The door is always unlocked. You can just walk right in, set down your backpack, take off your boots, make yourself a cup of coffee. If there were somewhere like this in the city, it’d be full of piss and beer cans.
But not at Lookout Mountain. I guess if you have to work hard to get somewhere, you’re less likely to go out of your way to fuck it up.
The first time I came here, I was in this period of hiking by myself all the time, because there was a lot going on in my head, and getting out of the city and up a mountain was the only way I knew to empty it out. That’s actually still the case.
I hiked up at the end of summer, 2014. And when I say I was by myself, that’s not exactly true. My dog Lux was with me. I like having her with me when I backpack alone- all the time for that matter.
The trail is hard. It’s only about four and a half miles, but you gain more than 4,500 feet in elevation. The trail starts steep right away and stays like that all the way up. You don’t see much of anything except trees.
I started late, and didn’t get my first view of the Lookout until the end of that day’s light. It’s a bit of a trick with this trail – you see the end a long time before you reach the end. By the time I actually got up to the clearing on the top of the mountain where the Lookout itself sits, I had to crawl up the stairs into the tower. My legs were finished.
It would suit the romantic, stoic, solo-mountain-wanderer character my ego cherishes, to lie and say that one of the things I love most about being alone in the wilderness is not having to say anything to anyone. But the truth is, I speak aloud quite a bit in those settings, both to myself and to Lux. She gives me a way to talk to myself while feeling sort of like I’m talking to something outside of myself.
But looking out those tower windows, with the ragged peaks of the northern Cascades and the sky populating the entirety of your visual sphere, about the only things that make any sense to say are, “Jesus Christ”, “Holy shit”, and “Oh my god.”
Everything else shrinks away in a place like this; my mind, my anxieties about the bus, my job, my friends, my personality, and whatever else are diminished as the scale of my awareness broadens to include these mountains. My perception rockets out the top of my head, out of the tower and looks down on where I would be, unable to see my tiny dot in the holy mass of these mountains.
Now I’ve been twice. I went again in October this year. I’ll tell you something: Finding home is a blessing; going back home is something else.
That trip, that first visit to Lookout Mountain, was the first time in my life I ever felt dead sure that I was in precisely the right spot. And the really important thing about having that feeling is that then you know you can have it again. After that, you can practice it and hunt for it, and if you work hard, you can start to live in it.
Maybe this is a no-brainer for some people. A lot of people I meet do a hell of a lot less searching, and seem to find themselves at home in all sorts of settings. But for me, Lookout Mountain was the first place, and will always be the first and probably the most important place to me.