August 16, 2021
After the morning debacle (read that here), I abandon my plan to drive back down the road to the Owyhigh Lakes trailhead and instead do a return hike up Emmons Moraine to the view of the glacier. It takes off from the end of the campground loop I’ve finally set up camp in for a three-night stay.
A moraine, for those of us who didn’t pay attention in geology instruction (or have any), is the debris left behind by a moving glacier that carves out the sides of the landscape and sometimes leaves interesting patterns on the edges of the cliffs. There are four kinds of moraines, and I won’t go into that, but you can read about them here. It’s pretty interesting. I’m guessing the Emmons is a ground moraine. I suppose it explains why what appears to be a river bed in these mountains is way wider than the actual river. The “bed” was formed by an ancient river of actual ice thousands of years ago; the current flow is merely melted ice and snow.
Part of me wants to just hang out in my hammock with my engaging book, but it’s only 1:30, I should have time for both, if nothing else goes wrong. It’s an easy hike—three miles RT and modest elevation gain, though I’m not without poles. I don’t really remember the hike from before, but it’s full of small waterfalls and now-dry stream crossings. It’s delightful.
I reach the river crossing overlook. Now it’s coming back to me. I remember the slippery slope on the other side. I have no pressing need to go further. I can see the glacier from here. The clouds are moving over the mountain and might soon obscure it. I’m not accustomed to hiking in the afternoon and I’m hot. And the trail up the side of the moraine is scary. (I feel like I whine a lot lately.)
I watch a man trot down the slippery slope, not even with poles. I ignore the probability that he is forty-five years younger than I am. I’m not planning to go on to the basin as I did last time I was here, but I decide to go at least to the fork in the trail that goes down to the river. It’s closer than I expected. I decide to go on down to the bridge. Then, what the heck, I’m in need of a victory, I’m here, I’m going.
I don’t know how deep the river is here near its source, but it is a thundering marvel for such a narrow body of water. Or maybe that is why it thunders.
The slippery slope—with poles—is no problem. I walk to the end of the maintained trail, wishing I had remembered to bring my new binoculars to view the ice cave closer. I did it!
The awesome power of nature, and the very long history of the earth’s formation, is evident here like no place else I’ve ever been. The Emmons Glacier, one of twenty-five on Mt. Rainier, has the largest surface area of any glacier in the contiguous US. What looks like rock here, is really ice. A rockfall from Little Tahoma in 1963, covered the lower glacier, insulating it from melting. For forty years, the glacier was actually advancing, but is now receding again.
Maybe I could navigate that washout, holding onto trees, but I am complete. I turn back. (Back home, I read trip reports that say the view doesn’t get any better beyond the washout, and there is no reason to continue.)
And now I remember the details of the slippery slope. It was the down part, especially that hairpin turn. Yikes. I move with glacial slowness, hoping the young woman who just crossed the bridge on her own return isn’t watching. Or maybe I hope she is, and will make sure I get down. I’m pleased that it is no longer the height and the narrow trail on the edge that scares me—aeroacrophobia is a thing of the past—but of my foot slipping. I plant each pole with each step before I move my foot. I don’t care if the young woman is rolling her eyes. Maybe she will be hiking when she’s 69 and maybe she won’t be. But I want to be hiking when I’m 79, and I for sure won’t be if I shatter a hip—or worse—now.
I did it! I didn’t die.
Back at the campsite, in my hammock, I’m happy. I did a hike, I have my book, and the one Dead Guy Rogue beer I brought.
Dead Guy Ale: “Gratefully dedicated to the Rogue in each of us.”
Dare * Risk * Dream.
How can you not love that?