Big Cedar Olympic Peninsula, Centralia Bordello Museum, Centralia WA, Chihuli Garden & Glass, Hoh Rain Forest, Kalaloch beach, Olympic Peninsula, Pacific Northwest, Ruby Beach, seattle, Seminary Hill Natural Area, Three of Earth Farm, touring the PNW, Washington State Ferries
My sole memory of the Pinnacle Peak trail in Mt. Rainier National Park as a teenager with my family was a steep loose shale path the width of a finger nail with a cliff on one side and a sheer drop on the other. Oh, and terror. It was my first known experience with aeroacrophobia, decades before I knew its name.
Imagine my confusion when a friend told me, followed up by a trip report on the WTA from a hiker with the moniker “oldwoman,” that Pinnacle Saddle (half way to the Peak) was an easy trail with a staggering view and a mountain meadow payoff. Others call it strenuous, but I decided to put it on my summer hike list anyway.
Yesterday was the day. And a gorgeous one it is. I get my adventure latte and gas (which sets me back a few minutes, wanting to get the the Park ahead of the heat and the line-up at the gate), and it’s 5:50 before I head out of town.
I take the route across the valley below my house. Mt. St. Helens is disappeared in haze, but the hay rolls and barn in the wispy fog make me glad to be alive and living in this place as I head across this vast and beautiful county as the sun rises.
I’m third in line at Park entrance at the single ranger booth that’s open this early. Later both booths will be open with a line down the road. Flashing my lifetime pass (cost me $10 a few years back vs the $30 per car single entry fee), I drive into my favorite place on the planet. I wind along the Nisqually River, through the dark forest on the sun dappled road and break out to views of Herself.
I turn onto the Stephens Canyon Road just short of Paradise. A few moments later I’m at Reflection Lake. I lace up my boots, slap on knee straps, slather on sun screen, pump on Deet, grab my poles, sling on my camel pack and walk down to the lake for a couple photos.
I’m on the trail at 8:15. There are a few cars in the parking area, but I have the trail by myself for now. The 1.3 miles to the saddle starts in forest on a soft dirt and fir needle floor. Herself is behind me, the Tatoosh Range above me. The sun hasn’t risen above the ridge line, keeping the trail in the shade. It was 57º when I left the car, but I’m closer to the sun here, and I know when it shows itself, it will get hot fast.
The alpine scent overcomes me. Other places have that scent, but there is something about this Park that is the smell of childhood. The picnic table just below Paradise where my mother passed out paper plates to my father, my sisters and me, the tuna sandwiches she mixed with tiny chopped sweet gherkin pickles and meticulously spread to four corners of the white bread before we left home, packing them in the cooler with the blue frozen gel pack. The grey jays—camp robbers—squawking from the trees waiting for a dropped crumb and the chipmunks that ran right up onto the table and grabbed potato chips from our plates.
I climb steeply above timberline onto shale and past talus fields, where I build an inukshuk to show Mama where to come. The stones I choose refuse to balance, and my eye is on the rising sun. I get a few to stay standing, shoot some film, tell Mama to find me, and move on.
There are no scary parts. I come up with four possible explanations for my memory: 1) faulty memory, 2) it’s beyond the saddle, 3) the trail has been widened in the past 50 years, 4) I’ve become a less fearful person. They are all feasible. Even #3. There is one stretch that could have been it, the up slope side has a long human-made retaining wall and the trail has been extended in width. I won’t solve the puzzle today, because I’m not going to the Peak.
I reach my destination at 9:45. A marmot greets me at the door, as the trail busts open into the sun above the meadows looking out over the Cascade Range. It is breathtaking.
The layers of mountains in the haze remind of the Smoky Mountains, except these newer mountains are more rugged, of course. And today, anyway, it really is smoke. The left coast is on fire, obscuring Mt. Adams, which I know is right ahead of me. I suppose St. Helens is out there too.
Signage (the only one up here) says the maintained trail ends at the door between the cliffs and there are paths everywhere down into the meadow. I know the trail to the left is Pinnacle Peak, and guess the one to the right is Plummers Peak, which I am thinking of going to.
I decide to start with the meadow. There are a dozen two- and three–pronged choices. Which are trails and which snow melt routes? There are boot prints in all of them. There aren’t even any signs like those dotting the meadows at Paradise to tell me what is not a trail. I start one way, then retrace my steps and go another, deciding later I was right the first time. Or not.
No matter, it’s wide open and all trails go to the same place: across the meadow where a streams babbles down, and on across to a ridge where the trail gets lost in the rocks. I keep going, watching boot prints and looking ahead to where I can pick up the trail that’s not a trail again. I want to see what’s around the corner and over the ridge. Probably more of the vast sweep of mountains, and St. Helens and Hood, no doubt. But they will be hidden, and it’s become clear this is not a way to Plummer’s Peak.
I turn back and sit on a flat rock in the stream where a little waterfall drops into a pool in a flat spot then gives way to the tumble again. It’s perfect, though not very photogenic, like it was created for a Pixar movie. The insects are keeping to themselves too. I wish I’d brought Rebecca here last week instead of here.
I don’t have much time today, I have out-of-town guests coming and oodles to do before they arrive. As I clamber back up through the deep cuts from last month’s snow melt, I observe a young couple on the Pinnacle Peak trail. She scampers right around a curve, while he proceeds with extreme caution. I see his foot slip once on what looks like a very narrow trail. Aha! Is that the spot? It looks embarrassingly short to have occupied such a large space in my memory for five decades.
I get back to the doorway and decide to go a little way toward Plummer’s Peak. I go far enough to decide next time I will go farther. Then I go up the other trail to check out the scary spot. It is narrow, and there is evidence that it has been slid off of. But to unintentionally glissade would not be world without end. At the very worst, there’s a large bush that would break a slide. I could do it. Of course, I don’t know what’s beyond. And it’s in the sun from the get go.
Back at the doorway, the young couple is eating lunch in the shade. They offer to take my photo with Herself. I take theirs. I ask them where they are from. They live in Portland, he says, but she is from the Netherlands and he is from Ohio. It’s only later I realize with a chuckle how perfectly that explains their performance I had observed on the trail.
I meet many hikers coming up as I head down, in full on sun. They are panting and red-faced. I’m sorry for them, and congratulate myself on my early arrival. It explains the discrepancy in the assessment of the trail difficulty. Easy to moderate if you hike in the shade, strenuous if in the sun. My inukshuk is still standing!
I get back to Flutterby at 11:45, and head up to Paradise. I need to go to the bathroom, if there’s a parking spot, and I want to see when the parking lot fills up on a weekday, for future reference. Before noon is the answer. I drive slowly past the overnight lot, there are cars circling the two aisles. I go on to the regular lot, cars are circling. I didn’t take my boots off when I finished hiking, because I was NOT going to be seen at Paradise in flip flops even if I was only going to the bathroom. So I’m stuck in them now.
At the edge of the lot, Just before I head down the one road loop route on the other side of the valley, I turn into the lot. What the heck. Maybe I’ll get lucky. I head for the last aisle. An engine starts up and back-up lights come on in the car beside me. I put ‘er in reverse and score the absolute closest spot to the Inn.
The parked cars snake down the road below the Inn. At the Park entrance, 45 minutes down from Paradise, there is a long line of cars waiting to get in. I wonder where they think they will park. Flutterby’s thermometer says 81º. I will be back on Thursday with my mid-Atlantic coast friend. We’ll be arriving early.
Meanwhile, the Pinnacle trail has been redeemed, after 50 years.
Dateline: July 30, 2018
Snowgrass Flat, Gifford Pinchot NF
Note to self: Don’t hike when the temperature is forecast at 95 degrees in the closest town. I thought I would pass out several times. Apparently others knew better. There wasn’t much traffic on the most popular trail in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and most of what there was were backpackers. Hence we had little competition for attention from the flies. I read on WTA trip reports they were bad, so I succumbed to a small bottle of Deet. Don’t like it, but I like fly bites less; and I seem to have none on the morning after, so I guess it worked.
I had promised my sister I would take her with me on a hike; I don’t know if that felt like a gift to her or not, she is not a hiker. But she closed her shop for the planned day and got up early. Both sacrifices that felt like a gift to me!
We picked up our adventure lattes and headed for my new favorite trail, as of last summer. I was hoping, two weeks earlier than last year, the wild flowers would be at peak.
I promised her it was a pretty easy hike, with a big payoff.
Okay, so I hiked it after I did Indian Henry’s last summer. Compared to that it is a pretty easy hike. It wasn’t 95 degrees last year; and there were no bugs except when I sat on a log to eat my lunch. The sky was deep blue behind the white Mt. Rainier last year; there was no haze from California’s wild fires, making it more a white on grey view this time. And the signage on the long forest road up wasn’t broken off last year and was this time, causing us to miss the turn off. Twice. It was already hot when we started up the trail. I also lied a little bit about the mileage. Unintentionally of course.
The first two miles through the Douglas fir/cedar/hemlock forest are flat. Well, there was some downhill, but of course we didn’t notice that until the return. It would have been pleasant, but for the hungry flies. Then the up shit started for the next two miles. That’s when the almost passing out part came, when we couldn’t really stop because of, you know, the flies.
We reached the lower meadows, which, I see now, is the destination of the 4.1 miles the WTA lists, but the big meadow is higher up. We ate our lunch by a babbling brook, soaked our hot feet and dirty ankles in the icy water, and noted the flies weren’t so interested in us there.
There are many options when the trail breaks out of the woods to the lower meadows, and I picked the wrong one (didn’t read the minimal signage). We found out the trail with the brook crossing was heading for Goat Lake. I knew we didn’t want to go there, so after lunch—not sorry for the detour to the brook—we turned back through the paintbrush meadow and got on the right trail. More up. I’d forgotten that part of the trail. Rebecca didn’t believe me that there was a bigger meadow, and by the time we got there she was unimpressed.
The flowers were not what I had hoped, and we weren’t clear if they were past prime or still coming. The bear grass, though, was as pretty as I have ever seen it. And anemone (Old Man on the Mountain) always delights. And there was the paintbrush at the lower meadows.
We built a cairn for our mom and headed back for the bypass loop trail that adds a bit of mileage, but different scenery as it descends in full view of Herself.
Last year I missed the bypass trail, and after asking someone coming up from wherever that portion of the PCT comes from, I hiked back a mile to the missed trail. Rebecca impressed upon me the need not to miss it this time and I watched closely, knowing now what to look for. Still, I thought we’d gone too far and we turned back before we headed down another slope we’d have to come back up, if indeed we’d gone too far. Finding another PCT hiker at rest, we learned we hadn’t gone far enough, and hiked back where we came from, finding it this time, looking exactly as I remembered it.
We thought we would never get back to the car. The bugs weren’t bad up in the Flat, but picked up briefly when we returned to the forest. A beer at Base Camp Grill in Ashford was screaming our names! And the Grill closes at 8. I would have hurt someone if we missed it, and there was a chance. There was still the 12 or whatever miles of washboard road before we got to the 25 miles of winding road between Packwood and Ashford. And we weren’t down the trail yet. (I discovered the next morning the water bladder in my camel back was empty except for what was in the hose.)
Suddenly, as we walked in exhausted silence, there was a loud scuffling around a curve in the trail ahead. We stopped dead. What the hell was that? I knew what it was. There was only one thing it could be, and I raised my bear whistle to my lips. But it had no interest in meeting up with us, so I didn’t blow it. Black bear. One. We hoped. We started singing, “Valderie, valdera…” loudly as it crashed up the hillside as fast as it could go through the bushes and over fallen logs.
“Well, that was exciting,” I said, when the incident seemed good and truly over. We walked on clicking our poles against rocks and roots just in case.
Farther down the trail, we found tiny wild huckleberries. How had we missed them going up? How did the bear miss them? We picked some, until the flies found us, and the beer stepped up its call, tick tock.
Never have either of us been so glad to see a parking lot. Why the heck are trails longer on the return? We reached the Grill at 7:30. I don’t think Rebecca will ever hike with me again.
Last summer I thought I would do this trail often. (You can read about the first time here.) It was like Paradise without the crowds and flip flops. Now I think I’ve done if for the last time. Maybe I should stick with once per hike; except for Paradise, it will always be my favorite, crowds or not. I’m getting older, and there is still so much to see.
I guess if you try to go home again, you have to know it will be different.
#adventurelog, #ilovewhereilive, Adventure Log, Endgame, gratitude, Lake Quinault, Lake Quinault Lodge, legacy letters, letters from World War 2, May Sarton, Olympic National Park, Olympic Peninsula, Pony Bridge, Rialto Beach, solo camping, thanking our parents, Willaby Campground, world's largest trees
Dateline: July 23-16, 2018
Willaby Campground, Lake Quinault, Site 19
It’s an alternate plan after discovering the place I reserved in a timely manner in the Gifford Pinchot NF was not where I wanted to go. I’ve camped at Willaby three times now. The first was the only week it rained that summer, and was also an alternate plan. I had a reservation at Takhlakh Lake, but I didn’t want to camp in that remote place in the rain with no amenities other than a pit toilet. I don’t like camping in the rain, but my sister was coming from Virginia to stay with my mother so I could get away and I wasn’t about to cancel.
Now I think I will make it an annual camping spot; I do love it here. It’s 45 minutes from the ONP beaches, half a mile from the lodge (cold beer/dry and warm if it rains) and merchantile/cafe so I don’t have to prepare all my meals if I don’t want to. Also flush toilets, a light in the bathroom (also, unfortunately, a mirror), and potable water. Takhlakh Lake, where I’m going in September for maximum beauty and solitude with the fishing eagles and osprey, has none of those.
Departure day begins with killing some 50 yellow jackets in my house after I sprayed their nest the night before and drove them inside. I duct tape their access hole into the magic kingdom and leave a key for the exterminator.
I set up camp in a record one-hour, even with the 37 steps down to the secluded site with a view of the lake through the trees. Not bad for a site at the back of the campground, which I usually eschew. As for the 37 steps: I like walk-in sites, usually choosing them because they are closer to the lake or river and farther from the campground road. This one is a little much however, especially when food and toothpaste have to be returned to the car in the evening and retrieved each morning. The tent pad is a balcony, just barely big enough for my tent with a long step out the door, because I insist that the door, which has the only window, face the lake and the hills beyond. Still, I feel lucky to have scored it in the full campground.
I go to the lodge for a beer after I set up camp—late because of the yellow jacket invasion and needing to clean the Airbnb after the wait-until-the-last minute guests leave. I’m in bed early and watch the sun set over the water from my air bed. When the glow fades, I go to sleep with no idea what time it is. “Day is done, gone the sun, from the lake, from the hills, from the sky.”
When I awake with the early light, the lake is shrouded in fog, mist rising from the water. I get up, put my sweatshirt on over my pajamas and make coffee. I take it and my journal down to the lake and sit on a stump. The sun will come soon and burn away the fog as the day slips into another hot one.
My thoughts turn to my mother. She and I stayed at the historic lodge here—where, with great foresight, Franklin Roosevelt signed the Olympic National Park into being in 1938—a couple of times when I came home for a visit after my father died. Sad to say, I saw those visits as duty rather than days to be lived. When she finally lost her vision, those opportunities were lost. I still took her to Mt. Rainier, but she couldn’t really enjoy it. Yes, I do have regrets.
I sit hoping for eagles or osprey to fly over looking for fish, but there are none. A pair of herons come toward me, but I thought they were gulls until they were right overhead. They were flapping, so they weren’t raptors and I didn’t pay attention, so focused on what I wanted to happen that I missed what was happening. Pretty much like living with my mother and missing her essence while wanting her to be a different mother.
I do half sun salutations at the edge of the water then return to my campsite to build a fire and cook eggs with goat cheese and bacon. (Not over the fire; I’m not that ambitious.)
I struggled with what project to bring with me. I’d grown accustomed over the past few years to use my time away from mother care to work on my memoir…about mother care. But now it’s out there looking for an editor and I’m a little lost without it as I struggle to discern the next project. I brought a variety of possibilities.
I pick up the first of two bulky notebooks of letters my father wrote to his folks during his World War 2 service. As soon as I read the first letter, I’m hooked. I was bereft some time back when I finished the 500 letters he wrote to my mother. It was like he died all over. And now here he is again, my funny daddy, long before I knew him.
I sit by my small fire and begin to read. The letters begin after college. He’s working for the WPA in Ohio and doesn’t like it. He’s irked when he files his first income tax returns. After “penny pinching for a whole year,” he owes $19.45. He supposes since he’s “better off than many people, [he] should pay for the privilege. But on the other hand,” he writes, “I owe that to my parents, not Uncle Sam. Taxes would never pay them for what they’ve done though. In fact, I have no idea how they could be adequately repaid.” He thinks he can get a job with the Tennessee Valley Authority (where he will meet my mother). It pays $2000 a year. This is new information, before the letters to my mother begin. I’m elated.
When the fire goes out, I dress, make a sandwich for lunch, and head to the edge of the Pacific: Rialto Beach. I drive through Mora campground, where my family camped, remembering rising early with my father—the breakfast cook, at least the coffee. You can read about and view my beautiful foggy day here.
I sit by the fire again in the evening reading letters. I turn a page and am startled to see my mother’s straight-lined perfect penmanship; the hand that never changed, except, perhaps, for the cocky slant in the cross of her ts, in all the years I knew her. Until the last two years when she lost her vision. She had gone with my father to visit his folks before his induction into the Army. It would also be the last time she sees him for a very long time. She is embarrassed at letting a week go by without writing to thank them for having her.
I go to bed early. For the second night, I’m not staying up for the stars. I love bed. I’ll be up at day break with my father, just like I was when we camped at Mora.
I return to the lake the next morning. I’m later than the day before, it’s cold and the warm cocoon of my bed holds on to me. The fog is already dissipating when I reach my stump.
I’m going to hang around “home” today, on the lawn at the lodge with a book. But I finished the one I was reading last night. I brought three more and reject two of them, settling on May Sarton’s journal “Endgame,” about her 79th year that I found on my mother’s bookshelf. I read most of her journals years ago, then quit when they begin to detail May’s failing health, beginning with a stroke, then—in this one—irritable bowel syndrome. Rebecca gave it to my mother, according to the inscription, for her 79th birthday, 10 days before my father died. I wonder if she read it. Maybe I should have, in preparation for moving in with her.
On page 45, there are underlined passages:
“…doing the daily chores is all I can manage. I am living, I sense, against the tide of life itself. I don’t know how to wake up and get going…” “here I am wading around in oceans of time and wasting it!”
Wasting time was a theme of my mother’s when she wasn’t able to do what she did in stronger years. She never learned to value time at rest in daylight.
I thumb through the rest of the book looking for underlinings. There are a few over the next six pages about Nelson Mandela being released from prison, and Martin Luther King and their beliefs about when non-violent protest can and cannot work. And, finally, this one:
“Eating is hard for me still, and more often than not I settle for dry cereal for dinner.”
Then there are no more underlined passages. I weep for how hard life was for her, how alone she was, how much I didn’t care, and how courageously she kept going.
I have dinner on the deck at the lodge then go for a drive. I’ve never been on the other side of the lake. It’s far longer than I anticipated, but beautiful with the sun slanting across the sword fern through the rain forest that gets 10-15 feet of rain a year. And I just read this: “The largest specimens of Western Red Cedar, Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock, Alaskan Cedar, and Mountain Hemlock are found in these forests, as well as five of the ten largest Douglas firs. It has the largest trees in the world outside of California and New Zealand.” Many of those largest trees have signage directing visitors to them. I remember going by horseback with my family for an official measuring of a Douglas fir around here, young enough to ride behind one of the researchers on his horse.
On the last morning, I build another fire and finish reading the letters. I’m glad there’s another notebook at home; I’m not ready for them to be over. This notebook ends just before he proposes to my mother. Having my father back through these letters is both beautiful and sad. All of the people he talks about, family and friends that I met over the years, are gone. All except my two cousins who were born to his eldest brother during the war years.
It occurs to me that these are my father’s legacy letters: a record of his values and who he was. I’m shocked by the depth of his mysogeny and racism. Was it the times in which he lived and I should just let it go? Did he overcome them? The racism, yes, I think so. Perhaps less so the mysogeny. But I don’t think my mother would have used words like “nigger” and “scrub woman.” I’m also blown away by his outspoken admiration for his mother and his upbringing, which he credits to her and tells her so. My children do not tell me they admire me, or thank me for what I taught them. And I did not tell my mother until the last weeks of her life. Yes, I have regrets. Not the ones she feared I would have, because she did, but my own.
I break camp. I’m ready. Three nights is just right. My reservation at Takhlakh is for four nights. I may leave early. Nice to have the option though. The last time I was there I wanted never to leave. I drive to the end of the road for a hike to Pony Bridge before I go home. You can read about that adventure here.
Back home in my own bed, the almost full moon is slipping down the valley. I bask in the glow that lights my room like day. I love where I live. Thank you, thank you, thank you.