Adventure Log: Huckleberry Creek

October 2, 2022
5.5 miles (120.5 of 101), 7 of 7 new hikes

I like anticipation. I’m looking forward to the next season before the current one is done. During reclining poses in yoga, I’m ready for standing ones; during standing ones, I’m looking forward to sitting ones. In spring and early summer, I eagerly anticipate mountain snow melting so I can hike the trails. In autumn, I’m done hiking before the snows come, ready for rainy days inside. I’m trying to be more intentional about living in the now, not forever looking toward what’s next.

I ended my meadow roving duties at Paradise with Labor Day, because I had other hikes to do; and haven’t been out since, in spite of unseasonal sunny days. But I still had one more new hike to meet my goal of seven, for my summer of 70.

Huckleberry Creek is on the Sunrise side of Mt. Rainier National Park. Sunrise is set to close in a week, and I knew it would be busy in the parking lot and on the popular trails. For some reason, though, Huckleberry Creek is not popular. Hence, I decide to go on Sunday, because . . .

My usual route south and out Hwy 12 threatened to close beyond Packwood late last week, due to smoke from the Goat Rocks fire. “Drive slowly and use low beam lights,” was the caution when authorities decided to keep it open. I don’t want to deal with that. The across the middle route on backroads is pleasant, but very much longer. Especially since I always miss at least one of the many twists and turns. That leaves the northern route on I-5. Ugh. I nearly decide to forego the anticipated autumn-color hike. I’m just done with hiking. But, the goal overrules the heart. Not wanting to be on the interstate during the week, I decide on Sunday.

The problem, of course, is the espresso kiosk doesn’t open until 7:00 on Sunday, and I want to leave by 6. Reluctantly, I stop in at the one that opens at 4:00. The latte, which costs a buck fifty more than “my” kiosk, is not as good. But the young women are cheerful and wish me a wonderful day.

I arrive at the end of the road to cloudless blue sky and a sparkling mountain. Is that new snow? We did have one sort of rainy day, though hardly measurable; it must have snowed up here.

I’m not on rover duty, and this isn’t my side of the mountain (and roving is finished here for the season anyway), but I can’t resist telling a woman blatantly walking on the meadow to stay on the trail. After that I ignore what I see. The parking lot is filling when I arrive at 8:30, but once off the half mile on Sourdough Ridge, the Huckleberry Creek trail is just me and . . . well, just me, and a couple chipmunks.

I kick myself for not even considering bringing my real camera, I became so used to not taking it while meadow roving. So you will know any wildlife in these photos were very nearby. I so hope to see a mountain goat. And marmots. Maybe a bear.

After briefly up to the top of the ridge, the narrow trail starts zigging down the other side. I feel some faded remains of aeoracrophobia. The huckleberry has turned scarlet and there are golden grasses, but otherwise not much color. I’m told by a Sunrise-loving friend that Paradise, where I usually make the last hike, is autumn color paradise; but I wonder if the extreme lack of rain for three months will affect color everywhere.

I always carry my mother with me when I hike, but today I find myself thinking of my uncle. Donald was the last of my father’s siblings to leave this world, a year ahead of my mother. At 106, he and my mother were the last of the generation. We were so lucky to have them so long. Like my mother and the Seminary Hill Natural Area, he left a legacy. The family farm in Michigan, on which he lived nearly all his life, is a county park, preserved for future generatIons to experience a turn of the last century farm. He also left a good deal of money to his nieces and nephews from that sale.

I hope I have used my portion well. First I bought a new car, and this summer—as a meadow rover—I practiced sleeping in it, in preparation to take some long road trips. Uncle Donald and Aunt Lena criss-crossed the country by handmade trailer and van, visiting family. And I published a book about growing old and the need to respect the wisdom keepers and those who care for them. I’m appalled by the expense of the latter, but can you put a price on fulfilling a dream? I pray it helps those to come who commit to caring for the elder generation. I’m grateful to Uncle Donald for making it possible.

I pass through an enormous field of huge rock, marveling at the forces of nature that broke up mountains and sent the pieces tumbling. Did the Appalachians used to look like this? And, if so, what did these mountains look like then?

In the bowl of the valley, the trail plunges into trees along Huckleberry Creek, and then an area of destruction. I think it’s the remains of a wildfire; but when I get home, I read that it is avalanche damage. Again, evidence of the power of Mother Nature. I almost turn back. I’ve hiked nearly to my turn-around point, and don’t see much need to pick my way through the only partially cleared trail. It’s taken two hours to get this far, all downhill. I drove two and a half hours from home, with no traffic. Both will take longer on the return. And I still have Wordle to do when I get home.

But my feet don’t listen to my head, and I continue on. Thank goodness for smart feet. I entirely failed to note the word “lake” in Forest Lake Camp that is my destination. It’s beautiful! I sit on a log for half an hour, reveling in the now, before I start back up to the ridge.

On way out, I discover there is a sheet of snow beneath the insulating fir needles and fallen trees in the avalanche zone. I can’t find information on when the destruction happened, but some of the trees are newly cut. And I don’t know how snow would have gotten under the dense pick-up sticks pile of tree trunks if they were already fallen, so I’m guessing just this past winter. Mystery.

I stop to examine the beauty of a dissected cone.

A tiny face above the rocks next to the trail catches my attention and I stop mid-step. A pine marten (I think). Oh my! I never EVER see any unusual animal. I wish I had my real camera, but it is very close; and I take a step closer. It comes out from under the rock, goes back in, comes out again, never taking its eyes from mine. It’s very curious. I hold my breath, enthralled, until finally it scurries away. How lucky am I! You made my day, little one.

I see no one at all until yards before I return to the crowd at Sourdough Ridge, where two hikers are heading up Huckleberry. Now I want to find the other end of this trail, in the Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, and hike in to the park border. I read it is snow-free early in the summer. Next year.

I’m listening in the car to Advice to Future Corpses (And Those Who Love Them): A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying. Great title, huh? And an excellent book. I’m learning much about the process of dying. I think about my mother as I drive home, listening. Much of what author Sallie Tisdale writes is familiar; my mother (and I as her companion) could have illustrated her words. And it adds to my list of regrets (I’ll be writing about that one of these days). It is sobering and a little heavy. Then I pass a random changeable letter sign that reads,” Surely not every body was kung fu fighting.” I burst out laughing. My mood lightens.

Summer and hiking are officially closed. I surpassed my mileage goal and met my new trails goal. I became a meadow rover and I published a book. Best summer ever. And the year of 70 isn’t over for eight more months!

I rarely move a heart rock, much less bring it home; but this one goes into my pocket. A perfect heart for a perfect summer.

P.S. There were no goats. Or bears. Or marmots.

Available for preorder until October 18! (Even if you have your copy in hand. They are going out early.)

11 thoughts on “Adventure Log: Huckleberry Creek

  1. Reading this post, I’m happy about so many things! Glad that you made it to my side of the mountain, grateful that you inspired me to keep trying to get to the lake, and that marten … how cool is that?! (I shouldn’t be too surprised to know they are there, though. They are cute but vicious little guys and prey on pikas and chipmunks, of which there are an abundance in this area). Always love your musings and I’m celebrating right along with you as you crush your summer goals. This is definitely your year and one can’t help but look forward to what you’ll do next! (And lots of book love, both for the one you’re reading and especially for the one you wrote!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You had been to the lake before, in spite of the times you didn’t go all the way. Right? Do you know when the avalanche was? The marten was the best (I can’t bring myself to acknowledge that it’s in the weasel family; such a bad rap “weasel” has). Mush on, my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No (thanks for the nudge). And no. Yeah, those weasels are cute but deadly. I’ll check in from Paradise tomorrow and maybe back to Sunrise Friday. A good summer, indeed.


  2. This was a great finale for the hiking season, Gretchen. The pine marten was amazing- such a gift! Thanks, and enjoy fall and the coming winter. Love this so much!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for sharing! Your photos are so rich in color and beautiful along with your words. The feelings you experience are personal, yet they’re understandable to those of us who treasure this landscape!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh my gosh, this is the best. You are your own worst enemy, kicking and screaming through such gorgeous beauty so you can get home to Wordle, standing wanting to sit, lying wanting to stand, where is your real camera, shouldn’t you turn back. And yet. This is by far one of the more gorgeous places I’ve seen you hike this summer. I love that it’s new and different and so extreme! Those rocks! The drama of it all. Geology at its finest. Congratulations on getting to this major major goal and accomplishment. Well all of them really! I am so glad you listen to your feet and not your head. Also, 5 miles is something even I might try. Good choice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha! Yes, it was a lovely hike. Both this one at Sunrise and Lakes High Trail at Paradise are MRNP best kept secrets. I’m happy to have discovered both this summer. I was a little concerned about the continuous up out of the bowl in exposed sun on the return, but it wasn’t bad. I’ve certainly done much worse.

      Liked by 1 person

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