“There has to be life after death,” I have heard people say in rationalizing an existence of heaven; “because this brief life can’t be all there is.”
Near the end of her 102 years, my mother said, “I used to believe in heaven, but I don’t anymore. I’ve had a good life, a beautiful life, there doesn’t need to be more.”
I left home at 5:00 yesterday, picked up my latte and drove east on Hwy 12 as the sun rose. I had to pull off the road to take it in. I hadn’t felt my usual hike anticipation the night before or the morning of when I rose in the dark. The latte and the sunrise help.
I drive beyond Packwood, where hundreds of bicyclists are lined up registering for an event, and veer off US-12 onto WA-123, the back door to Mt. Rainier—both Paradise and Sunrise—as well as the gateway to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and William O. Douglas Wilderness. The road traverses the side of rocky cliffs, just a stone wall separating car from canyon. Mt. Rainier glows pink in the rising sun.
I turn off 123 onto WA-410 toward Cayuse Pass, the road I was on the Enumclaw north end of last week. A couple more miles and there is the picture-perfect Tipsoo Lake. This is my first time to Tipsoo Lake since childhood.
There are two other cars with mine in the roadside parking and none in the lake’s parking lot or the viewpoint parking area. I hang my national park pass on my mirror, put on boots and knee straps and add my shirt under my jacket. I’m a little concerned about the chill, but it won’t last long. I’m on the trail at 8:00.
Washington Trails says to do the loop clockwise. Unfamiliar with the area and seeing only one marked trail to Naches Loop next to an unnamed lake—(the sign Google Maps told me to look for, the resource I had to use because WTA assumes all hikers live in Seattle)— I don’t know which direction it goes nor where the other end is; another detail WTA has not provided, so I just start walking. I soon realize I’m going counter clockwise, but I let it go.
Raindrops clinging to the subalpine firs and dew on the lupine leaves sparkle in the sun. The forest drips from yesterday’s showers as fog hangs in the valley, shifting to reveal a view here and obscure one there, including the top of Herself. I startle three grouse (I think) on the trail and they fly into the trees, where a spider web glistens in the early light. Chipmunks scurry about looking for breakfast; birds sing their greeting to the day. The aroma makes me swoon.
It is enough, I whisper, thinking of my mother as tears fill my eyes. I seem to be emotional often on the trails this summer.
The climb is easy, welcome after last week’s strenuous hike to Van Trump Park (you can read about that hike here), and I soon come to the apex. The mountains spread out around me, Dewey Lake far below. A lakelet sparkles beside the trail. I sit on a rock and eat some of my trail bar while I watch Dewey Lake appear and disappear in the fog, along with another small lake. I don’t notice that Rainier behind me is also disappearing.
I return to the trail. I can barely take it all in. I catch the last glimpse of Rainier beyond the lakelet before she completely disappears, not to return for the rest of the day.
As I skirt the lake, I meet a young woman hiking solo, the first person I’ve seen. “What a beautiful, quiet morning,” she says softly. I just smile and nod, there are no words. This is heaven, I think. It is enough.
I hang around on another flat rock outcropping, waiting to see if the mountain will clear over the lakelet. I want that photo op! I talk for a good bit to Jerry and Pam from Anacortes, a yelder (young elder) couple who camp and hike in the area every year. We share favorite trails and campgrounds. The fog doesn’t clear, doesn’t look like it will, and we both move on.
The trail on the north flank of Naches Peak, part of the Pacific Crest Trail, is out of sight of Rainier. At least I think it is. I’m glad I didn’t follow directions and do the trail clockwise, I wouldn’t have seen her at all. I start to meet people though. Lots of people. It seems everyone knew to do it clockwise, and knew how to. I stop counting, but by the time I finish the hike, I think 100 is a conservative estimate.
Pam and Jerry said the flowers—that are past peak on the side I came up—are beautiful on this side, but nothing prepared me for this garden. It rivals my hike to Indian Henry’s two summers ago, the best wildflower show I have ever seen. There are oceans of blue lupine at peak bloom, paintbrush, mountain sunflowers and daisies, and old man on the mountain. They blanket the up slope and flow over the downside.
There is another lakelet, and I sit beside it to eat my lunch. It doesn’t seem real. It and the meadows are the visual effects creation of that Robin Williams’ movie: What Dreams May Come, the reds too red, the purples too purple.
And there are lots of extras roaming about, including with illegal dogs and iPod music. If I had done the hike clockwise, all these late-on-the-trail people would have been behind me. I would have seen almost no one the entire hike. But I would have missed the mountain. Trade offs.
I will be back. It’s an easy hike and a short one; and a beautiful drive. Even with my long dawdles (including a side trip down the wrong trail because I forgot I had to read WTA instructions backwards), I’m back at the car at noon, where all the parking areas are full. I discover the other end of the trail is across the road from where I started, on the other side of the lake. It’s also accessible from the stone and wood bridge farther up the road. Next time I will know, and make different, less peopley, choices.
I drive back through Packwood, where the cyclists are returning, strung out for miles along the road. I hope they had a beautiful day.
I go to bed with the waxing moon glowing from behind a small cloud, and I’m up to write as the sun rises over St. Helens. It is enough.