The Compass Blog

Return to the Mountain – September 10, 2017

Matt Moore

A few weeks ago during a visit to Wyoming, a group of friends and I hiked to an old fire lookout atop a small mountain near the southern boundary of Yellowstone National Park. It wasn’t the first time I’d been there – this same hike was the second backpacking trip I went on during my first seasonal job in the area nearly a decade earlier. However, the conditions were very different.

I still have strong memories of my first trip up there in June 2008, primarily because of the amount of snow that was still on the ground. Growing up in eastern North Carolina, I didn’t witness a lot of snowfall. After gaining about 1,000 of the 2,500 feet in elevation we would climb, the trail disappeared under lingering snowpack, and we would spend the rest of the trip walking on top of more snow than had fallen on my hometown in my lifetime, the clear skies eventually giving way to clouds which brought a cold night and more fresh snow the next morning on the trip back to the trailhead.

This year was different. The skies were blue and nearly cloudless. An abundance of wildflowers displayed themselves as we followed the trail from one expansive meadow to the next. Without sinking up to our thighs in snow with every step as we had in 2008, we covered the 5 or 6 six miles to the fire tower pretty quickly.

Aside from the starkly different conditions, I was struck by another realization during the hike: how unchanged everything was. We walked through the same patches of burnt up forest that still hang on as a silent reminder of the devastating 1988 wildfires (now nearly 30 years past). We drove through the same creek crossing and past the same outfitters’ hitching posts at the trailhead as we had nine years ago. The old fire tower was exactly as I remembered it. The old log books inside still await new visitors to document their experience on the mountain, and my terse but descriptive journal entry from June 3, 2008 (“Alas, it’s cold.”) still remains, a reminder from my old self to all future visitors that not every trip up the mountain is sunshine and wildflowers.

I’ve changed a lot in the time that’s past. I’ve added some pounds, shed some hair, and hopefully accumulated some of those morsels of wisdom that we’re all supposed to gain through time and experience. The world has changed a lot as well. Leaders have come and gone from power. Wars have started and ended and started again. Smartphones have gone from being a toy for tech hobbyists to being (for better or worse) a centerpiece of daily life. Almost daily, new threats and reasons for fear rise from oblivion alongside new beacons of hope, optimism, and light. But up there on the mountain, seasons have come and gone – but little has changed. In a few short lifetimes, even that fire tower will rust, rot, topple, and return to ash, but in the course of generations, likely little else will change up there.

As your summer winds down, the days shorten, the sunlight softens, and the leaves perform their brilliant and all-too-swift swan song, go enjoy those unchanging landscapes. Inhale the brisk autumn air. Listen to the sounds around you that everyday life drowns out. Take solace in the fact that in a decade, regardless of all the victories and defeats you’ll experience in life, and irrespective of all the wonderful and tragic events you’ll witness in this world, you’ll be able to return to this place and be welcomed. You will have changed. The world will have changed. But the mountain will be exactly as you remembered it. Just like home.

If your summer job is wrapping up, but you’re not quite ready to hang up your hat or settle into winter, check out our Fall Jobs page. The shoulder season offers some of the best opportunities to experience a new great place without all the summer crowds or lengthy commitments!