"There is a deeper form of play, akin to rapture and ecstasy, that humans relish, even require to feel whole… In its thrall, all the play elements are visible, but they're taken to intense and transcendent heights…
Deep play always involves the sacred and holy, sometimes hidden in the most unlikely or humble places… the physiological goal is to impel the initiate into a higher state of consciousness that kindles visions and insights, in a locale where survival may depend on a combination of ingenuity and nerve." *
Finding a suitable spot to pitch a tent isn’t always as easy as it might seem, and I’d slept poorly for the third night in a row. Morning came early, with a bright sun shining above
The hike to Viviane felt easier than the day before, despite the lack of sleep and other ailments, and we ate lunch before crossing the log bridge and hiking up above the lake. The trail climbed a steeply sloping granite slab, dangerous because the snow hadn’t fully melted out and covered the rebar supports embedded in the face, and the rock was wet from snowmelt.
From Viviane, we followed tracks in the snow to
The outside world fell away. Suddenly there was nothing but raw experience and immediacy, nothing but sensory input, a perfect conjunction of thought and action and feeling, a complete immersion into the real and a disappearance of anything superfluous or unrelated to the experience. When I’m outdoors, hiking or backpacking, I often think about work, about the bills I have to pay, about my family and friends, about weighty relationship issues. Occasionally these thoughts fade into the background. Sometimes they disappear completely, only to resurface when it’s time to head back, or when I see or do something I’ll want to tell someone about. I’m rarely entirely focused on my activity. There’s almost always something in the way.
Not this time, not now. This time there was no outside world, nothing but what was in front of me – McClellan’s serrated ridge,
Buddhists talk about “Being-Awareness-Bliss,” and almost all the way to
I felt right – acting naturally without thought, sensing without the need to reflect, knowing without doubting. Everything was more real, more vibrant, more genuine - not just what I saw, but also the wind on my face, the snow and earth under my boots, the weight of my pack and the movement of my limbs, the warm blood in my muscles. Later this sense of completeness would fade as the weather changed and I grew accustomed to my surroundings, but for long stretches of trail I moved in a state of peace.
We continued from Leprechaun through snow and meadow to
In the Enchantments, every lake seems more incredible than the next. Photos and words can’t do justice to the color of the ice and water, or the contrast between snow and stone, sky and meadow. Rounding
There is something inherently likeable about mountain goats - their dark eyes and beards give them a sage-like appearance, and their sureity on rock and slope is reassuring. They're in control, comfortable in their environment, and steadfast and solid as the mountains. As this first goat passed me, though, I was immediately nervous and didn't think any of this. You just don't usually get this close to wild animals, and goats are tough, compact creatures. The goat's winter wool was peeling, and two short, black horns jutted from his head. Black eyes watched me carefully as he passed, climbing up the rock in a clatter of sharp hooves. The goat looked back one more time, then disappeared into the trees.
I was shocked – I think I said, “Oh my God” and as I turned to watch the goat, I pulled out my camera. Mike and Derek did likewise. We expected to see mountain goats in the Enchantments, and we’d already seen one at a distance, but I didn’t expect to see one so close, behaving so casually around people. I thought this might be the only one we’d see so close. I was wrong.
The human family was the same we’d met at Viviane the day before, and they were taking a break at the edge of a rocky open area with expansive views of
Mike climbed atop a low ridge of stone and the mother and kid climbed up to meet him. Standing a few feet away, Mike and the goats posed for the camera before all three animals ambled over to join Derek and I at the snow-free rocks at the edge of the cliff. The family of hikers left us to climb up the notch, and we relaxed with the goats, watching and taking pictures as they ate the flowers off penstemons. It felt unreal to be so close to wild animals, especially a mother with a baby. They were wary – they kept us in sight with their big black eyes – but neither goat showed fear and both came within just a few feet of us. Goats in the Enchantments are obviously used to people, and in an environment with little salt, the goats have learned that backpackers are an excellent source of nutrients. Campers are advised to keep boots and packs in tents to prevent goats from chewing up gear in search of salt, and the wilderness permit instructs bearers to urinate on “huge” flat rocks so that goats won’t dig up the fragile meadows.
As falls go, it wasn’t bad. We all made it off the snow without further incident and broke for a snack, and we were soon joined by another inquisitive mountain goat that circled the boulder we used as a table. After eating, Mike felt the call of nature and stood up on a large nearby rock. As soon as the goat heard the sound of liquid, it ran over, hooves clattering. Derek and I shouted and Mike barely had time to zip up before the goat was up on the rock, licking at the fresh urine.
Mountain goats are cool but this was a little gross, and we decided to keep moving. Packs cinched up, we ascended the pass at a more moderate slope, and very soon we stood at the edge of the upper Enchantment basin, staring at a landscape forged in ice and shaped by wind and snow.
Introductory quote from "Deep Play," by Diane Ackerman