Hiking for the soul

How I got initiated into this wonderful sport #PNW #Seattle #Fuji

Swapna M
7 min readFeb 1, 2023
Hello World! (Mt. Fuji, Japan)

4AM — Arrival at the summit

5AM — catch sunrise of the day!

When I scaled Mt. Fuji in 2015, I didn’t have an inkling of what I’m getting myself into. I wasn’t used to climbing as a sport (hours spent running or at the gym weren’t enough for this new ordeal) and didn’t really understand what lay ahead of me. However, I did reach the summit after 7–8 hours of gruelling steep climb; reached the rocky outcrop of the revered mountain several minutes before sunrise (around 4.15am) and sat still in the freezing temps of those early morning hours, waiting patiently for the sun to peak through the night clouds. It was August mind you; elsewhere in the valley and on the mainland, sticky heat would be wafting through the air, however up here pre-dawn, frosty air pierced through my rented hiking jackets and boots. Japan is the land of the rising sun, and hence successfully completing this ascension and being there to watch the sacred stirring of the sun meant a lot to my soul.

The soft rays did reach me after multiple minutes of agonizing eternity, and there it was — the sun in all its glory, with its pulsating waves in all shades of pink, purple, orange and reddish hues. I felt a thrill go down my spine, something I wished to roll up in my backpack and take with me back home.

I vaguely remember the rest of my few hours up there — maybe some strolling around the crater, obviously taking ceaseless pictures (to prove I went there!) and sending a postcard or two back home from the postoffice conveniently located at the summit. As I descended (which was quite detrimental to my toes and knees), I just wanted to crawl back to my Ryokan, take a long warm bath and head out for a comforting bowl of miso ramen in one of the many Izakayas doting my street. Those thoughts alone motivated me to descend rapidly, and get on the first bus out of the 5th station.

And as I left Japan the next week, this memory of scaling the summit of Mount Fuji (~2400m on the Kawaguchiko/Fujiyoshida trail) did wonders for my morale and psyche. That year, I got PADI certified in Bali & skydived in Prague, adventures that enabled me to reboot my life.

Now fast forward to 2022 : I landed in the Evergreen state of Washington. Between 2015 and 2022, I didn’t pursue any serious hiking (maybe some small trails within the city limits, but nothing major). Why did it take me so long to restart what I had so serendipitously discovered back there on Mt. Fuji you ask? Well, life happened and more or less I forgot about the joys of scaling and summiting mountains. Pacific North West (PNW) had me at its beauty, even in the dead of winter, even when it was grey and deary outside.

#1 Mt. Ellinor (5.9 mile roundtrip, 3400 ft elevation gain) — I signed up for a hike on a whim one day (which turned out to be a challenging one) and turned up to meet my hiking companions — all pro, experienced hikers & backpackers. I threw caution to the wind, and assertively started my hike only to realize I was ill-prepared and the weather conditions that day weren’t to my advantage. Albeit this snafu, I did reach 80% of the way up the mountain in those wet, slushy sub-par conditions.

Mt. Ellinor, a 6.2 mile roundtrip hike with 3344 ft of elevation gain
Mt. Ellinor, a 6.2 mile roundtrip hike with 3344 ft of elevation gain

With that first hike in, most of my weekends have been spent traversing various easy to moderate trails, along with the occasional challenging one in this vast state. I’ve just finished 10 roundtrip hikes this Jan 2023 —

#2 Snow Lake (6.7 miles roundtrip, 1700 ft elevation gain) was a hike full of fun, frolic and gaiety. A group of girls decided to create an adventure together, and it was good to see pulsating female energy conquering a mountain at the beginning of summer (June). The trail in itself was scenic, with the top reaches of the mountain drenched deep in snow. However the gods rewarded us with bright sultry sunshine that day, which made our journey pleasant at best, and amusing at worst.

Snowlake trail

#3 Mt. St. Helen’s, Harry’s Ridge trail (8.5 miles roundtrip, 1686 ft elevation gain) felt like a good rocky workout in a barren land overlooking the erstwhile Mt. St. Helen’s, which I hope to climb one day. The day was overcast, with sharp cold winds assaulting us at the rocky hilltop at the end of the trail, but I had a spring in my step almost all the way through.

Mt. St. Helen’s — Harry’s Ridge trail

#4 Rattlesnake Ledge (5.3 miles roundtrip, 1459 ft elevation gain) was more of an impromptu plan to meet and hang out with a few new friends in the city. We wanted an easily accessible hike, hence this was a perfect day trip that ended with us gorging on packed lunches and guzzling sugary drinks by the Rattlesnake lake, while the rest of the populace around us waddled and tubed lazily by on the shiny lake.

RattleSnake Ledge

#5 Tolmie peak (5.6 miles roundtrip, 1541 ft elevation gain) is by far one of the best hikes, only as far as the views are concerned. It’s another matter that my face and body were half demolished by the bugs, mosquitoes and bees that trounce the mountain face every summer. But with great pain comes greater rewards, as Mount Rainier revealed its truly majestic self at the upper reaches of the trail. Forever grateful for this day!

Tolmie peak trail (w/ Mt Rainier in the distance)
Mont Rainier in the distance, & Eunice lake below

#6 Fremont lookout (5.7 miles roundtrip, 1112 ft elevation gain) with a milky-way to boot. This was a sunset hike to the fire lookout with a nominal elevation gain, which made the hike extremely pleasant. If I was awestruck at Tolmie peak, I was blindsided with what awaited me at the end of this hike. After an absolute gorgeous sunset, the stars & galaxies created a spectacular display as we lay huddled in our jackets looking up at the milky way (& the starlink satellites).

Sunset at Fremont lookout
Dusk at Fremont lookout
under the starry skies, Fremont Fire lookout

#7 Lake Brohm, Vancouver, BC (4.6 miles roundtrip, 350 ft elevation gain) came about on a short trip to Canada just as the summer was waning and I was desperate to get the last few hikes under my belt for 2022. Not much of an elevation gain, and a quick hike overall, with some awesome company to boot.

Lake Brohm
Alpha peak

#8 Kendall Katwalk (15 miles roundtrip, 3205 ft elevation gain) was no cakewalk! This was one of my more challenging hikes, but proud to say I kept up and completed the hike across a rocky, never-ending, steep terrain.

starring at a glassy lake mid-journey

#9 Goose Rock, Cranberry lake and North Beach at Whidbey island (4.3 miles roundtrip, 600 ft elevation gain) was a long day trip with various jumping off points along the way — Cranberry lake, North Beach, a scenic bridge and then a small outcrop of a summit. A good day at the cold beach indeed.

On the way to Goose Rock, Whidbey island

#10 Middle Fork Snoqualmie river trail (13.6 miles roundtrip, 3375 ft elevation gain) took forest-bathing to a whole new level. The trail was breathtaking in the winter with trees shedding snow from the previous night and sunlight flickering in and out amongst the high oaks, firs and redwoods. It tested our grit and patience, and left us with some busted quads and glutes at the end; but nothing that a long soak in the bath couldn’t heal.

Middle Fork Snoqualmie river trail

My experiments with hiking continue as we speak, almost every weekend of each month. These excursions are where I learn things about myself that seem avant-garde, where insights materialize as I walk in a meditative state of mind, and where putting one foot after the other is the only thing that matters.