My enthusiasm for hiking is in its end-of-season slide, as are the available good weather days. I’m ready for hunkering down into the new season; but still, I trek on.
I set a too-late-in-the-season goal to hike from all the known-to-me access points into Mt. Rainier National Park. I’ve been to gate house entrances Nisqually (which includes Paradise and Longmire) three times and White River; along with Lake Tipsoo (twice), and Eleanor Creek. Yet to go are Sunrise (the other gate house entrance) and Mowich Lake.
The only good day this week is Thursday—and Saturday, but that’s the weekend, and I can’t go anyway—though “partly sunny” is not an enthusiastic forecast. I decide to go to Sunrise and do another new hike. Maybe I will and maybe I won’t get to Mowich, I’ve done the two hikes there anyway.
There is really no reason to leave before dawn in September, but I’m out the door at 5:00 anyway. The fog is dense at home and in town, but is unusually clear over the prairie after I pick up my latte at Mary’s Corner. I’m too early for the sunrise, if there is one, and too late when I get to the mountain two and a half hours later, though I do catch a glow from the road.
At Sunrise Point, the hairpin on the road to the visitor center, Herself is mostly hidden in cloud.
The parking lot is not populated, but there is a large group of uniformed volunteer rangers gathering at the ranger station door, for a training session I hear one say.
Sunrise, I have to say, is a place I come out of some misguided sense of obligation. I prefer trails that begin in a forest with surprise breakouts to vista views, leaving the destination to be anticipated. Anticipation being joy in the bank. The parking lot here is above timberline. It’s the same at Paradise, for that matter, but Paradise is my happy place. It’s where I go with my third eye during meditation exercises.
I’ve hiked all but two of the trails I’m likely to hike, but there are those two trails, hence the obligatory trek here at the far reach of my distance for day hikes from home. I’m thinking I might do both hikes, then I don’t have to come back!
It’s too late for wildflowers and too early for fall color and it’s foggy. My attention is drawn to the ground, and I see both cloven hoof prints and clawed paw prints in the damp sand. Soon the road to here will be closed and the non-humans will have the place back to themselves.
I love how the fog rolls in and out, one moment Rainier and the Cascade range are full on and the next they are in complete white out. A tour bus winds up the road far below me and I’m glad after all that I got an early start.
I have the tiny summit of Dege Peak all to myself. It has a pretty spectacular 360 degree view, or would have if not for the fog, which the sun has been doing a heroic battle with since I set out up the trail. The fog parts to the eastern (?) horizon enough just once to show me where Mt. Adams is.
The valley on the other side of the ridge opens and shuts, opens and shuts. Rainier comes and goes with each breath I take, and the northern view never does reveal itself.
I sit on a rock and eat part of my trail bar, thinking the sun seems to be getting stronger and I will wait it out. Then she seems to just go back to bed, and I give it up too and head back. I meet two large groups of young adults, presumably from the one of the three tour buses or the school bus that I see below me in the lot now. It’s never too early in the day to go to Paradise or Sunrise.
I decide to go back to the snack bar and make a caffeine offering to the sun goddess, who clearly needs it, and read my unrenewable library book that was due yesterday and see what the clouds are going to do. There is no reason to hike to Mt. Fremont Lookout for another 360 degree view of fog; but I haven’t done enough to justify the five hours in the car. Maybe I will return to Berkeley Park, my favorite place here.
The snack bar is closed (for the season, apparently, at least on weekdays). I sit in the car and read; the sun doesn’t get her coffee. I head back up the grand stairs to the trail head and go left this time, heading to Frozen Lake (the vegetation-free, fenced pond that is the domestic water supply), which is the intersection of the Burroughs trail, Berkeley Park, the lookout, and Sunrise Camp. The group of rangers have spread themselves out and are at all the trail intersections chatting with people. So annoying. And the contents of the tour buses are everywhere in groups of 6-10. I’m grumpy.
I take the trail to Berkeley Park, figuring I will go to the rim of the basin above the park and eat my lunch, then return. Last year, when I hiked Burroughs 1 and 2, I saw mountain goats down here. And maybe there will be marmots. I pass one of the volunteers sleeping on a rock; he sits up as I approach. No mountain goats, he says, but a bear and her cub were spotted near the lookout trail an hour ago.
I see no one else on the trail (nor any marmots), only a single pika that flies across the path ahead of me, but I see and hear tiny people on the Mystic Lake/Skyscraper Pass trail above me, and on Burroughs ridge above that. The sun has finally dragged herself up, but she’s no match for what is now slow moving cloud cover, rather than fast fog.
I pass the ranger again, eating his lunch this time in the exact same spot, and ask him the question I pondered over lunch about the Mystic Lake trail. I can see its path to a point and I wonder where it goes from there. I need to wait for a group to get ahead of me, and figure I will test him. “Well, it’s the Wonderland Trail,” he says with authority, “it has to get over the ridge somehow.” Yeah, I know that, I’m wondering where. I should have known he didn’t know when he asked if there was a better view where I had been. Is this his first time here? Maybe he should explore a little. But I guess he’s been assigned that intersection.
Back at the highly populated Frozen Lake, I decide to go the extra mile on what I hope (incorrectly) will be a people-less return on the Shadow Lake trail. I did not remember, from my last time here, the extra mile was a gravel road; I may have been on another spur. It’s time to take my whiny self home.