From Mountains to Anthills

July 4, 2018

The importance of water is a lesson the PCT teaches again and again. Though this area boasts of many ponds, lakes, streams, and springs, the actual trail tends to stick to the tops of ridges, making for a very dry walk with steep side trips to fetch life-giving liquid. Thus, you can imagine our delight and appreciation this morning when we came across a water cache left by a trail angel named Devilfish.

Once again mosquitoes reigned as we hiked through the forest. “Just keep walking,” became our mantra as we swatted whining insects and applied repellent.

Mid-afternoon came, with heat and sun. ‘You can do it,’ I encouraged myself. ‘It’s lovely out here. This is just a few miles of discomfort.’ I swatted two more mosquitoes. ‘Okay, maybe lots of miles of discomfort.’

Just then, the trees opened up as the trail contoured across a scree field. Above Jay’s head loomed a giant pointed mountain with towers and castles off each side! Where had that come from? “Jay!” I called out. “Oh my gosh! What is that?”

“Mt. Thielsen,” came the matter of fact reply. “It’s something, isn’t it?”


Our map informed us that Mt. Thielsen was an extinct shield volcano which stopped erupting about 250,000 years ago. Three different ice ages had eroded the mountain, leaving the center of the volcano as an eye-catching spire. The thin, tapering pinnacle acted as a natural lightning rod, forming a rare variant of fulgurite (substance formed when lightning melts rock). Lathrop Glacier, just below the summit, gave mute testimony of long ago mountain-shaving ice age forces.

A couple hours after my first sighting, the trail brought us to the shoulder of Mt. Thielsen, with a beguiling breeze which blew away all traces of mosquitoes. It was an easy decision to eat dinner there, watching light and shadow chase across the surface of the mountain as clouds scudded high above.

‘Here we are, on the birthday of our country,’ I thought. ‘We haven’t spoken to another person all day. One state away, my best friend is singing in a chorus, listening to cannons firing, and eating chocolate cake surrounded by hundreds of other celebrants. All over the nation, people will be watching fireworks tonight. The thing is, I’m totally content with our light and cloud show! This scenery is truly incredible.’

“What a way to appreciate our nation,” I sighed in happiness. Jay grinned at me, silently agreeing.


July 5, 2018

We camped last night above Thielsen Creek, with a view of the mountain top from our tent door. This morning Jay woke me just in time to see the whole mountain awash with the alpine glow of sunrise. Later, as I braved mosquitoes to fetch water, I couldn’t resist one more picture of this incredible mountain.


In the early afternoon, Jay and I noticed a log with a rather large symmetrical pile of sawdust beside it. Intrigued, we stopped to watch.


A tiny fleck of sawdust caught a miniscule speckle of sunlight as it drifted onto the top of the mound. Fascinated, we leaned in for a closer look.


Dark movement in the hole above the pyramid of wood shavings caught our attention.


As we watched, we suddenly saw … carpenter ants! They were busily hollowing out this log, turning it into a catacomb of intersecting tunnels and passageways, making a safe nest for their colony. That pile of chewed wood had been placed there one infinitesimal fragment at a time. No ant had said, “Oh, this is too big of a job.” They’d just got on with it, busily making a place for themselves.

Once again I found myself lost in wonder, this time inspired by a small pile of sawdust. Truly we live in an extraordinary world, from awe-inspiring mountains to staggering examples of the minute. It is a privilege to witness this earth!

(Below is a 15 second video of the ants in action, from Jay’s phone camera.)