Trail Talk | Accepting Change in Life and on the Trail

In this piece from Mountaineer magazine, seek the solace of wilderness with Mountaineers Books author Craig Romano as he grapples with change.
Craig Romano Craig Romano
Mountaineers Books Guidebook Author
February 17, 2024
Trail Talk | Accepting Change in Life and on the Trail
A view of Diablo Lake from Sourdough Mountain, 2022. All photos by Craig Romano.

The only thing constant in life is change. You can never go home again. All things must pass. These thoughts continuously run through my mind as I progress further along my life journey. I’ve always had a strong sense of time and place, which leaves me melancholically longing for the past and lamenting the passing of moments which I perceive as being more favorable than the present. The world is changing rapidly, and often not in ways I welcome. Constant change can be exciting or, if you’re wired like me, a source of anxiety. To counter the barrage of forces I can’t control, I often seek the solace of wilderness, where I expect insulation from the rapid transformations of the outside world.

I have my sanctuaries – places I embrace because of their familiarity, places I expect not to change. Places where the ravages of the outside world are halted at their boundaries. Places where primeval forests still stand as they have for centuries; where waterfalls flow as they have for thousands of years; where wildlife roams free through intact habitat as they have for countless millennia.

When New York’s Twin Towers imploded and a wave of fear, anguish, and despair swept the country, I retreated to the wilderness, my safe zone. When Covid spread its dark shroud across the country, I sought asylum in the backcountry. These natural refuges soothe my tormented soul, and I expect them to be there for me in the same state that I remember them. But what happens when my natural retreats inevitably – or worse, abruptly – change?

Facing change

This summer, I watched one of my most sacred natural shrines – a place I have sought validation and redemption from for the past decade – go up in flames. My dear Sourdough Mountain was on fire and my immediate response was despair, sadness, and loss. Throughout the summer, I monitored the fire reports, hoping for the best all while the fire grew, consuming more of the mountain’s forests. My hopes soon led to resignation. Sourdough Mountain would never be the same. One of my most coveted wilderness areas had been taken from me. I wondered whether I could ever go home again to this mountain that had brought me so much joy and peace of mind over the years.

Change is inevitable. In life. In the world. In nature. In everything. My first hike up Sourdough Mountain, July of 1985, is etched in my mind. A young black bear sprinting across glistening snowfields. A surrounding sea of ice, rock, and wildness. Sharing a beer with the fire lookout and being blown away by this new landscape. But that hike, those feelings, can never be replicated.

Every subsequent journey I’ve made up Sourdough, I’ve made as a different person. The mountain, too, changes. The summit snowpack has grown smaller and lingers for a shorter period of time. That sea of ice — a fraction of the size I remember from four decades ago — doesn’t glisten and blind like it once did. And now, the forests have changed. The unbroken green canopy leading up to the alpine meadows, the canopy that shielded me from sun and rain and provided hues of green, is fragmented. Blackened snags, scorched timber, and toppled trees don’t bring me solace. They remind me of death, destruction, and a world despoiled.

But death is part of life, and forest fires are part of the life of the natural world. No one, no thing, and no place is immune from the passage and transformation of time. I must accept my fate, and I must accept the fate of nature, lest I shun my sanctuary by forever clinging to memories. If I am to continue returning to the places that bring me redemption and validation, then I must accept that like my life, the natural world will change.

20220921_153618.jpgCraig's hiking companion walking through Sourdough Mountain's meadows.

Hope for renewal

When I gather the mental strength to return to Sourdough, I must accept that this is the way things are now. Instead of lamenting the Sourdough I knew from the past, I need to be grateful that I experienced it through the years. I need to cherish the notion that Sourdough will rise from the ashes and continue to provide refuge for me and others.

The forest will recover. Seeds of colonizing plants helped by wind, insects, and birds will soon take root in the burn zone. Succulents and fungi will flourish, luring wildlife to return. Grasses and forbs will be overtaken by saplings, and the forest will move a little bit closer to its climax state each year. Sourdough will continue to be part of a vast wilderness complex providing habitat to a shrinking pool of biodiversity. The forest and all its components will be redeemed.

By witnessing Sourdough transform, perhaps I may better understand the inevitability of change and the role of death. Perhaps the recovering forest, flourishing with new life, will instill in me a hope that I, in some form or shape, will also be renewed beyond death.


The growing impact of wildfire on Washington's lands, waters, and communities increasingly affects our outdoor experiences. Warmer temperatures mean drier summers and more severe wildfires. Larger, more intense wildfires are occurring more frequently, resulting in forest closures and unhealthy smoke that impacts our health and obstructs our views. As we grapple with these challenges, it’s important to better understand how the wildfire crisis is playing out in Washington and how we as outdoor enthusiasts can advocate for critical solutions. Learn more by visiting

Craig Romano is an award-winning guidebook author who has written more than 25 books, including Backpacking Washington, Day Hiking Central Cascades 2nd edition, and eight titles in the Urban Trails series (Mountaineers Books). Purchase his titles in our Seattle Program Center Bookstore, online, and everywhere books are sold.

This article originally appeared in our winter 2024 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archive.