Packwood Lake: Setting It All Aside

June 30, 2022 /
12.1 miles / 54.7 of 101

The news of the day, every day, is overwhelming and beyond disheartening. Terrifying, in fact. The only antidote I know of is to find ways to set it all aside now and then. My favorite way is wilderness hiking.

When a blue sky forecast returns after a couple overcast days, I pick a return to Packwood Lake. It’s an easy, but long hike. I’m a little behind “schedule” (not that it matters) by the time I enter I-5 south at 5:30. I forgot my camera and went back a quarter mile for it. At the espresso kiosk the driver on the other side had ordered multiple, complex iced drinks and there was just one barista. I don’t think I’ve ever waited so long at the window.

I don’t have a book on CD at the moment, and I probably would have listened to NPR anyway; the way you can’t keep from gawking at a horrific accident. SCOTUS is to hand down two more rulings today, one on EPA “overreach,” the other on immigration from Mexico. But for now, the news is about the unconscionable ramifications of the abortion decision and the more than fifty abandoned refugees who died in the back of a truck in Texas.

There is no sunrise over the prairie today, hidden by high fog that drops to the ground in Mossyrock. Beyond Morton it begins to clear, and as I descend into Randle, it will clearly be a beautiful day.

Lest readers be disappointed, I will reveal that I overshot the road to the lake. As I did the other time I hiked this trail, four years ago, a month after my mother died. I was watching carefully, but there is no signage coming from the west. It really is right at the edge of Packwood, but I don’t remember that. I keep going, while my head screams at me that I’ve gone too far and I’m an idiot, while my foot refuses to leave the accelerator and my arms to turn the steering wheel, missing one opportunity after another to turn around as I climb ten miles up into the mountains, knowing it’s wrong. When I finally go back, there is a sign from the east, and I turn onto the road that says “no outlet.” Six miles up the (paved) forest road, I’m an hour later than I expected to be. At least the sun is shining, and Mt. Rainier is gleaming from the parking lot.

Pulling my phone out of my pocket to take a picture of the map at the trailhead, the Apple news headline pops up: SCOTUS ruled in favor of Big Coal and against the EPA’s authority to reduce greenhouse emissions. What the fuck? I have to set this aside for a few hours; I put my phone on airplane mode, it’s just a camera now. The trail feels dark and straight . . . to hell, in a metaphor for the direction of the country. I write a letter in my head: “Dear Great-grandchildren, aka Gen Screwed: I’m sorry . . . ”

A mile and a half in, I pass the wilderness sign. That’s it. I’m just going to breathe and enjoy.

This is such a gentle and lovely trail. There were six cars in the lot when I arrived, and I meet most of the occupants backpacking out within the first thirty minutes. For now, at least, the forest is mine. And the beargrass is spectacular! Right at peak.

Packwood Lake is the water and electricity source for the small town of Packwood, one of the gateways to Mt. Rainier National Park and the Cascades. About two miles by half a mile big, it was formed by a natural dam some 1200 years ago. Where the trail first arrives at the lake, one can see the Goat Rocks and snowy Johnson Peak, as well as Agnes Island, where no landing is permitted. Think about that.

I don’t stop there, but keep on as the trail skirts the lake. I went a little ways beyond the historic ranger cabin and hydroelectric building last time, until I was stopped by a blowdown. Tired, from walking in patchy snow in May, I turned back. Now I wonder if I can count this as one of my seven new trails goal, even though it’s not a new trailhead or trail name. I’ll have to think about that. And yes, the water is this green.

There are several campsites along the lake, and I come upon a favorite. It even has a kitchen shelf tightly wedged between two trees. I think I could backpack into here, the trail is that easy; but I’m not sure I could wilderness camp by myself. Also I wouldn’t want to with anyone else. Someone needs to invent a hike companion robot: there if you need it, out of sight otherwise.

I give my brand-new Freschette pee funnel and Kula cloth their maiden run. They work great! TMI? Hey, it’s a hiking blog, move on along.

As I walk, I think about what I need to be doing to birth my memoir. It’s a little overwhelming, but in a good way. I’m excited. I come up with my July book giveaway contest. Fun stuff! More later.

I want to keep going and going. My head and my body begin another conversation, not so screamy this time and reversing roles. My body, not at all tired, gently says, “You do know you have to go back too, right?” My head replies, “But what’s next, and next? Can’t we go a little farther?” I can see what looks like the end of the lake not far off, I decide I’ll just go to there; body and head compromise. (Yes, that’s a metaphor.)

But the trail gets a little confusing. There are side trails to campsites, but the main trail curves away, and comes to a wide spot in the creek. I’m fairly sure I could get across, it’s slow and shallow though my boots might get wet, but I’m not sure it goes where I want to go anyway. I go back through the campsites and climb out onto one of the logs in the water, my goal in sight, but not accessible from here.

And, holy gamole! there’s Mt. Rainier.

I eat my lunch and wish the two large geese families would come closer. And wonder if the trail comes back to lake. But I will probably never know, by experience anyway, because . . .

What seemed like level trail coming in, was really more uphill than I realized. But I can sure tell it goes down now. With some four miles to go, of the twelve it will end up being overall, hip flexors, toes (hitting the tips of my boots), and bunions are screaming bloody murder.

I meet several parties on the way out, including several overnighters. I greet one family—a small person (maybe seven) and his parentals toting backpacks—and after I pass I hear a small voice behind me: “How’s the lake?” I turn and the little guy is standing in the middle of the trail looking back at me. “It’s beautiful,” I say, “really beautiful. You will love it.”

My heart open again, I immediately notice a wildflower I missed on the way up. They look like a candy canes! I look it up when I get home, and sure enough, it’s called “sugar stick” (allotropa torr). Crazy cool! I wish I could see it opened up, but if you zoom close, you can see the tiny flowers just waiting to pop out.

I really want a cold beer at the Packwood Brewery, but I want to be home and to shower off the Deet more. I am in a world of hurt when I get back to my own deck and cold one. I’m rethinking my plan to repeat this season the most beautiful, and most challenging, trail I’ve hiked.

Thanks for coming along! Now get out there and make sure people vote in November. (No, I’m not sure how one does that, but do watch for opportunities, and I will too.) And set this nightmare aside when you need to. We will survive this. I’m confident there are many ways to create a just world, as long as we don’t give up and give in.

P.S. Read fun stuff about my memoir and watch for publication details (under the “Book” link) and find resources for caregivers at GretchenStaebler.com. You can subscribe to my e-letter there and get monthly updates on what’s new, so you don’t have to remember to check the site. 

P.P.S. There might be a Camp Gigi session next week! Of course I will write down the story here.

13 thoughts on “Packwood Lake: Setting It All Aside

  1. Don’t know how I missed this–the hike and the revelations. I’ve been in the Goat Rocks, a gorgeous destination, and deceptive in the up/down of it all.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Stunning photos, Gretchen, and wrenching truths. What a juxtaposition we are served right now, you and Bonnie, the mountains and rivers and SCOTUS, me, the Atlantic and the Chesapeake and the same rancid news. It is head snapping, but I too will try and find the rainbow in this cosmic American storm.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Do it! Do you walk in Seminary Hill Natural Area? Packwood Lake is easy, but long. There’s a Skokomish river trail (Staircase Rapids) at the end of the Lake Cushman road (ONP) that is easy and lovely. Let me know if you want ideas!

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      1. Thank you Gretchen for your suggestions. I have not explored Seminary Hill ( it being so far away and all). My sister and I walk on Friday, Seminary Hill hike is overdue.

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  3. Like you, I am so grateful for wild spaces to escape the noise of this ‘world gone mad’. I can’t even enter the fray of how dangerous these decisions by SCROTUS have proven to be. There is something safe and ancient about the woods. That lake is stunning and I so appreciate that you’ve gone the extra mile to get the views I’ve missed. The colors, the beargrass and sugar stick, oh my! 12 miles is awesome this early in the season! Thanks too for the reminder to look for chances to inspire others to vote. We need to do everything we can. 

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m pleased with the 12 miles! This is a really beautiful hike. I thought about going back to Skookum Flats, but the long drive stopped me. This trail fits the same bill, and has a lake! On the map, it looks like I covered about the trail before it leaves the lake shore. I would so love to see the rest, but I would have to camp there. Too long for my body in one day.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, those aching feet! I can certainly relate. Thanks for taking me along with you on the hike. Did you sense my presence, the invisible companion on your solo adventures? Not a robot, and certainly no help if you need it, but enjoying every minute (except for those sore feet). Thanks, Gretchen.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. There is a very specific way of lacing your boots that helps when you go downhill. It’s worth reading about if you find yourself in that particular pickle again!

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