July 19-21, 2022 /
7 miles + 1 around the lake / 68.9 of 101 / new #4 of 7
After miles of excruciatingly slow bouncing on pot-holed gravel forest road, I bump up onto the last two miles of blessed pavement under a cloudless blue sky. My heart quickens in familiarity with this campground. I am nearly dancing at the wheel.
I made the reservation for campsite #38 at 8am exactly six months ago, my finger poised over my laptop keyboard waiting for the stroke of the hour. Virtually holding my breath for the next five minutes, until I received notification that my reservation was confirmed. It’s one of the best lakeside sites at Takhlakh Lake, and in my opinion, the best of the best. And it was mine for three nights! All I had to do was spend the next months praying it wouldn’t be raining or smoky from wild fires. It didn’t occur to me to hope the snow would be melted out.
Arriving at the site, I immediately walk the short distance to the lake. Mt. Adams rises at one end of the small fir-lined natural lake, named in 2013 as one of National Geographic’s top 20 must-do trips in the world. The only sounds are the insects and the plopping back into the water of fish after their leap for joy.
Did I mention insects? It takes approximately 37 seconds for the scourge (a perfect group name) of mosquitoes to find me, voracious after the very recent completion of snow melt. I return to the car and the Yard Guard, spraying it around the site, followed by Deet on myself. The mosquitoes care not one whit about either. I put my tent up in ten minutes flat with not one error, and escape into it to inflate the air mattress and make my bed. I brought two books and my notebook of book marketing notes. I may be in my camp home a good bit. But there is a great view, and I do love my tent.
The ranger at the Gifford Pinchot NF station in Randle was not too helpful nor hopeful about trails clear of snow and winter blow-down. He did mention Killen Creek, which was not one I had researched, and the name doesn’t sound in line with my trail hopes. Though I have no access to the internet with current trail reports, I noted as I drove in that it’s just four miles from the campground. I read up in the trail book I brought; it actually sounds perfect and I decide I will go the next day. I can always turn around if I run into difficulty. After all, I’ve already done the long and dusty road.
I eat lunch in my tent, read, take a nap, read, sit briefly by the lake then give up and walk the mile loop around the lake, eat dinner in my tent, read, and go to bed way too early. But it’s good.
I’m up at dawn and take my coffee and chair to the lakeside, along with my campsite mosquito pals to picnic with the lake horde, kind of a city and country type of reunion. I swat, sip, and watch the sun come up, hoping for the fishing osprey that mesmerized me the first time I was here. One flies over, but it’s not looking for breakfast. At least there will be no rain this time, as there was the last time I was here.
It’s too buggy to cook a hot breakfast, and besides, I’m eager to be off on my hike before it gets hot. The four pot-holed miles to the trailhead takes forty minutes, but it’s not scary, thankfully. The guide book says this is a popular trail and hikers will be found here every day of the week, one of things that made the unfamiliar hike appealing to me. Considering how remote it is, and how challenging the road from civilization, its popularity surprises me; but wilderness lovers are intrepid. There are two cars in the lot, along with the mosquitoes.
While not beautiful, the trail through the forest is easy. There are a few pines in this mixed conifer forest that I’m not accustomed to and the large, beautiful cones startle me; the wildflowers are mostly not yet on the scene. There is snow, but the few places it’s over the trail is not a problem. Did I mention mosquitoes? I’m inhaling them. I want to hunt in my pack for my face gator, left over from hiking early in the pandemic, but it would require stopping long enough for the mosquitoes to catch up to me.
As I climb gradually higher, there are avalanche lilies! Some at the end of life, some prime, many emerging through the snow patches. I arrive at the beginning of the meadows. And the mountain. Wow!
Known as Pah-to by the land’s original inhabitants, and renamed after President John Adams, (is there a campaign to return geographic features to their original names?), I read in the trail book that of the Cascade volcanoes only Mt. Shasta in California contains a larger volume of volcanic material than does Mt. Adams, even though Rainier is taller, due to its higher base. And that although dormant for the past 1000 years, Mt. Adams will assuredly erupt again. (Fire Mountains: Treks & Treasures, by Buddy Rose.)
I continue through the meadow, the avalanche lilies and the mosquitoes in abundance—the one small frog I see can’t keep up. There are some snow bridges on the trail here, and I gingerly skirt them, trying not to step on visible plants, at least. The paintbrush is just beginning, and there is a patch of Jeffries shooting star! They are the most gorgeous of flowers.
When I arrive at the end of the meadows, the slope ahead of me is snow covered and I don’t see the trail. I’m about to turn back (though I briefly consider climbing up the slope of the snow, because I really want to see what is at the top), but then I realize there are no mosquitoes! I skirt the bottom of the snow, eventually spotting the trail just above me. Hooray!
I make my way to it and continue to the intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail. I spot what I think is the flank of Mt. Rainier, and head north on the PCT to see if she comes into view. I meet the first people of the day, PCT hikers. And there she is! Along with the Goat Rocks.
I eat a snack, reveling in being able to stop moving and not becoming the snack, then head back down. What a beautiful surprise to discover that, unbeknownst, Mt. Rainier was behind me coming up through the meadow and now I can gaze at her on the return. I even catch a glimpse of St. Helens from a high spot. Washington’s contribution of three to the 75-volcano Ring of Fire.
I meet a pair of hikers, then a trio of women on horseback. I’m curious how horses navigate this trail: the high steps, the blowdown, the snow bridges. And how the riders in short sleeves are dealing with the mosquitoes. I’m very glad to be back in my car, after I annihilate those that came in with me.
Back at camp, I inflate the raft I borrowed from Emma and Wynne and manage to get it down to and into the water by myself. Here is where a companion would be helpful. It is lovely on the lake, and I am proud of fulfilling my vow from my first perfect sojourn here to have flotation next time. I watch two osprey fishing—back and forth, higher and lower. Of course I don’t have my camera, so I can only float and watch, drifting into grass near the shore in the magical motion of dozens of blue dragon flies.
Mosquito-free I want to stay here the rest of the day, to paddle across, once I’m confident I’ve sufficiently inflated the raft. But because the bottom of the raft is so deep, paddling is exhausting, and I don’t stay out long.
I build a fire, hoping it will drive the mosquitoes away. They are impervious. I watch the sun go down through my tent window, turning the trees to gold. I want to look for the moon later, and see if there are stars, but I don’t want to go out. I see the half moon hours later through the window.
That evening I decide I will go home in the morning, a day early. The mosquitoes win. My first perfect visit here was in July, longer after the snow melt that year; I’ve canceled in August because of wildfire smoke; I’ve canceled due to rain; the road was washed out a couple of years with no funding for repairs; I’ve come in September when it was raining and cold; I’ve come in October for a golden day trip. When you camp in the PNW, you take your chances. Perhaps one should not try to repeat perfection, but I will not stop coming here. Imperfect here is a cut above perfection elsewhere.