Our adventures were over, the weekend forecast was for rain everywhere. We spent Friday and Saturday hunkered down inside doing a new jigsaw puzzle while the very welcome rain pounded down and the wind howled.
But when I woke up Sunday morning, rain not predicted until afternoon, I couldn’t bear for Katherine not to see one more gorgeous place before her Monday departure. I sent her a text message from my bed. “We may not see the mountain at Sunrise, but you can see where she lives.” She was more than game to go and we left the house at seven o’clock, loaded down with rain gear.
Part Seven: Sunrise, the White River, and the Grove of the Ancestors [aka Patriarchs]
It’s barely light, and foggy, as we head down I-5 to Hwy 12, where we drive through off and on drizzle, climbing into the foothills. Above Packwood, the windshield wipers are on continuous swish and the fog over the edge of the stone wall completely hides the mountain and canyon. But there is a hopeful patch of blue.
We drive through the gate at the northeast White River entrance and wind up the wet road. It’s covered with fir needles, clearly there had been a big storm at some point while we were fitting pieces into our puzzle. Then, miracle! There is blue sky and shafts of light slanting through the trees. Katherine’s visit has been a PNW miracle of grace.
After a brief stop at Sunrise Point, where there is nothing but fog, we proceed the last mile to the visitor center, and discover a dusting of snow on the low ridges! As the clouds drift across the mountain, revealing small bits of her, we see she has her first coat of winter white.
We thought we would just sit in the car, but clearly that plan has changed. We bundle up (37º) and head up the Sunrise Rim trail. I figure we’ll go to Shadow Lake and turn back.
It’s snowing at the lake!
I propose we continue on and loop around back to the service road and return to the parking lot. But at the intersection, we decide to head up through the ravine to the top. In for a dime . . . I want Katherine to see the true, stark nature of this side of Rainier.
We meet a couple coming down, maybe Park volunteers, who inform us it’s very windy up top, biting snow, can hardly stand upright. We briefly consider turning around, but decide we can make that choice later.
The wind is indeed fierce, tiny ice chips blast us, stinging our faces. The storm is swirling and stuck. It’s easy to imagine what winter is here—and unimaginable at the same time. It’s a wildness I haven’t experienced before, being a fair-weather hiker. I’m glad to be here. We tarry only long enough to decide to return on the Sourdough Ridge trail rather than back the way we came. I figure if we can just get beyond Frozen Lake, we’ll be on the leeward side of the ridge, protected from the wind.
Once there, we keep looking back at the mountain, snow blowing off her peak, hoping the cloud covering her will move on more quickly than the one coming and allow the patch of blue to expose her. But one cloud is stubbornly stuck and we get only glimpses. Enough to know she really is there. I’m enchanted by the patterns on the cliff walls, unnoticed before the snow highlighted them.
We meet several groups of hikers dressed for conditions at the parking lot and definitely not for what they are approaching. We feel smug in our snuggy coats with hoods, down vests, warm hats, boots, gloves.
We are so glad we chanced the weather and came to this magnificent place. I miss a lot staying indoors to enjoy the weather from a place of warmth. Maybe I will get more adventurous. Or not. I’m glad I was today.
White River and Tipsoo Lake
Next up is the White River, so Katherine—a river warrior woman—can get near to one of these wild glacial bodies of water. We pull into White River campground (where I camped last month) and walk down to rocky bed. Rainier is at the end, looking into Emmons Glacier, but she’s mostly hiding. Katherine thought she could walk across the bridge, but out in the middle the glacial white water is dizzying over the simple split log bridge. Rainier is still in peek-a-boo mode.
We head for Tipsoo Lake next. I was hoping we could hike the half mile in to the first picturesque pond, but the weather is different at Chinook Pass. When we get to the parking area, we can’t even see the lake, much less the mountain. We stay in the car and eat our lunch as the lake at least becomes visible, then move on.
Grove of the Ancestors [Patriarchs] (I wish they would change the name)
We enter the southeast entrance to the Park at Stevens Canyon. It looks more like a Sunday here and we get the last spot in the lot. We walk down the beautiful needle-padded path toward the river, beautiful after the rain; the ancient cedars, firs, spruce, and hemlock trucks are shiny with moisture. How happy they must be to be wet again. We cross the swinging bridge over the Ohanapecosh River and Katherine asks if this is the end. “We aren’t even to the grove yet!” I say. There is so much beauty here it seems greedy to expect one bit more.
Finally, we have seen all we came to see. We stop in Packwood for beer and chips and guacamole. It’s not Ashford’s Base Camp Bar & Grill, but it’s what there is.
In ten days we have been to the ocean and the rain forest, the Olympics and the Cascades, and drove along Hood Canal. We’ve been to all three main entrances to Mt. Rainier National Park, hiked at Paradise and Sunrise and Mt. St. Helens. We’ve walked in the woods next to my house. I think I live in the most stunning place on the planet; but, of course, home is home and there are many stunning places. Katherine lives on the Toe River in the shadow of the Black Mountains in the Appalachians. We are both lucky to feel home where we live, not just physically, but heart and soul deep.
P.S. We almost finished the puzzle. But the sun has returned and we leave early for the airport to stop at Nisqually Wildlife Refuge. The adventures never stop around here.
I am lucky to have friends who are as stunned by the beauty of the Pacific Northwest as I am, and who come to visit. Thank you, Katherine; you have honored me.