Author of Madam, Have You Ever Really Been Happy? An Intimate Journey through Africa and Asia

Category: Northwest trekking


Jon Pollack, my dearest friend and hiking partner, died on January 13, 2018, leaving a huge void in my life that can never be filled. You may remember that I’ve written extensively in this blog of our adventures over the past nineteen years, and know that he was instrumental in introducing me to the beauty of both the Olympic and the Cascade mountains.

Jon at Cedar Creek, Olympic National Park, 1992

2011 Together at the Lewis River

Jon was a truly versatile human being. His musical talent ranged from early dancing and singing in musical comedy to longtime participation in the Seattle Men’s Chorus. After graduating from Columbia College in NYC, while at the same time devouring every play, opera, or art show that graced the city, he returned to the Northwest and spent every fall and summer backpacking. How he loved the forests of the great Northwest!

Jon at Shi-Shi with the Yellow Line Club 1995

Over the years he hiked every trail in the Olympics and tackled the Cascades, summiting some of the highest peaks in both ranges. In the nineties he and his friends, Dennis Larsen and Pat Ziobron, teamed up to form the yellow line club, adding another friend, Kathy Kelleher, halfway into the game. They used the map handed out to tourists, and every time they finished a trail segment it was marked by a yellow highlighter, thus the name. Yes, they did all 628 plus miles over five years of weekends and vacations, rain or shine.

Summitting Mt. St. Helens 1991

1991 Jon on summit of Glacier Peak, 10,500 ft

In the late ‘90’s Jon started leading difficult backpacking trips in the Cascades and Canada with a close group of friends. He was a strong leader and, especially in my case, an accepting friend. There were several times when he dealt patiently with my fear of exposure on some of the cliff-side trails, especially when we would get lost and have to scramble up a scree-laden incline. I remember his shouting, “Stand up, Meg, for God’s sake stand up!” as he reached for my hand, finally accepting the fact that I was going to crawl up the side of a steep incline because I was too afraid to stand and risk falling backwards.


Jon and I met in 1999 while trekking on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. From the time he helped me remember the final lyrics to De Lovely, I knew we were kindred spirits. We spent the rest of the trail annoying our fellow climbers with show tunes!

Like me, Jon was a theater, opera, and New Yorker addict. We went to the Seattle opera, together, often with two close friends, Christy Korrow and Barry North.  We discussed theater for hours and Jon’s knowledge was encyclopedic. Yes, our interests dovetailed. We were in synch.

At the Seattle Opera 2016

In the summer we hiked from the Olympics to Vancouver Island, and from Assiniboine to Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies. I’ve written many blog posts of our glorious sojourns into the wilderness, whether backpacking or just hiking from our campsite. You can read about some of them HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.  Jon is mentioned in so many places on my blog: you can find them HERE.

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Jon was a rare man. He faced his imminent death like my son, Christopher. He saw what was coming, he fought it, but in the end he accepted it with grace and gratitude for the varied and rich life he had experienced. At 61 he still had a lot of exploring and living to do. But a virulent cancer consumed him and within eight months he was gone.

It was Jon’s inclusive spirit, his joie de vivre, his hilarious sense of humor, his optimism, and his ability to help all those who were fortunate enough to cross his path that drew us to him and will live on within us.

Some years ago I introduced Jon to the beauty of New England—Maine, Vermont, and the vagaries of hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. On our first  climb up the Randolph side of Mt. Washington to Crag Camp, he got his first taste of the rough and boulder-strewn trails in the Whites. They weren’t the predictable switchbacks of the Olympics. In frustration he turned back to me and yelled, “Meg, where the hell is the bloody trail?”

“You’re on the trail, Jon. You’re on the bloody trail….”

And from now on you will be with me on every step of any future trail I tackle in your beloved Northwest. I could never find my way without you.



P1100548No matter how many times I return to this majestic peak, I find subtle nuances I had overlooked before. Walking around our campsites, deep in the woods, I found hidden trails, shady alcoves blanketed in pine needles, varied ground cover, and ferns—some delicate, some enormous, each with its individual, intricate pattern. At night I would sit on the outskirts and watch the waning sun cast its brilliance through the branches, covering everything in a mystical glow. No photo can possibly substitute for nature’s real colors, but I tried.

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The North Cascades are a wilderness defined by giant fir trees and native woody cousins whose lateral branches slope downwards, pulled by masses of bright green moss. Sometimes the burden is round, sometimes tubular, but always magical to me as I wander through the untouched forest. To be sure, some of the larger blow-downs are sliced in half by volunteer repair groups to let the hikers by, but most of the woods are left in a natural state.

My camp partner as usual was Jon Pollack, whom I met trekking on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal in 1999. Our usual campsite in the Cascades over the years has been Silver Fir, which we visited in 2015 and 2013, but this year we chose one about 30 minutes off the beaten track deep in the wilderness, not far from Cascade Pass—Mineral Creek Campground—recommended by Steve Austin, the most charming, helpful camp host we’ve encountered. The fact that I offered my kingdom for a campsite might have helped. He was curious as to what my kingdom might comprise!

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Near the campsite was a roaring river, one of several we would encounter over the next ten days.

P1100377And hovering above us was the ever-present Mt. Shuksun.  Here it is as seen from the south side.

Bears are a big topic in the Cascades. Here I am conversing with one at the North Cascades Visitors Center on our way to Washington Pass.

And, of course, we were surrounded by views on every side. Too bad I don’t know how to upload the video I took of the entire panorama. Still cameras just can’t do the job, although I tried!

The next ten days were filled with hikes, swimming in Baker Lake, and relaxing at our new campsite, Panorama Point. We were incredibly lucky to find the last unreserved site and, we think, the largest and the most beautiful. From now on we’re going to reserve a long way ahead of time! Fishing was a big sport at the lake, but it did nothing to disturb the peaceful area surrounding our favorite swimming hole.

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Here are a few slide shows of our hikes. Pictures tell the story far better than my attempts to describe the Northwest wilderness—from old growth to temperate rain forest—mountain ridges too numerous to name, and the ever-present mountain streams and waterfalls, forded by bridges of varying quality.

Through Washington Pass to Diablo Lake trailhead, down to Ross Dam and Ross Lake.

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Our campsite was on the unpaved road not far from Cascade Pass, which we had climbed a few years ago. This time we only went to the pass after getting a late start. It wasn’t difficult for me to forego going up and over Sahale Arm.

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Our most strenuous hike was to Park Butte, reached by driving nine miles over an unpaved road. The trail was varied—winding switchbacks with lumber-reinforced banks (a bit too much exposure for me), trenches of white rocks that looked like abandoned river beds, steep rocky sections reminiscent of the White Mountains, and stretches of scree, making downhills slippery and challenging. And who could forget the variety of rustic bridges along the way? We reached a fire tower with panoramic views, but getting there really freaked me out, since we had to scale sheer rock to reach the steps. I think I’ve had it with fire towers!

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One final hurrah was the Anderson Butte trail.

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A farewell gift from the master fire builder….P1100695



Where did all that glorious sunshine go? One day I’m photographing the bright yellows and reds of Autumn from my front deck, and an hour later the rains come with hurricane force to strip the trees of color. Ah, but they can’t hurt the firs in their variegated green coats. They will not leave me!

I rushed out front to get that last gasp of sun, just in time….

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P1080233Music has charms to soothe the savage breast, but so does nature and, especially, mountains. I treasure the memory of my days in late August with Jon Pollack and a mutual friend, Carol Johnson, on Mt. Rainier. I’ve written about my hikes in this region before, but each time we explore a different area, so there’s always something new. This year we stayed at White River campground. It’s rich in woodland trails and scenic views, but because of the lack of rainfall, the normally rushing river was down to a trickle and many lakes were reduced to struggling puddles. Frozen Lake on Rainier was anything but frozen for the first time in recent memory. Add to this the smoke-laden, heavy haze that engulfed the peaks, and you become aware of the tenuousness of nature’s balance and how dependant the health of any habitat is on the global community. Nowhere can you see this more than when you get down into the heart of the natural world.

This year we did the three peaks of Burroughs mountain and a day at Owyhigh Lakes. The lakes were really low and very hot, but the entire trip, even on the ridges, called for plenty of sunscreen!

For more Mt. Rainier photos, click Here, Here and Here.

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…so said Percy Bysshe Shelley. And I add to that the ghosts of summer past…one full of beauty, drama, sunshine, and tumultuous events that we, in the computer age, cannot escape. It’s almost too much for one human. So, into this crazy-quilt world I shall weave the threads of my life and tick off the weeks since June with short tales of my summer explorations.

July was a whirlwind trip to my old stomping ground on the East Coast, starting with three weeks at the family cottage on Lake Winnipesaukee…swimming in the world’s most beautiful lake and enjoying the White Mountains, of New Hampshire…and ending up with daughter, Martha, in Summit, New Jersey, where I enjoyed old friends and my fill of theater. For you aficionados I left very few stones unturned. Here’s a partial list: An American in Paris; Wonderful Town; The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night (amazing!); Wicked; and Hand to God. Except for the 98 degree heat, reminiscent of south India, it was marvelous.

Immediately, upon my return to the Northwest in August, Jon Pollack and I headed for a husky hike around Mt. Baker followed by a ridge run around Damfino Lake. During this time we stayed at our favorite campground, Silver Fir.

We had taken a big chance on this weekend, for heavy rain was predicted. Guess what? It couldn’t have been more glorious. Sunshine in the morning over the Nooksack River next to our campsite and clear skies for three days. Hallelujah! We were so sure of possible rain that we even visited Artist Point the night before the hike, just so we could see it in good weather. And we took photos where I had stood next to the snowbank on two previous years. This was the first time in three years that Ptarmigan Ridge wasn’t covered with ice and snow! It was also very interesting that on our way to the climb we encountered more than 65 cyclists heading up the mountain road…laboriously! They, too, were enjoying the balmy weather.

Follow us on the slide show below, from the Austin Pass Visitor Center over the Chain Lakes Loop Trail, which includes Bagley Lake, Herman saddle, Hayes Lake, Mazama Lake, and Iceberg Lake. This is the first year Iceberg hasn’t been frozen during the summer months…rather worrisome to those who depend on snow melt for water. In fact, we were appalled at the way the lakes had receded this past year.

We continued on around Ptarmigan Ridge, encircling Table Mountain and making our way over the Wild Goose Trail. Once at the visitor’s area we walked the two miles downhill to our car through the woods by way of a steep trail of wooden logs. That was the scariest part of the trip for me!

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How cool is that coming from the world’s best hip surgeon, Dr. James Pritchett of the Swedish Orthopedic Institute in Seattle?

I knew he was the doctor for me way back in June, shortly before my operation, when I asked him if he thought I could climb in the Himalayas by November.

“Why not?” he answered. And guess what, that’s exactly what I intend to do! (Stay tuned)

He did such a perfect job installing a ceramic ball and hammering some fearsome, fancy metal device into my femur, that I walked right through security three weeks ago on my visit to the East Coast and didn’t even set off the alarm. I fairly danced my way through two airports and arrived in Newark, bionic and elated, and ready to take on the Big Apple with a vengeance.

What you discover, as you tell every stranger in sight that you can squat like never before and run up flights of stairs like a gazelle, is that, if they don’t yawn and roll their eyes, 50% have had a similar operation and are eager to share their own success with you. Even the man operating the Xray machine in the Denver airport told of his numerous replaced joints. He did everything but show me his scars. It’s like a brand new fraternity/sorority that I’ve never experienced. Get a replacement—pick any limb—and you’ll find yourself in good company! Bravo for modern orthopedic medicine…and Dr. Pritchett.

My visit started with a whirlwind trip to Rhinecliff, NY, where two close friends, Louise Vitello and Richard Adams were married. What a gala celebration it was with three close families and their respective children enjoying the happiness of a very special couple. I danced for three hours to music that allowed me to show off my expertise in the Lindy, known in the “olden days” as jitterbugging. I think the grandchildren were impressed, which is always gratifying.

My daughter, Martha, whose house in Maplewood, NJ, had just been put on the market, left the next day for a month of teaching Hannah Somatics in England, whereupon I headed for NYCity.

Knowing my penchant for the theater, it won’t come as a surprise that I took in four shows, three while camping out at my buddy James Wilson’s pad in the West Village, and one with my old friend, Paul Sharar, from New Jersey. In all that time I made my way by subway and on foot. Not once did I use a taxi. A quick rundown includes the amazing Jefferson Mays in The Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, where Mays plays seven parts. Totally fabulous! The inimitable Matilda, Roald Dahl’s story of every child’s nightmare. Fabulous as well. If/Then, a new musical that was a bit too predictable, but had good singing and dancing, and the long-awaited Indian Ink by one of my favorite playwrights, Tom Stoppard, starring Rosemary Harris and a marvelous young English actress, Romola Garai.

New York was lovely as it always is in autumn, and I was able to catch up with friends Jackie Herships, Grace Polk, and Barry Hamilton and enjoy strolling around what to me are still magical sections of the Village. I also spent a somber, thoughtful hour at the World Trade Center Memorial, now open so the public can enjoy the beautiful fountains and the new tower. The photos show some of the construction for the new subway station being built.

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I cut my stay in the City short to head for Northfield, MA, with my sister, Cary Santoro, to visit my other sister, Anne Magill, before attending a memorial for a dear friend, Lynne Warrin. She and I had been friends for forty-five years and co-authored the play, Thank You, Dear, which was performed in Deerfield, MA. The loss of such a close friend is devastating, especially one who has been so instrumental in my work and has shared so many common interests in the field of summer camping, writing, education, and music. Lynne had been a longtime teacher at Eaglebrook School. Among her many students over the years was King Abdullah II of Jordan, whose country she had visited recently, as his guest.

Lynne Warrin, 1932-2014

Lynne Warrin, 1932-2014

After the memorial, Cary and I drove to our family cottage on Lake Winnipesaukee near Alton, NH. We spent the evening around a blazing fire and left early the next morning just as the mist was rising from the dock and outlining the shoreline and distant islands. As we wended our way back home we experienced the turning of the leaves, that banquet of color that defines New England as it hunkers down for winter.

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What better way to know that you’re back in the Northwest than to see Mt. Rainier looming on the horizon from the plane?


Footnote: Lest I sell my home town short, let me say that there have been two superb productions in Langley over the past two months; one at the Outcast Theater which mounted the moving drama, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me by Frank McGuinness, and the WICA (Whidbey Island Center for the Arts) production of the challenging Sondheim musical, Into The Woods. You couldn’t ask for better performances.

Jon Pollack, Christy Korrow (who, you may remember, went to Nepal with Cary and me two years ago and whose husband, Chris Korrow, has just completed a splendid documentary entitled, Dancing With Thoreau), and I are also availing ourselves of the several performances of operas streamed from the Metropolitan Opera in NYCity to Seattle theaters. It’s challenging, for it means an early ferry ride for us on Saturday morning, to catch a 1 PM matinee from New York. Jon, too, has a bit of a commute from Tacoma. But it’s worth it!

I’ve also become acquainted with gypsy jazz as I marveled at the DJANGO FEST NORTHWEST, which is held every year for a week in September. This is a style of music that was introduced by Django Reinhardt in the late 20’s and 30’s. Langley is besieged at this time by players from around the world. All day long you can hear musicians playing guitars, bass, fiddle, percussion, and wind instruments, as they serenade the public in every possible venue. And in the evening are the concerts at WICA. It opened a whole new world of music for me! 

Next up: Plans for a return to India, Nepal, and possibly Sikkim this November. And I haven’t forgotten about those photos of my Bhutan trip a year ago.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN, or, if you’re a purist, HAPPY ALL HALLOWS’ EVE!


On August 22nd we took a day hike up the East Side Trail, starting from the Ohanapecosh campsite in Mt. Rainier National Park, and climbing past the Ohanapecosh hot springs and Silver Falls on the way to the Grove of the Patriarchs.

Here are some scenes along the trail:

Silver Falls

A bridge above the falls. Hang on and look below!

Hang on and look below!

View from the side

View from the top

The trail followed the river all the way….

We crossed over a suspension bridge and into the Grove, which is located ¼ mile past the Stevens Canyon entrance, and is an old growth forest of gigantic Douglas firs (some of which are over 1000 years old), Western hemlock, and Western red cedar, all at least 25 ft. in circumference.  You can walk through this beautiful park on a wooden boardwalk. To me it was like the mythical forest primeval. Take a look.

Not one of Jon’s favorite pastimes

On the other hand, I love to swing on bridges!

Approaching the grove

That’s one big stump!

Twin firs

I was unable to put a caption under the third picture above, but it’s a twin Douglas fir reaching up to the sky.

I’ve finally cleaned up the basement from Hurricane Irene and prepared the house for winter (all those fun things like putting on storm windows, weather stripping old windows, and stowing the lawn furniture), just in time to welcome a glorious Indian Summer. I’m also peeking at Broadway, again, with the first play of the season for me, the comedy Chinglish, about an American businessman who tries to sell his product in China. The language mix-up is a scream, but I found it exhausting to read all the subtitles.

There’s one more bit of the Northwest I want to share with you next time–the Columbia Gorge and the Lewis River…then it’s back to New Jersey and approaching Fall and winter. I’m afraid I neglected certain late spring and early summer activities, like the Mt. Laurel Autoharp Gathering (a huge success, as always), and my family time at the family cottage on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire (a slice of heaven). But there will be other years. Stay tuned….


One of the things I love about Mt. Rainier National Park is the pristine, carefully- designed campsites. I also love the Indian names that greet me at every turn. Three hours from Seattle we drove through such towns as Enumclaw and Nachez to the Ohanapecosh campsite (that takes a little doing). It was totally full, but four miles south was La Wis Wis, where we found a spacious, quiet spot with water close by and lots of tall pines, cypress, and privacy. The sky was very blue and the clouds puffy and white. A raging river tumbled over rocks not far from our site, and all around were mountains, with an eastern view of Rainier quite different from my previous visits, when I camped on its western flank

On this second morning we headed for Sunrise, another beautiful visitor’s center from which we started climbing to Mt. Fremont lookout (7200 ft.).

en route Sunrise

Sunrise Lodge

Frozen Lake, the water supply for Sunrise

Rainier in the clouds as we began our hike to the lookout….

Campsites at lakes along the way

On the top of this peak, steamboat prow, is Camp Sherman, from which you start up the summit of Rainier

Not my favorite stretch of trail!


This is where you’d go if you tripped….straight down. It’s much steeper than it looks

Berkeley Park, a camping spot down below

Small ponds abound, but they're pretty cold!

Views galore along the way

On top of Mt. Fremont…at last

Can you imagine surviving a winter up here?

I made it and even climbed the tower. It gives me the creeps, but the view was wonderful. I held tight with my sweaty hands!

360 degrees of incredible views

We heard a crash when passing Frozen Lake on our return. It was a mini-avalanche. Notice the waves on the lake.

Compare with first pictres and you can see he damage

On the way home we drove on the Stevens Canyon road past Reflection Lake

Home at last! Our campsite, which could surely use a housekeeper….

Jon did all the chopping

Not bad for a woodland stir fry, eh?

What a way to end a perfect day!

I’m headed for El Paso, Texas, on Sunday for dental work in Juarez, Mexico, but when I get back I’ll finish part 3 and 4.


…where the sky is clear, the mountains surround and protect me, and the only sound is the wind, the birds, and the rumble of an occasional distant avalanche left over from a record winter snowfall.

Yes, I want to leave my soaking, moldy, hurricane–battered basement and settle into a yurt in Mongolia or the plains of Tibet, trading my car for an amenable camel (I don’t think they make one). And I never, again, want a basement! Desperate, you say. Kind of. But, honestly, I have very few complaints compared to friends in next-door Millburn, or in Vermont and Pennsylvania.

I was lucky to return from the Northwest the day before the hurricane struck, so that, at least, I took up the rugs. It was bad enough to paddle in water up to my shins at 6 AM, without being faced with floating carpets. Lessons learned: 1) Sump pumps and French drains, no matter how expensive, don’t work when the power is out, and 2) Never store precious files and photos and memorabilia in the basement in cardboard boxes or even metal files.

As for insurance, which I have in spades (and have never made a claim), don’t get me started! Evidently a power outage is not covered. This was considered a flood, not a heavy rain. Funny, I didn’t see any rivers rising to my door, but I did see an absence of electricity for 20 hours, during which rainwater kept rising in my basement.   I do not consider this a flood, but a failure of a vital service normally provided by our local power company. The insurance companies, however, do, so I was denied coverage. At this point my only friend is a can of Lysol and a dehumidifier. Oh, yes, and I shall spend many hours wielding a paintbrush…as soon as the walls dry out.

I’m way behind on summer news, so will start at the end and work back. I will tell my story in pictures. They are far better purveyors of the glory of summer than a string of fancy adjectives.

For five days Jon Pollack, yes, the same Jon I met trekking the Annapurna circuit in 1999, camped in Mt. Rainier National Park. I found it exciting to hike over snow at this time of year just so long as we stayed away from cliffs. As you know, I don’t like “exposure,” but I’m getting better, especially on the ascent. It’s coming down, when I can see how easily I could be hurtled into space should I trip, that gives me the Willies.

View of Rainier from trailhead with Little Tahoma peak on the left

That’s mighty deep snow for August!

Glacial lakes along the way

And lots of avalanche lilies

…and bear grass

Brilliant colors....

Blossoms like tiny bells

pristine lake and camping area off the trail

A perfect spot for lunch on the way down

A looming presence as we headed back to camp after our first day on the mountain

We spent one day doing the Snow Lake hike in the shadow of majestic Unicorn Peak near Paradise on Rainier. This was the first time I’d seen the magnificent new Henry Jackson Visitor’s Center, named after one of my favorite Washington senators, “Scoop” Jackson, who did so much to help protect the wilderness and, like John Muir before him, make sure that it would be protected for generations to come.

It was, indeed, a continuing “Paradise” of wild flowers

Indian paint brush

And, now, put them all together....

And now, put them all together…it’s not easy for such fragile flowers to live in this rugged environment

Goodbye, Paradise

This is just the beginning of the saga of the summer. Stay with me, folks, and I’ll tell you about more cool trails in Rainier and the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest and nine days starting in Walla Walla and exploring the Columbia River Gorge and the Lewis River with its numerous waterfalls….

© 2024 Meg Noble Peterson