Hikes: Seeking

2023 1228 hikes

While hiking on Kiket Island a couple of years ago I had the good fortune to run into Tracy Powell, the carver of Kokwalalwoot, the story pole residing at Rosario Beach. As we are both getting into our elderly years, we chatted about legacy and end of life thoughts. I mentioned that I wouldn’t mind having my ashes spread on Mt. Erie when my time comes. He looked up at Erie and said I had chosen well, that it is still a sacred place for the Samish, full of spiritual power and life.

The Samish lived primarily on the beaches of Fidalgo and the San Juans, going into the hills for special resources, and climbing places like Mt. Erie for personal vision quests. I remembered back to my studies and involvement with tribal life as a teenager, and the importance of the vision quest for individuals to gain spiritual direction, power, and knowledge.

Their training began in early childhood, so that as they came of age, they would seek visions. The child was instructed to get rid of human pollution by fasting, bathing, and purging. Sent out during the stormiest weather in winter in which the spirits were believed to run about, a child remained for many days. The vision experience was described as an encounter with an animal, tree, or natural feature such as the sun. The spirit transported the seeker to its house, where it instructed the person as to what occupation to follow and what paraphernalia to use or wear, and gave the seeker power and a song. Upon returning from the quest, the child did not speak of the experience immediately for fear of losing its power.

I was reminded of this as Kath, Murphy and I were hiking up Mt. Erie. Like the tribal peoples, our modern town of Anacortes hugs the flats of Fidalgo near the water. And we wander into the ACFL and up to Mt. Erie, searching for something, the spirit of nature maybe, in the trees, the wildlife, or a sunrise or sunset.

We started hiking halfway up, as the winter daylight was waning, the air cold, the skies clear. We took trail 26, then began scrambling up trail 216, our hearts pumping as we gained elevation quickly. We passed only one other couple on these trails. Slick rocks and roots kept us focused on each step. Water bottles came out once or twice, and as our heart rates rose, our coats came off.

Nearing the top, we were encouraged by the sign pointing the way to the summit. And then, there at our feet, the ground dropped away into silence. Golden rays slanted through the hills. Lake Campbell and Fidalgo Island led to Whidbey, the Skagit Flats, Mt. Rainier and the Cascades, the Salish Sea and the Olympics, and the sun finishing its course for the day.

The mountaintop viewpoints were now filling with dozens of people having driven to the summit for a quick fix of the view. Regardless of how we arrived there, we all treasured a small share of the spirit of the place.

As the sun touched the peaks, conversations faded. We sat or stood in reverie on the edge of the mountain at the closing of the day.

Without the sun the temperature dropped to the thirties. Coats came back on. The evening wrapped itself around us along with the spirit of this time and place. The moon rose and darkness fell; we eventually turned and headed back down, our shared experience resonating within.


Directions: From Anacortes take H Avenue to Heart Lake Road. From Whidbey follow Highway 20 north of the Deception Pass Bridge, drive about four miles and turn left on Campbell Lake Road, then right onto Heart Lake Road. Look for the parking area just south of Heart Lake.

By bike: Heart Lake Road is windy, hilly, and has narrow shoulders.

Mobility: The trail is steep, rocky, narrow, and uneven. The paved road is steep in places and has no shoulder, but traffic is light.

Republished with permission. Find the original article at Hiking Close to Home website.