“Off belay!” the summit cry spreads across the landscape, its strength disintegrating over the wide expanse. Below, Sue clips the carabiner and belay device to her harness as the rope begins to travel up the granite ridge in quick, smooth pulls. Tightening her ponytail, her gaze flutters off of the jagged rock face before her to a sweeping view of Washington’s Central Cascades all around, the sun illuminating her face as she peeks around the corner of the west ridge. Small, rocky summits rise casually from the lake basin across the way, and the ridge of Dragontail Peak stands proud in a sea of snow.
The day previous, my parents, Marty and Sue, hiked from the small town of Leavenworth into the Enchantments, alongside their friends Don and Lannie. They enjoyed a relaxed evening stroll up Little Annapurna, glissading down the still plentiful mid-summer snow to the basin, some of the last gasps of sunshine spotlighting their sled tracks. Laughter echoed off the peaks around them as the four, suntanned and strong from a summer of backpacking and climbing, criss-crossed their mountain playground. Their packs, lighter than ever with the constant innovations in outdoor clothing and gear, bounced on their backs as they hiked through the evening light to set up camp at the base of Prusik Peak.
Decades later, my family would climb the West Ridge of Prusik Peak together, my sister and I leading the charge and climbing far ahead of our parents. My mom wore tennis shoes and my dad a new harness, helmet, and pair of climbing shoes, hoping to rekindle a hobby long forgotten. On a short finger crack, he fell on lead and his wedding ring flew from his finger, pinging down the blocky granite face into the talus below.
But that’s a story for another time, because now—now it is 1979, and my parents are in their prime.
From 1979 to 1982, my dad was a seminary student and my mom a middle school teacher; July and August stretched their lazy, tanned bodies across the calendar and promised weeks of fun and adventure. Their basecamp—a farmhouse on Vashon Island—allowed travel back and forth into the mountains for the entirety of each summer, returning home long enough to do laundry, pack food, and spend a few days tending to their small farm.
Lawn mowed, garden weeded, and all their ducks (and chickens and turkeys and cows) in a row, Marty and Sue would then take off for their next adventure into the North Cascades or the Olympic Mountains.
These were two young climbers on the edge of discovery, in a time when climbing itself was on the edge of discovery. In 1975, my dad stood atop Kimta peak on the Skyline Trail in the Olympics, gazing across the valley and spying the Valhalla Range, a horizon of almost untouched peaks. A few summers later, my parents pioneered their way into the Valhallas, bushwhacking through dense rainforest up the South Fork of the Hoh River.
Having honed their skills since they first started climbing in the early ’70s, the couple traveled into the new area with no beta or trip reports, yet with confidence in their skills. They weathered a storm on top of Queets Basin, their tent platform turning into a pond; the pair remarked that their gear, too had come a long way since the early ’70s, their GORE-TEX membrane fulfilling its GUARANTEED TO KEEP YOU DRY® promise. Mom and Dad scrambled summit after summit, discovering mountain-top registers with just a handful of signatures; my mom signed her name as the first recorded female atop many of the peaks.
On that hike into the Valhallas, my dad fell in love with a certain tree, known in family lore now as the tree. Little did my parents know, years later, they would become parents to two, and spend years teaching their daughters to plant roots in those very mountains and more. Little did they know, decades later, they would revisit the same tree as a family, and little did they know, their two daughters would become adventurers of their own. But again, that’s a story for another time, because now— now it is 1979, and my parents are in their prime.
After basking in the summit sun, Marty and Sue rappel the north face, using established rappel anchors: pitons and large boulders wrapped in webbing. They return to the base of the first pitch where their hiking boots await, neatly placed behind a large boulder. Her face glowing with life as they exchange high fives, my mom exclaims, “Marty! That was the best climb we’ve ever done!!”
He looks at his watch, and seeing that it is not yet noon, jokingly responds, “We should do another lap!” The year is 1979, my parents are in their prime...
…and so they did.