In the past seven years, I have hiked pretty nearly all the iconic trails at the Paradise side of Mt. Rainier National Park—by which I mean the ones whose names I have heard all my life: Skyline, Rampart Ridge, Pinnacle Peak (well, I’ve hiked to the saddle), Indian Henry’s, Reflection Lakes. I’ve hiked many from other sides of the park as well. But I hadn’t even put Van Trump Park on my list. I’d heard mixed reviews about it and always just pick something else.
As I searched the Washington Trails Association website for this week’s hike, not finding anything appealing, I thought of Van Trump. I decide to do it. I don’t look at the elevation change. Was that on purpose? I read the WTA description, which seriously downplays Comet Falls. I must have looked at photos on trip reports without registering them in my brain. I read that the trail follows the “tumbling Van Trump Creek.” Crazy wild creek is more like it! But I’m ahead of myself.
I get an earlier than usual start, and stop at the earlier opening, Avenue Espresso on Hwy 12, twenty-five minutes from home, for my adventure latte. I pull off the road halfway to the Park to try to capture a photo of the sun rising above Herself, just a few moments too late to see it slip above the horizon and light the mountain. Still, I’m entranced.
I glide past the gate at the Nisqually entrance before it’s staffed and I’m the second car in the trailhead parking lot. It’s there I notice the elevation change on the signage. Holy crap. It’s 2150 feet in three miles, and I will end up going another half mile up; good thing I didn’t look. On the trail at 7:35, it is already promising to be a hot day, and the upshit begins immediately.
I soon hear the roar of Christine Falls, the falls glimpsed between canyon walls from a curve in the road, but not visible from the trail bridge. WTA calls the water feature on the other side of the bridge “white water churning through a rocky channel.”
The path continues—unrelentingly up—never out of earshot of the creek to a second lovely falls with the sun glinting off of it. I figure it’s Comet Falls, because—again—I didn’t pay attention to reports. I take several photos before scrambling up a somewhat eroded trail on the other side of the wild creek, then take more photos.
I turn, then, and move up the trail. Holy goddess of all nature-made spectacles, that was not Comet Falls, but merely Bloucher Falls! I see Comet through the trees, and then full on. I have to sit down.
I am a sucker for waterfalls. Most of them are viewed standing in one spot, and then you move on, leaving it behind. Not this one. The trail climbs right up it, higher and closer and completely in the open until you feel the cooling spray on your face.
Just as my heart finally settles back into my chest cavity and I walk on, I realize I hadn’t even seen the top yet. My heart starts pounding again. (The full drop, I read now, is 380 feet, 318 of it in a single fall.) A rainbow flirts at the bottom where the water crashes against the rock walls then plunges into a pool before dropping again.
Wildflowers line the trail that switchbacks away and then turns again to face the falls. I take 30 photos and a couple of videos, knowing all the while she will not be captured.
Back in the woods, the trail gets even steeper, and I get warm. The flowers are beautiful, and there are additions to those I saw last week at Grand Park. I have more to learn.
I ponder the signage at the fork. Mildred Point is a side trip I plan to take after the Van Trump side. Not knowing if I will be back, I want to see it all. I will be tired.
I climb the last bit, and there is Herself! What with the waterfalls and the flowers and the vista, I had completely forgotten there is also a mountain. Holy cow! This trail has it all. I always swoon when the alpine scent fills my nose, but this time it’s the flowers. They fill me up, and I stop and close my eyes to savor it and lock it into my memory bank.
I stop to talk to Carol on my way beyond the park, the first person I’ve seen. She’s a solo hiker around my age, I suppose, from Gig Harbor. We share hike stories and she gives me information about Mildred Point. I think I will have to choose between it and continuing up the unmaintained trail to the ridge. I decide to hike on in the direction I’m going; I’ll decide when I get back to the fork if I have had enough. (We share blog information, but later I can’t find hers; I hope you see this, Carol! I need to keep cards in my pocket.) Up on the ridge, I talk to a man from Seattle whose name I don’t get, also hiking solo and about my age. It’s his first time here too, and he’s going to Mildred.
I decide I it would be fool-hearty to do any more. I’ll be lucky to get back to my car as it is. The cold Rainier beer and salmon burger at Base Camp Grill in Ashford are calling.
I don’t know whose hike the “hiking time” on the signage is based on, but clearly it doesn’t account for waterfall, wildflower, and mountain gazing time. Seven hours for me (I did go a half mile beyond Van Trump, another several hundred feet up), the equivalent of 103 stories up, according to my phone app, that doesn’t mention the 103 floors back down.
I’m back at the car at 2:30, having seen just the two other hikers at the apex of my hike, but some 20 parties going up (including Liam Neeson at the age he was when I first fell in love with him) as I hike down at the peak of a very warm day. A woman hiking solo, but for an infant in long-sleeved footed pajamas sleeping on her chest, exclaims that I look so cute in my blue/purple/orange ensemble. I tell her I like her accessory. People are nuts.
On the way down the road, A/C blasting, I pick up a hitchhiker for just the second time in my life. (The first were hikers too.) I automatically pass her by, then stop down the road after the more open adventurous side of my brain kicks in. Liz is a young person, just moved back to the PNW (Olympia) from Arizona, where she was a teacher, until she decided teaching was not a good profession for an introvert. She had hiked the trail I did, but from the Longmire/Rampart Ridge end, and needed a ride to her car. I talked at length to three people this hike! How very extroverted of me!
As I drive home, I ponder this hiking thing. I don’t think of myself as 67, or I don’t think of 67 as old. I hope I have many more years of hiking, but I’m not unaware. I note with satisfaction that my hip didn’t hurt on this hike, nor the one last week; but I am at an age where there is ever less certainty of what’s ahead and what could happen. Do I have five more years? 10? 15? Or three? It is mystery. No doubt the soloing will end, but hopefully that won’t be the end of hiking. For now I am grateful for every single hike. And I’m taking nothing for granted.