Sauk Mountain Magic

By Karen Molenaar Terrell

Sauk Mountain and I have a long history together. The first time I hiked up Sauk was in 1985. I would have been 28 or 29 then. My husband was working as a photographer for the Skagit Valley Herald and he took a photo of me on Sauk, with the caption, “Hiker Karen Terrell negotiates a switchback on Sauk Mountain.” A few years later I climbed to the top of Sauk with my dad, Dee Molenaar, who would have been in his seventies. I have a photo of me standing on Sauk with Dad, both of us smiling at the joy of being together in the mountains. When we became parents, Sauk Mountain was one of the first hikes Scott and I took our sons on. And our dog, Sam, went up as a puppy and, later, as a full-grown Labradane in her prime. Sauk holds a lot of sweet memories for me.

This has been a busy summer – our calendar looks like an obstacle course of comings and goings – appointments, lunches, events, zoom meetings, trips – good and important things – but, alas, other than a quick little hike at Artist Point, it’s been hard to find time to get back into the mountains, and I’ve missed them something terrible. Our busy schedule sometimes left me feeling frustrated this summer – feeling like my time was running out – and I reached out to God, Love, in my thoughts to find some comfort. The message that came to me was to be patient and wait. The time would come. Love isn’t limited and Life isn’t ever done giving gifts.

This weekend my brother, Dave, and my niece, Claire, visited us. On Saturday they ran in a 14-mile race near Issaquah and then spent Saturday and Sunday nights with us. On Sunday morning, as we were gathered around the table eating breakfast, I mentioned that I was missing the mountains and longing for a good hike. Scott wasn’t able to come with us, but he suggested that maybe the three of us should go up Sauk. Dave looked at me and asked, “You wanna go?” And boom – just like that – I had the opportunity to be back in the mountains on one of my favorite hikes, with my brother and niece – two of my favorite people!

It had been almost 40 years since I FIRST hiked up Sauk Mountain and two years since the LAST time I’d hiked it. A lot had happened in the last two years – and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure how my body was going to feel about me putting it back on the Sauk Mountain trail. I was a little nervous that it was going to rebel. In the past I’ve had some struggles when it gets too hot, and it was going to be a hot day and we were going to be hitting the trail near noon. And… people of my age are sometimes referred to as “elderly” – so the thought, “I’m old!” was poking around in my head. Also: “I’m heavy!” “I’m old and I’m heavy and I don’t do well in the heat.”

But…

God had just presented me with a gift – a gift I had been pining for and prayed for – and how could I not accept it? And if the gift came from Love – how could it bring conditions with it? All I needed to do was accept this gift and enjoy it. All those other things – age and size and heat – were just obstacles of my imagining and couldn’t stop Love’s unfolding of Good.

It didn’t take us long to fill our backpacks with the essentials and head out the door. We loaded ourselves into Dave’s truck, Dusty, and set out for the mountains.

When we got to the trailhead, Dave, an ultra runner, made sure Claire and I had everything we needed and then ran ahead. While he zipped up to the summit, and then ran back to check on us before he headed out again – this time for Sauk Lake – Claire and I made our way up the switchbacks of the southern face, stopping now and then to take photos or rest in the few shady patches under the trees to rehydrate. Claire and Dave had never been up Sauk before, and it brought me a lot of joy to be the one to introduce them to this hike. When we reached the top of the switchbacks and moved to the other side of the mountain – my favorite part of the hike – it brought a grin to my face when I heard Claire exclaim, “It just keeps getting better and better!”

The hills were full of magic, my friends! Insects flitted among the alpine wildflowers – Indian paintbrush, asters, and bluebells; there was the smell of mountain heather and ozone; there were friendly, happy people sharing the trail with us; patches of snow, and craggly boulder ridges, and green meadows, and butterflies that came together to party in the middle of the trail. It was everything and more than I’d hoped for. And all those worries that had tried to limit me – age, size, heat – had no power to stop me from enjoying the gift of this day in the mountains.

Here are some photos of “Sauks Past”: Dad and me; Scott and the sons and me, circa 1996; Scott and me on Sauk, several years ago; and Scott and Sam Dog. And there’s a picture of Dave and Claire and me on this week’s hike…


And here are some photos from our hike this week…

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