Mount Pilchuk

January Photo of the Month: The Antidote to Winter Blues

Written and photographed by Meghan Young

I am motivated by light and the pursuit of outdoor adventure. Whether chasing the rising sun to the mountains, basking by the sun-dappled waters of an alpine lake or watching the sinking sun set neighboring peaks ablaze, I’m most at home in the wild.

A born-and-bred Washingtonian with a family that emphasized outdoor recreation from an early age, I am privileged to have spent my life hiking, climbing, scrambling and mountaineering through the verdant woods of the Pacific Northwest. I spend nearly all of my free time outside with friends and family and wouldn’t have it any other way.

The health benefits of a life lived in pursuit of outdoor adventure are myriad and sometimes difficult to articulate. The most obvious may be the heart-healthy activity and sheer number of calories that you can burn while carrying your pack up and down hills in order to find the perfect campsite or lunch spot — but there’s so much more to it than that. I feel a deeper sense of connection to myself, nature and others when I’m immersed in the outdoors without the distraction of my cellphone or a computer screen. The singular focus required to reach an objective — whether climbing, hiking or mountaineering — puts me into a meditative space and I’m able to focus on the task at hand, letting go of the extraneous details that often clog my brain. In short, outdoor adventures bring me peace and joy even while taxing my physical abilities.

(Read our report "Outside Our Doors" to find out more about the health benefits of nature.)

This is particularly true in the winter months when the gray skies take over and "seasonal affective disorder" (SAD) rears its ugly head. SAD is a form of seasonal depression that occurs largely in the winter when exposure to the warmth, light and bright colors that we are used to decreases. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. The severity of symptoms and treatment varies, and I absolutely recommend seeing a medical professional if you’re feeling like you just can’t keep your head above water. For me, continuing to get outside and increasing my intake of vitamin D is crucial.

It can be hard to get out of bed on gray days when it’s chilly outside but being out in the bright, snowy light always leaves me feeling refreshed even when the sun doesn’t make an appearance. If you’re lucky, you might even catch the sun creeping through the fog, bathing the landscape in warm, golden light.

The day I snapped this photo was just such a day. My friends and I jumped in the car with no small amount of coffee or grumbling and headed to the North Cascades, intent upon hitting the Mount Pilchuck lookout. The day started out very gray, with temps in the 20s and a biting wind. As we began our ascent, the skies lifted, bathing us in warm, rose gold light. We all stopped in our tracks and soaked in the beauty of the moment before snapping a few pictures and then watched, in rapture, as the sun slowly sank below the horizon in a fiery display. 

Meghan Young is a Washington local with a huge passion for getting outside with the people she loves. When she's not at work, you can find her outside — hiking, climbing and scrambling her heart out in a quest for beauty, laughter and fun in our remaining wild spaces. You can see more of her work and follow her adventures on Instagram: @missmeghanyoung