Camping & Hiking the White River: Part 2

Emmons Moraine
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.)

Little Tahoma, the peak here. Rainier to the right is behind a cloud.

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?

11 thoughts on “Camping & Hiking the White River: Part 2

  1. In the past I have been envious of the mountains, waterfalls and wildflowers that you share in your posts. But recently I decided to explore the beauty that is here in my home state, also deeply impacted by glaciers thousands of years ago. Reading your blog and Bonnie’s inspired me to complete the Wisconsin Master Naturalist training a few weeks ago and sign up for the 52 Hike Challenge. Someday soon I will begin sharing the view from my part of the world. Thanks so much for the inspiration!

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  2. How is it even possible that you have explored another trail I’ve never been on in my own backyard ?  Ironic that on my return from Third Burroughs yesterday, descending along the Sunrise Rim trail, that I was wondering how I could hike down there. Wondering if that milky emerald water was accesible. Love to hear about pushing the boundaries of comfort in favor of adventure. Never reckkessly, always thoughtfully. Another pivot ♡ Brava !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You haven’t been to Emmons Morain? I figured that’s why you were in the campground. And did you know you can hike to Summerland from there too? I wonder what the trail is like, other than longer. I’m very curious. Too long for round trip, six something miles in, I think.

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  3. Every day in the local paper I read of someone being rescued from the Flatirons–they twist an ankle or break one or wrench a knee or worse. The local rescue squads are kept very busy as a rescue can take many hours. Glad you are so careful.

    Liked by 1 person

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