August 18, 2022 /
Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground / 14.5 mi / 98.4 of 101
“My mother was a hiker too, especially as a young woman in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I use my outings as connection; it is the best one we have. Sometimes it works.
“After a long hike in July to Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground, a meadow in Mt. Rainier National Park that was home to a Native American guide who lived and hunted there before it became a park, I sat on the stool at Mama’s knee to tell her about it.
“’I was there many years ago,’ she told me.
‘It was a steep climb!’ I said. ‘I was exhausted.’
‘I remember. And did you cross a river?’
‘Yes,’ I said.
‘Was there a cabin in the meadow?’
‘Yes. And the wildflowers were knee high as I walked through the meadow on the footpath!’
‘And could you see the mountain at the edge of the meadow?’
‘It was a beautiful day. The mountain was out full on.’
‘Oh, my dear daughter,’ she whispered. ‘I’m so glad you got to see it.’”
—excerpted from Mother Lode: Confessions of a Reluctant Caregiver
It’s one of the hikes I said I would never do again. It was spectacular five years ago, but by far the hardest and (along with Grand Park, which is easier), at 14 miles, the longest. Also 3200 feet elevation gain, and I try to stay under 2200.
But, it’s the Summer of 70, and the year of Mother Lode. The hike represented a breakthrough connection with my mother five years ago, and I felt a tug. I didn’t think it was wise to do it alone, though, so I asked my friend Bonnie Rae if she wanted to join me. She was in.
The trip reports, which were not all that recent, were a little ominous. A week ago the hikers abandoned the route at the river crossing. A month ago (before hot weather finally melted the snow), a report said the crossings weren’t that bad, but you will get your feet wet. What the heck, we’ll turn back if it’s not crossable. Besides, we can do hard things.
I leave home at 4:40 and reach the Avenue Espresso on Jackson Highway when it opens at 5:00, giving me a bit of a time jump on the one in town. I’m ahead of dawn over the prairie, but there is cloud cover, anyway. I do catch the mountain under a pink glow.
On the trail at 6:45, we cross the lovely boardwalk through devil’s club and skunk cabbage . . .
. . . and then start up. An up that doesn’t really stop until it goes steeply down to the river. The river. Well, it’s called a creek, but what the heck is that about?
I know right away—given my bit of stupidity crossing a snow field at Mt. St. Helens back in May, which I had no business crossing, especially being alone, and which made me smarter (I hope)—I would not have crossed this by myself. Think sprained (or worse) ankle, or headfirst downstream. Bonnie has GPS, we could at least get help.
There was a bridge here five years ago, and the other crossings were trickles. But there was epic snow pack this year, and late melt out. The “cricks” are running high. Spoiler alert, there are five crossings (plus two with bridges), that will have to be crossed again on the return; we try not to think about that. We survey the options like scouts on a rafting expedition. None are good. Bonnie opts not to worry about wet feet, though the result is not necessarily intentional. I try to stay dry, having stupidly not brought spare socks. I am exhilarated by my success.
After that, we can do anything. But yowza, lots of up. And then the flies. Many flies. Bonnie has netting, I do not. After the mosquitoes at Mt. Adams, you would think . . .
The lesser meadows are still awash in wildflowers, but nearly gone at the Hunting Grounds; not the spectacle of my previous adventure here. I will let the photos, my post from five years ago, and Bonnie’s post speak for the rest.
Company on the trail are all Wonderland Trail hikers; we are the only day hikers. And several are solo women. One of them joins us at the river crossings on the return. She’s been on the trail for five days, and is returning to her car at Longmire. Each crossing is different from the angle of the opposite side, and I am grateful for her help taking my hand on leaps. In the end, we all abandon leaping and just ford. My boots did pretty well, and would have been better if I cleaned and waterproofed them every season. They will need to be cleaned now, for sure.
I got home at 9:30, after dinner at Base Camp Grill and stopping at Mayfield Dam to walk off a painful leg cramp. Shower. Ibuprofen. Bed. Next week, back to roving.
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