August. 9, 2021
I did it! I got to the “other” side of Mt. Rainier with no wrong turns! And, bonus, back again. I’m so proud. It only took some 15 trials.
I put Spray Park on my hike list for this year, but the snow is slow to leave the Mowich Lake area and the road stays closed well into summer. Then I was visiting the grands and I’m just now getting to it. I haven’t been there since 2017, when I declared it the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. Why have I not been back? (Read that post here. It was the time my battery died while I was trying to figure out where I was. I’ll try not to include too many duplicate photos here, but I see I took many of the same ones.)
I’m on the highway at 5:20 with latte and a topped off gas tank. Light does not come so early now, and I’m well past the prairie before the sun comes up. Besides it’s foggy. What with my “clean” route and no traffic, I actually get to to the park boundary and on to the end of the 16 miles of washboard gravel road in less time than Google Maps says it will take. Shazaam! Either the fog is clearing or I get above it just before the end of the road and Herself is staging a coming out.
There are plenty of cars in the lot, mostly campers and backpackers, I expect, but it’s not full. I’m on the trail just before 8. It starts in the forest—actually it’s all in the forest, until it’s not—and is deceptively easy hiking. It rained the day before, which made the gravel road dust-free and left everything fresh and happy after a long-awaited drink of water. There are several sweet water crossings and some clearings for wild bloom. And one peak of the mountain.
The “easy” part ends eight tenths of a mile from the edge of the meadow and makes up for it the rest of the way. I go so slow. So what? People pass me. Don’t care.
And then, the meadow. And the Mountain.
I didn’t reread my 2017 post, and really I had forgotten how beautiful it is. The sudden transition from forest to meadow and mountain is on the short list of my favorite views.
In the second of the chain of meadows, I sit right down in the path to take a photo of the paintbrush and lupine and make the next hikers go around me. Like there aren’t going to be any more. Because really I have forgotten there is a mile long chain of meadows.
I was in North Carolina during prime wildflower days, and they are fading now. But still, there is plenty of color. And the gentian is just coming. I’m not sure but that gentian in the bud isn’t the most beautiful blue in creation.
I walk slowly on and on. Rainier beams, proud of herself today, and disinclined to hide. She got enough of that in the rain yesterday. Little Tahoma, off to her side on all the other hikes I do, is in front of her here. It’s discombobulating.
I reach the far end of the meadow and find, surprisingly, some late avalanche lilies.
I stop at a snowfield. The trail is hidden. I don’t know where it goes from here, and don’t need to. I am complete. I sit on a rock with a trail bar, and scratch out notes in my pad of thoughts I had on the way up.
This weekend is my fiftieth high school class reunion, postponed from last year. I’m thinking I might write an essay, maybe submit it to the newspaper. I haven’t done that in a long time. Fifty (plus one) years. It’s a sobering anniversary; I’m not sure how I got here. Forty-five of my classmates have died. Time counts. Time has always counted. We just didn’t realize it until we slowed down a bit.
On my way back through the meadows, I meet a pair of women, then a solo woman, my age or beyond. I’m just so proud of us. If I could share space and conversation with anyone, dead or alive, I would choose women over 65 who hike alone or with other women. (Next year, I might change that to 70. Sixty-five is sounding youthful.)
At the edge of the meadow again, a man is taking a photo of the same patch of lupine and paintbrush I did. Like there won’t be more. His wife asks me what else there will be to see. Oh, honey. More and more and more of this. The only disappointment: no marmots.
I might have to put this hike on my annual list. Until I can’t do it any more, this is where I want to be.
And, say howdy, the hike DOWN back through the forest is twice as long as it is going up. And I really should have put my knee straps on. I stop at Spray Falls that I passed by on the ascent, eager to get to the meadow. In 2015, I was here in mid-July—only going as far as the falls after a late start from grandchild care in Seattle and needing to get home to cook dinner for my mother—and it was more impressive then. Today it’s not much more than a trickle. (Photos of it then are here.)
The parking lot is full and the cars are lined up way down the road. Mine stands out in the crowd of cars the color of pavement. Life is short, drive in color.
After sitting by the lake with my lunch, as clouds begin to drift in, I’m back home just in time for dinner—happy I have some leftovers—and ibuprofen.
Next week (I think), camping—and the other other sides of Rainier: Sunrise and Lake Tipsoo. Summer is closing out fast, though the PNW has another epic heatwave coming this week. Stay cool, my friends.