Adventure Log: Juniper Ridge, Agony & Ecstasy

July 14, 2022 /
6.2 miles / 60.9 of 101 / new #3 of 7

After several days of Camp Gigi, I’m back on the trail, a new one for my Summer of 70 bucket list of seven!

I’m heading down the hill at 5am, already the days have shortened and it is barely dawn. I brake for three raccoons heading across the road, returning home after a night of scavenging. My favorite barista hasn’t been at the espresso kiosk for quite a while, but my pink-haired new favorite knows my order and that I’m going hiking. She asks me where I’m going and though she doesn’t know the trail, she nods in knowledge of the location.

I head out of town under the gaze of the full moon, and make the familiar exit onto highway 12 where the sky turns to cloud cover. There will be no sunrise across the prairie today. Something eye-catching is growing in the bulb farm fields in Mossyrock and I turn back and drive down the frontage road to check it out. I’m heading for a remote trail, and feel no push to arrive early, other than to avoid what promises to be a hot day. It looks like astilbe, and is beautiful beneath the clouds that have dropped to just above the ground.

The sky clears around Morton, and my favorite view before the road descends into Randle does not disappoint.

I pass my turn-off (on purpose) and continue to the Gifford-Pinchot NF ranger station to use the facilities and see if there is anything posted about snow where I’m camping next week. No. I’ll come back after my hike when they’re open.

After over-shooting the fourth turn from Randle (the WTA mileage was off, and I forget I have a screenshot of the Google maps directions, which are closer), I go from a wide gravel forest road to an almost cleared one-track one. There was no signage, and I’m not sure I’m on the right road. Then I remember my car navigation map. Geez. Yes, the right road. There are few potholes, but the many run-off ditches require slowdowns to almost no registered speed. I maneuver past blowdowns that aren’t quite off the track. It’s a slow six miles, and it’s 8:30 before I hit the trail.

There are no cars in the lot. On an unfamiliar and remote trail, I wish for a couple. I’m a little anxious (especially after a friend had a close encounter with a bear at not-remote Sunrise on Rainier), but as usual, once I’m on my way, all is well.

I knew it was a hybrid trail, used both by hikers and dirt bikes. Though I will not share the trail today, navigating the ruts on the inclines leaves my crone legs more tired and my crone lungs more breathless than they otherwise might have been.

(The white flower is a subalpine mariposa lily; I believe a first for me.)

It takes an hour and a half to hike the first brutal one and a half miles uphill through the second and third growth forest (fires in 1902 and 1918 opened the area up) to the first break onto a ridge. I see it coming and my step quickens. Svyatyy blyad’! (You’ll have to find Ukranian translation, because I don’t swear on the page. 🤣 ) Suffice it to say, it blows my mind.

The trail returns to the trees, and before long branches into three. The middle one is deeply rutted, but I have no idea which of the others is the preferred route, or where they even go. But the left fork has blue sky in the near distance, and I head for it like a hummingbird to red.

I skirt a couple of snow patches with avalanche and glacier lilies making their brave emergence.

Mt. Adams begins to raise her head above the near horizon. Oh my gawd.

I break out over the top to the promised Juniper Ridge and blooming meadow flowers. The Goat Rocks are to my left. I look back and there is Mt. Rainier. And now I’m weeping for the beauty of this world. And that I get to see it.

Mt. Adams
Goat Rocks
Mt. Rainier

I wind around the base of Juniper Peak, which I will not be scaling. I am not the proverbial bear, I’m a 70-year-old woman who doesn’t need to see what’s on the other side. Beyond it, the damaged Mt. St. Helens peeks above the foothills; my chest tightens at the loss of her magnificent crown. I’m accustomed to it from my house, but up here I ache.

Juniper Peak and Mt. Rainier
Mt. St. Helens

I hike the length of the ridge and return to uphill and trees, looking for a place in the shade to rest and snack. The only option, without crushing plants, is on a root in the middle of the trail, my feet in a dirt bike rut. I recall what a sister yogi said last week, “Never go down without a clear plan for getting back up.” Good cautionary words. I’m pretty sure for now I can get up from most anywhere, but it will rarely be graceful. The first thing to go with aging is pride.

I wasn’t going any farther, but now I’m rested and curious, and continue up the rutted trail until it opens again to Mt. Adams. It’s spectacular, but no more so than earlier. When the trail starts downward, I turn back, complete.

Me with my new hiking hat hair cut.

Back on the ridge, I meet two men, the only people I will see all day. One of them flings his arms wide as I approach and says something in a deep accent, or perhaps even another language. I don’t understand the words, but the gesture is clear. I fling my arms out too and say, “Yes! That!” We greet each other then, his accent sounds Eastern European. “Your car, it is the Nissan?” he asks. “The orange one, yes!” I say. I ask where they are from. They hesitate, then the same man (I think the other one doesn’t speak English) says, “Tacoma.” I smile, and hopefully with an encouraging twinkle, ask, “And before that?” Another hesitation and they say, “Russia.” “I’m glad you’re here,” I say. I wonder if they are embarrassed, or even ashamed to reveal their homeland. Or maybe I’m projecting, because I’m ashamed of my homeland. Countries behaving badly.

We chat some more and then move on. I’ve forgotten again to have my blog cards easily accessible. But I leave one on their car before I head back down the road.

The destination of the trail is top ten, but my criteria for repeating a hike is that it must be more than just a destination hike. There is nothing to like about this trail; it’s a one and done.

I stop at the ranger station and talk to the ranger. All clear to Takhlakh Lake, maybe a few patches of snow in the campground, but melting out fast now, replaced by mosquitoes. But, potential bad news, the route to get there may be a problem. There is a month-long closure this summer to put a fish culvert under the road, but he hasn’t had an update on when. He surely hopes for a week’s notice. He doesn’t know if they will put detour signs in Randle, and I could have gone a very long way before discovering the closure and having to return to Randle. The detour is a long way on a forest road in addition to the already-long-way forest road. I’ll call on Monday or stop on Tuesday for an update. And also find what potential Mt. Adams hikes are still uncharacteristically snowed in.

The weather looks stellar, if not too hot, for my remote and primitive campout next week! Stay tuned.

To keep up with all the hoopla around the October publication of my memoir about my adventure in mother care, subscribe to my e-letter on my website: gretchenstaebler.com. (You will also get the first two chapters of Mother Lode to read immediately!) The next edition will be zooming out to inboxes this Sunday, with a fun contest to get your name entered in a drawing for a free book.

9 thoughts on “Adventure Log: Juniper Ridge, Agony & Ecstasy

  1. Wow, beautiful!! My first thought was that 760ft of gain seemed like a typo. Yes? Sounds like much more “upshit” than that. Great views and I love new hikes. I seem more inclined these days to stick with known places so I am especially grateful to read about your adventurous spirit! Fingers crossed for a great camping trip!

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    1. I don’t trust the phone app on the gain. It never seems like enough to me! WTA says it’s 1900. But that might include up Juniper Peak, I don’t know. There were only three switchbacks on this trail too; ridiculous! The ranger suggested the one he loves on the other side of the parking lot: Tongue Mt. But it’s a dirt bike trail too, so that’s a no from me. I wonder why you are sticking with the known. Do you know?

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  2. Dear Gretchen,

    You are such a brave, stellar hiker. Your photos, your descriptions and your commentary always take me along right beside you. Also appreciated this time the commentary on meeting your only trail compatriots—two Russians. It is a sweet story about the camradarie I always find in the back country. Also, a good teaching about checking with the local ranger station for details! All the best, Ann

    >

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you also brave and stellar friend! We are amaZing! I really loved meeting those to guys, also hiking while aging. It always feels easier for me the introvert to connect with trail compatriots when there are so few. And I am so glad I thought to check in at the ranger station! Enjoy Granny Camp!

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  3. What a great adventure, the good and bad. Those views are amazing, worth the price of admission, soooo many mountains, and I especially love those early morning foggy pics. And the flowers. But that rutted path? Ugh. Glad you didn’t lose heart. Can’t wait to see then next adventure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely worth the price of admission—once. Next up, more Mt. Adams! I’ve never hiked nearer it than this; I hope the snow melts and I can. Never did I imagine there would still be snow now when I made the campground reservation in January!

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