August 14, 2020
Gradual but relentless, relentless but gradual; choose your perspective. WTA said 2900 feet elevation gain, my phone app said less than 1800 when I got to the top. Regardless, it was a lot of upshit and I am unaccustomedly sore this morning after.
I had planned to return to Spray Park this week, but after reading trip reports of hoards of people at the Mowich Lake Mt. Rainier NP entrance, I wasn’t feeling it. That, my friends, is the side of the mountain farthest from home where I always make wrong turns enroute, and I wasn’t feeling that drive either; nor the long washboard road to the lake. Three strikes, you’re out. I started casting around for a new hike at the Paradise entrance and found this one that trip reporters raved about. I chose to overlook the elevation gain; reporters insisted it was gradual switchbacks and not steep until the end and well worth it. And besides, there was the lure of a salmon burger and beer at BaseCamp Grill in Ashford afterward.
I arrived at 7am to the rising sun glow on Herself above the suspension bridge at the trailhead at Longmire—about halfway to Paradise—and no cars in the lot.
Reporters were right, the climb was gradual, thanks to switchbacks. I counted them on the way back down to entertain myself, about 30.
The first three miles were uninteresting, Only one stream crossing (at two miles in), no vistas to break the monotony, woodland flowers only at the stream. The flowers in the steep meadows (after mile 3) were lovely, though beginning to fade. This has been a stunning mountain wildflower year, but I guess all things must end. In a few weeks there will be an abundance of huckleberries on this trail. I will leave them to the bears and others. The up never quit, but for one time for a few feet at the stream crossing. Not one other step in 3.6 miles to the saddle.
From the top of the second meadow, Mt. Adams stood glorious, Mt. Hood in the distance and unusually clear, and I looked directly into the crater of Mt. St. Helens. But no sign of Rainier.
The switchbacks, long at first, were closer together and steeper near the top, then they quit and the trail just went straight up in steps that were knee or thigh high. Like, I used my hands on the boulders a few times straight up. Maybe my phone app didn’t calculate that, it was just one step for several feet of vertical distance after all.
Finally, I was just below the crest. If not for the trip reports, I would have given up at the bottom of the meadow, but I forged ahead—ur, up—the last bit. Holy goddess!
There she was. Right. In. My. Face.
And the return. Fortunately no one was coming up, since I was very slow and there was little room to pass. In fact, except for the young guy who hoofed it past me coming up, and whom I didn’t see again (I suspect he went up Eagle Peak), I saw no one until I was halfway down. I met three parties of two, all about my age or so: two men (one in a kilt), two women, two more women (with whom I enjoyed a conversation and who probably had to sit down to descend from the top as I did); and a young woman. All but the two men put on masks. Hiking in a pandemic, so weird.
And there was a plethora of hearts. I love my mountains! And it loves me back. (But maybe not this trail so much.)