stopping occasionally to appreciate the awe-inspiring surroundings. Winding our way along the ridge, the path became narrower and more obscure. At one point, even the seasoned Regena became a bit disoriented as to where the path was. Tapping eventually into her muscle memory, her legs started heading in the right direction until we found ourselves once again on an identifiable path.
At that point, we decided it was the perfect time for tea and repast. We found a beautiful spot on a rocky outcropping overlooking the mountains and valleys below. Regena took out her thermos – an antique Stanley which looks as though it was run over by a tank from the Normandy invasion and weighing as much as a cheap laptop – and I took out my hiking/traveling tea set made up of a small 100 mL gaiwan, a sharing pitcher, 8 tasting cups and a special tweezer used to take out the tea leaves. I brought An Ji Bai Cha and Bai Hao Yinzhen. We decided on the Angel White (An Ji Bai Cha). There is an old Chinese saying that the best way to enjoy tea is while in beautiful natural surroundings with fresh water from a spring and with cherished loved ones. This certainly fit the bill. I can attest to the fact that there is something qualitatively different about sharing a cup of tea with friends and loved ones while surrounded by nature’s bountiful beauty. The beauty, peace and tranquility of our surroundings was brought internally by virtue of sharing some delicious tea.
We resumed our hike and along the way became sidetracked two more times as we passed through a good sized patch of huckleberry bushes laden with their luscious dark purple fruit (Yum!) and finally passing through a grove of pygmy pines. We were prepared for the pines, for this was one of Regena’s favorite spots on the hike, an odd saddle at 4000 feet elevation, covered with pines stunted as if growing at timberline. Timberline – that point where trees cease to grow – is usually about 7000′ at our latitude.
As we came out of the grove of pygmy pines, we found the pathway penetrated by a plethora of pleasantly pigmented paleolithic stones and our eyes penetrated by a panoramic perspective of promethean prodigiousness. We were surrounded on all sides by vistas that simply took our breath away.
The last leg of our ascent required us to traverse an enormous pile of very large platter-sized scree, called Cascade Dinner Plates. A little intimidating at first because these platters rocked when you stepped on them. It made for a very exciting ascent (and descent). Finally, we reached the pinnacle of our climb and, craving a respite and more tea, we found a spot at the top of the ridge. There we repeated our richly rewarding shared tea ritual in yet another magnificent setting. Beautiful as it was, weather blowing in kept us from the best views: Mts. Hood; St. Helens; Adams; and Rainier. This time we shared some Silver Needles (Bai Hao Yinzhen). The delicately sweet refreshing taste of this tea accentuated the sweetness of the moment. Having spent a wonderful day together in such heady surroundings left us in a light, heady almost meditative mood. It was delicious.
Originally published November 5, 2007.