Updated: May 19
This document is the official transcript of the Cold Gate hike. This was a very scary adventure. Not so much during the hike itself, but for the days and weeks after. And this fear increases with each passing day. I wrote about this very real danger in my book Going Alone. It's the consequence of going so far alone into wildness that we might not find our way back...even if we make it back. #GoingAlone
November 14th, 2018
Here’s tomorrow’s plan:
8:00 PM arrival at Siberia, dinner & sleep
5:00 AM enter Deep Water Wilderness
6:00 AM breakfast at the Cold Gate
8:00 AM Arrival at Mt. Wildness (rest)
2:00 PM return arrival at Siberia
9:00 PM dinner with my family
Whatever happens I’ll turn back in time to reach the bike by 2:00 PM. And if there’s any sign at all that the Desert Killer is about, then I’ll get out of there ASAP.
8:22 PM My SPOT rescue beacon is working again. Actually, it wasn’t broken. I simply didn’t know how to use it correctly. Now, as long as I don’t fall into an old mine shaft tomorrow I should be good to go anywhere.
November 15th, 2018
5:44 AM Said bye to my family. The next time I see them I’ll be on the other side of Mt. Wildness - a strange and elusive fiction I’ve pursued for over a decade. #GoingAlone
5:56 AM Off to Mt. Wildness. A place that does not exist. #GoingAlone
12:29 PM Here's a satellite photo of Mt. Wildness showing both potential hiking approaches from Siberia. The flash flood wash at the left side of the image would be the easiest way to get there, as the river of dry sand has a very flat and gentle grade. However, this flash flood route will add about four miles to the round-trip, which would require an overnight stay (which I can't afford due to work on Saturday). The alternate route (and the one I plan to try) is to plunge directly into the badlands I call The Sandman's Bed in order to then reach and cross a small and nameless set of hills (the edge of which are pictured at upper-right. Note to self: name the hills while you're there). The odds are pretty slim that I'll actually find my way through those hills to then emerge exactly in front of Mt. Wildness, though if I'm successful I should come out at about the spot where the red arrow is shown. Getting back to Siberia then will be pretty easy as long as the heat and wind don't get too bad. I'm going to drop several liters of water along the way in order to lighten the load and use on the return trip.
A caring friend just stopped by my cube to wish me well on the journey and I promised her that I'll turn back if the wind, heat or time get out-of-control.
Now, it's time to finish lunch, quit dreaming, and get in a few more hours of productive work before it's time to go.
4:36 PM Work is done. Let’s go.
6:22 PM Crap. That was a cold ride over the mountains. Time for a last supper with some hot coffee.
7:00 PM Last supper before Siberia.
8:20 PM This is the first nighttime arrival at Siberia for the Winter season, 2018. There was a real cold bite in the air and my body was engaged in full body shivers when I stepped off the motorcycle into the dark. But at least there wasn't any wind. That wind. That scary, scary wind. #GoingAlone
8:33 PM and I’ve arrived in Siberia ghost town. So cold. I can’t use my hands very well.
9:20 PM My usual campsite is waiting for me. These carefully arranged stones are my contribution to the ghost town which will long outlast me. I wonder if future generations might come here and wonder about the person who so carefully placed these - and why.
9:25 PM While hiking over to the writing bridge I’ve found the remains of a small woman’s shoe out in the desert. A reminder that ghost towns can only forget.
9:30 PM I made two videos from under the writing bridge at Siberia this past Thursday night. The first was this one, using my better quality camera. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my mind was playing tricks on me as I crossed through the dark and deserted ghost town during my short, quarter-mile hike to the bridge. After I left the crumbled town ruins I kept thinking I was hearing something following behind me in the dark. Of course I ignored my mind's warnings--after all, we're wired by nature to ascribe agency into every suspect sound we hear in the night. Nothing happened when I shut off the light for this video--and it wasn't until the second video (which I'll upload tomorrow after work) that I had my mishap with the sand and wound up losing my flashlight under the bridge while the strange sound from the night came down there to join me. #GoingAlone
9:35 PM Here's the video where an imagined something following me to the writing bridge under Route 66, and where this same fictitious something made its presence known in my mind after I fell and lost my flashlight. It's amazing how dark it can get at night under that old bridge when you lose your flashlight... And how vivid and active the imagination can make something in a place where nothing rightfully reigns. #GoingAlone
9:38 PM No ghosts under the bridge. Though when I turn the light off my mind tells me it hears something... Goodnight everyone. See you at 3:00 AM - that is, unless there really is something under this bridge with me now in the dark. #GoingAlone
9:45 PM Had a bit of an accident and then a real Steven King moment there under the bridge after I stopped the camera. That’s gonna be a fun story to tell the grandkids someday. I’ll fill you guys in after I get back.
November 16th, 2018
3:05 AM I turned on the camera here about 3:10 AM and just before I set out from Siberia ghost town on a long night hike into the Deep Water Wilderness. I was a little anxious as I made my coffee; and I know I was stalling a little for time; not wanting to leave the familiar security of the abandoned ghost town. I guess that's pretty telling about how I was really feeling at that moment, when a deserted ghost town at night in the middle of nowhere, after midnight, felt like a relatively comfortable place to be compared to the deeper empty and nowhere I was headed next. #GoingAlone
3:20 AM time to start walking. There’s no moon now. Just a very cold, soft wind. My destination is those black mountains interrupting starlight.
4:04 AM I need to dispel from my mind the ambition of Mt. Wildness - a place that isn't real. How much better to pursue it while remembering I'll never get there. #TrueLimitsAndOpportunity
4:49 AM Whoops. I’ve spent the last hour walking in the wrong direction.
4:55 AM I just met two soulless beasts now in the dark. I must be nearing the Edge of Deep Water. What’s a soulless beast? Please consult the glossary of my book.
4:59 AM I’ll know when I’ve reached the Edge of Deep Water when I lose internet connectivity. I’m already down to just one bar. If there’s no more posts after this then that means I’ve crossed into the Deep Water Wilderness. Next stop - the Cold Gate.
5:29 AM Last post before I lose connectivity. Dawn plus the morning star (Venus) over the Deep Water Wilds. Bye everyone. I’ll post again from the other side.
6:00 AM I didn't know if I should brand this video as a Good Life or Going Alone adventure as it seems to fit square into both categories. Beginning at The Edge of Deep Water--after a long pre-dawn hike alone to the wrong place--we'll then descend carefully into the actual Deep Water Wilderness, to cross through this wild place enroute to the enormous Siberia Wash. Along the way, we'll discover some long forgotten mining claims from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, while establishing a few new landmarks, such as two caves I'm now calling the "home of my little god" and the "Home of Faith." There'll be some impromptu singing as we go, before serendipity happily deposits us squarely at the site of "Campo #1" (aka "The Woodsman's Cabin" from the book), where we'll then unburden ourselves of some excess weight by depositing gear and water which we won't need for the final press of the journey. Then--while all the while continuing our Good Life Meditation--we'll next visit an ancient outcropping of volcanic rock in order to relieve it of a very special treasure it's held within its stony grasp since 1936. Shortly after this point, we'll arrive alone at the furthest reach of our video journey together, as I complete the Good Life commentary, shut off the camera, and begin walking without you towards the Cold Gate, and then the Valley of the Soulless Beasts. Altogether, this may be one of the most action-packed adventure videos I've ever made; with movement, reflection and new discovery around nearly every wilderness turn. And at over two hours in length I recommend bringing a snack and an extra ration of water. #TheGoodLife #GoingAlone
Noonish At the furthest point of last week's wilderness hike I arrived at a place I'd identified via satellite imagery as a possible route to Mt. Wildness. The place is a large valley I've named The Valley of the Soulless Beasts. The valley is hemmed in on all sides by rugged volcanic mountains, with a single opening through the middle of a particular intimidating long and narrow solid volcanic dyke. From outer space, the break in the dyke appears as if a mile-tall giant had cut and removed an enormous slice of rock to allow the passage of floodwaters from the highlands out and into the lower desert. I called this cut in the rock dyke the "Cold Gate." I didn't really know how to get to this place, and though I did get lost a few times along the way, I nevertheless managed at last to arrive...though many hours overdue. Being so late meant I that could go no further than the Cold Gate, and could therefore only survey the Valley of the Soulless Beasts from a distance. This video takes place shortly after arriving at the Cold Gate, where my inauspicious appearance was promptly greeted by the appearance of a pair of Golden Eagles. #GoingAlone
I'd never seen eagles in the desert before. Heck, the only birds I ever see in the desert are small flocks of white doves which occasionally fly quickly by along the railroad tracks at Siberia. Out in the deep desert though I only ever see - or hear - an occasional bird in the brush. But I never see hawks way out there, or crows, and I never thought I'd see an eagle. #GoingAlone
I wonder sometimes if I might be the first person to visit some of the places I go in the desert. For example, the utterly perfect stone garden discovered in this video appears to have never suffered any human trespass, as demonstrated in the perfect arrangement of so many perfectly balanced stones. In fact, these rocks were not placed here--like similar arrangements in the Buddhist temples I saw in Japan--but BECAME here after the granite mountain they were once encased in eroded away from around them, leaving the stones perched like perfectly balanced birds upon impossible, stubby, stilt-like stone legs. This is the type of place which takes my breath away in the remote desert. A setting deserving of velvet ropes and scowling docents guarding the stones from any human disturbance--just out there...in the middle of nowhere...where nobody knows such things even exist. #GoingAlone
The site of my mining claim is atop a lovely desert rise overlooking an utterly enormous expanse of empty desert. At night here I can walk with my flashlight to the summit, sit upon the rocks, shut off the light and be utterly alone in a world seemingly unchanged for tens of thousands of years. Perspectives change under such circumstances. They change permanently. There's no going back. That's one of the reasons I continue to go far into wild places on such a routine basis. And one of the reasons I always go alone. #GoingAlone
2:56 PM I’m back. It was a very hard hike. I failed to reach Mt. Wildness. But that’s OK, as it doesn’t really exist anyway.
6:10 PM I was feeling a little tired during my ride home and stopped at the Green River Starbucks. A reporter from a local newspaper approached me as I got off my bike, asking “excuse me, but you look like someone with a story.” Looks like my story—and my book—are going to be featured in her newspaper.
7:23 PM Another solo wilderness adventure in the bag. It’s events like the last twenty-four hours that will someday make the nurses in the old age home ask one another “what’s that old man remembering when he sits gazing out the window smiling?” #GoingAlone
Thoughts and comments after the hike
I got lost hiking in the night and found myself in some strange mountains at dawn. I spotted this abandoned mine high up on the side of a rock face below a cliff and went to check it out. Though I promised myself I wouldn’t go inside, I clearly haven’t always been good at self-promises. The cave was empty and didn’t go very far into the mountain. However, It does seem a soulless beast lives here, as I found its bed of sticks at the very back of the hole. I was also very surprised to discover greasy slime coating the ceiling and hanging in drippy ropes. The slime must be from groundwater in the mountain seeping through cracks in the cave ceiling—though I really haven’t a clue.
During November, rattlesnakes aren’t as much a worry while hiking alone in the desert dark—though it’s easy for stuff like this to trip you up whenever the flashlight is off.
Desert panorama at dawn. This was just about the time I started asking myself “where am I?”
“Lost in the desert” selfie.
I decided to follow this dry wash because it seemed to lead into the sunrise. It turns out this was the right direction. Maybe we should always go towards the sunrise?
Should I go in?? You know the answer.
Another lost mine... This one didn’t go far at all. I tried speaking the Elven language at it like Gandalf, but nothing happened.
That “sunrise sand wash” led me directly to Campo #1 which is mentioned in my book in the chapter titled Anxiety Hike. Here’s a little known bit of Going Alone trivia...this place is also “The Woodsman’s Cabin” mentioned in my writings during my family’s life in Japan.
Panorama of Campo #1 and surrounding desert. That’s “Black Mountain” (from the book) just below the rising sun. “The Sandman’s Bed” is to the left of Black Mountain.
Moving on past Campo #1 took me close to the edge of The Sandman’s Bed which is a vast, maze-like wilderness of flash flood channels carved into solid granite. I haven’t been inside this particular wilderness in over two years. It’s a quite formidable place, with almost no wind or breeze and a silence so deep you can hear the blood cells in your eardrum banging into one another (no kidding, you can really hear that!). This wilderness is the namesake of The Anxiety Hike which occupies a whole chapter of Going Alone.
I used my phone to make this video after the good camera pooped out. This is the Cold Gate, which was meant to be a simple stopover on my journey and was not my final destination. However, as I’d already passed my turnaround time I decided to call it quits here and...turn around. Two enormous raptor birds (much bigger than hawks—Golden Eagles, perhaps?) gave me some confused signs about which way to go next. I followed the first bird’s advice and went home. Mt. Wildness will require a two-day journey for sure. It’s too far and difficult for a single day’s hike.
It’s time for bed. But first, I promised last night to fill you in on my “Steven King moment” under the writing bridge at Siberia ghost town...
It was dark down there under the bridge, where there’s not headroom enough to fully stand up. So, I was squatting on the soft sand...making that short video I already shared...while a long freight train passed slowly on the dark railroad a quarter-mile north, making its strange railroad sounds. The bridge supporting Route 66 is a lonesome, spooky place, even during the day—and at night it’s somethin’ else. Earlier, while walking alone through the dark ruins of the ghost town and then the open desert to reach the bridge, my mind was playing tricks on me and making me think I could hear something following in the darkness behind me. Of course, nothing was there—yet, still...
You may remember in the bridge video (if you saw it) that shortly before it ends, I’d switched off the flashlight, plunging me into utter blackness. I’d then placed the flashlight on the sand in the deep night under the bridge. I did this in order to use both hands to finish the video. I knew where the flashlight was...and I could just reach out and grab it if I needed to—or so I thought.
But then I shifted my body and my right foot sunk into the sand which twisted me and sent me falling sideways into the deeper dark. Now I had no idea where the light was—and suddenly I could hear that sound again nearby in the dark. I’ll confess, I panicked a bit as I flailed my arms across the sand, feeling for the flashlight, which I soon found and promptly turned on, making the Siberia ghosts melt into the dark rafters above my head. I got out of there, though I can’t wait to go back. After all, the only thing that haunts Siberia ghost town is me. #GoingAlone
This object dates from 1936 and contains documents of historic interest. I told a local desert museum about it a few years back and they are keen to add it to their collection, as they have nothing like it. It took me almost two years to return yesterday to the remote desert location where I first found this object. It’s next stop is the museum of desert history in Barstow. I’ll share more about the contents later—though some of you (Laura) may already know. BTW, this item is briefly hinted at in my book.
I didn’t get any writing done on this trip to the desert—but that’s alright, as I wrote the same chapter twice the last time I was there. There’s some kinda balance in that reasoning...I think.
It’s time for work. Though it’s hard to focus on my work while the memory of those black desert mountains of indifference swirl within my head. It feels like it was only yesterday...
Mt. Wildness may not be a real place, though The Path of Wildness sure is. Imagine my surprise discovering this forgotten ghost town path leading from nowhere to nowhere in a place I didn’t even know existed while living in Japan.
Someone asked me this week if I ever meet or even see other hikers when I’m alone in the wild. I had to think hard about it, yet Initially I couldn’t remember even one time I ever encountered anyone else in the wilderness in either the USA or Japan. But then, I remembered that one instance when I was a teen, when I discovered a man sitting on a rock atop a desert mountain in the Western Mojave Desert. And of course I did often meet old farmers in the landscape immediately outside the villages in the mountains of Japan. But that’s it. In my decades of regular trekking alone in wild places I’ve never seen anyone else. So, imagine my surprise this week to find these fairly fresh human boot tracks not far outside Siberia ghost town.
Here’s a panoramic view of the plot of land where I’m attempting to file a mining claim. It’s at the edge of the Deep Water Wilderness, on a nice high point overlooking hundreds of square miles of empty. It might not look like much, but there’s treasure all about me here.
A rock cairn left by a 19th century gold prospector. The tin can he’d left within the cairn to identify his mining claim has long since rusted to desert dust. I found this about a quarter-mile from the narrow entrance to the Valley of the Soulless Beasts. A very remote place. A place filled with the quiet of nothing.
Selfie at the entrance to the Valley of the Soulless Beasts, which is my furthest point yet within the Deep Water Wilderness. When I took this photo on Friday afternoon, a little voice in my head was shouting at me to turn back while there was still time—time to get back before nightfall and I’d again have no good way to find Siberia ghost town, where there are no lights, and no souls to welcome the lost traveler home. #GoingAlone
This rather nondescript photo is nevertheless very significant to my quest for Mt. Wildness. Those black mountains are the very last thing which separates me from achieving this decades-old quest. And it’s going to be hard, as the mountains—though relatively low—are quite rugged and wide. I’m gonna definitely need another day of hiking to make it through and back. Maybe in November next year.
Below, is the eastern section of the Cold Gate, which is an enormous extrusion of volcanic rhyolite from deep within the earth (see the circled section in the satellite photo). The process began millions of years ago when seawater brought into the earth’s mantle by subduction of the Pacific Plate caused a reduction in density of molten magma, forming a large bubble which then rose and burned its way through the earth’s crust to eventually emerge here and form this rounded dyke. Later, a Pleistocene-era stream—which once ran over the foreground sands—did carve an entire section out of this volcanic structure to form what now appears (from space at least) as a large geologic gate. The image in the first photo is looking right in the satellite image.
This week’s hike produced twenty-five videos, with one being over two hours in length. It’s amazing how much something I can find while exploring in nothing.
I found this lovely specimen of petrified wood on Friday, at the site of my mining claim. Several million years ago there was a forest of large conifers at the site. The big trees enjoyed a climate similar to Seattle, while clustered on a hillside overlooking a perennial stream (now a flash-flood channel). One day, a volcano about three miles away erupted and covered the forest in ash, locking the trees within an anaerobic tomb, where the tree’s organic molecules did not decompose and were instead replaced with stone. Fast-forward a few million years and the ash has eroded away, leaving specimens like this laying on the ground to be found by an aging, shirtless explorer.
If you look closely at the end-view photo you can see and count the tree rings! The reddish color in the photo I’m holding is the actual color of the wood beneath the tree bark.
I encountered this “forest” of Smoketree plants on Friday while crossing an utterly enormous dry flash flood plain. These large plants are some of the hardiest in the desert and can grow to twenty-five feet in both height and breadth, providing shade and habitat for birds, mammals, reptiles and insects. It’s interesting to note the many types of animal tracks in the sand between the plants and then wonder at the busy nocturnal activities that must go on here after the sun goes down. Smoketree are legumes and therefore related to other pea family plants, which explains why I found so many pea pods littering the desert floor in this area.
Sometimes, while hiking alone in very remote places, I’ll remove my shoes and walk barefoot, just to screw with the minds of anyone else who might follow. Tracks and prints can last for years out here; and several times I’ve returned to a place after a year or two to find my own boot prints almost as fresh as the day I’d left them. In fact, you can still see General Patton’s troop’s tank and jeep tracks which were laid down during World War Two training maneuvers in this very same desert.
I’ve decided this empty cave I’ve located in the desert shall henceforth be identified as the “Home of Faith” within the Going Alone narrative. Though this place isn’t mentioned in the book, I will nevertheless add it to the glossary and maybe even to the map I will one day create. It’s a good and fitting title, and I look forward to seeing how I can use this place in the continuing story of Going Alone.
I found another cave about a mile from the first. This second cave was carved into a bank of hard sand. And there was a very old wooden structure near the front. About ten feet in the cave made a sudden hard right-angle turn to the left. It took a little courage to poke my head around the corner and see what was in the darkness around the other side. I’ll show you guys the next time I go out.
In 1985--during my very first trip to Japan--I purchased a little antique god which I brought back and gave to my father. He kept the little god on a shelf in his house until dad died in 1992, and I again took possession of the small deity. The little god went back with me to Japan when our family moved there to raise Emily, and he came back again to the USA when we returned to usher our daughter into adulthood. This small god is the same little god mentioned in my book. He's got a whole chapter, in fact.
My little god has never really had a good home with me, as he's too fearful he'll be found out to face the real world, preferring instead to spend all his time in storage under the bed. When he was a real Japanese Shinto god, he sat for generations on an exposed rafter in an open-ceiling farmhouse, just above the cook-fire, getting covered with black soot while watching over his human family and keeping them safe from all manner of danger.
During my hike in the desert last week, I discovered this tiny, god-sized cave within the Deep Water Wilderness, not far from the Home of Faith. I've decided this diminutive cave will become the permanent home of the little god which I bought for $10.00 back in 1985. I'm going to take him out there with me next time, climb this little cliff and install my little god within that tiny black hole. I'll position him so he can face out and see the desert. He'll probably be scared when night comes, though I think he can take it...as long as he still thinks he's omnipotent. #GoingAlone
The desert always haunts me after my return, though never quite like this. Glimpsing what I did beyond the Cold Gate three weeks back really left something in me that won’t go away. This has only happened twice before in my life: The first time was when I was twenty-four years old and I returned from the desert to follow Yumiko to Japan and make her my wife. The second time was when I was fifty-one and alone in America without my family and I returned from the desert to begin writing Going Alone. I wonder what might be in store this time?
Below is the compiled video transcript of the Cold Gate hike. At three hours and fifteen minutes in length, we cover a lot of ground in this one. The video is simply a compilation of all of the various clips and moments captured during the trip out to and the overnight at Siberia, followed by the 3:00 AM start of the hike as well as select moments getting lost in the night. This is followed by finding new territory to explore at sunrise, the long search for and arrival at Campo #1, and then the difficult effort of locating the Cold Gate (someplace I'd never been) and then making my way back. It's experiences like this challenging hike which make we question why, and if, I'll ever go to such a place again... Of course I'll go back; as going beyond where we are safe, settled and confident is precisely the point of Going Alone.
The following URL is to the repository for all of the photos from this hike:
My name is Kurt Bell.
You can learn more about The Good Life in my book Going Alone.
Be safe... But not too safe.