October 8, 2022 / Pinnacle Saddle /
125 miles of 101 mile Summer of 70 goal
A bull elk with a large rack runs across the road in front of me before I reach the Nisqually entrance of Mt. Rainier National Park. I glance through the trees in the direction he went, and see the rest of the herd. A minute or two earlier, and I would have been treated to all of them. A great way to start my encore adventure.
As the late-arriving summer moves into second summer, I decide to do one more autumn hike. I haven’t, afterall, cleaned my boots and put them away yet, and I have one more tuna snack and one more homemade trail bar. What with my Summer of 70 goal to do seven new hikes, as well as a few weekly hiking days spent as a meadow rover at Paradise, I haven’t done any of my recurring favorites other than east Skyline at Paradise. I decide to head to Pinnacle Saddle.
It’s Saturday, but Pinnacle is not a well-traveled trail. And I need a break from the computer and worry over what I should be doing in support of my book and from the undone yard work that taunts me. It would be lovely to watch the sun come up from the mountain, but mornings have been foggy, and I don’t want to drive in the dark vichyssoise. Besides, coffee doesn’t happen until six on Saturday. I leave the house at 5:30 and head for the Jackson Prairie espresso kiosk, arriving ten minutes before it opens, then head out Hwy 12 through the expected fog.
Stopping for a minute for the pink glow before Mineral, I head on to the gate after braking for the elk. The sun hits the side of Herself as I approach. I stop at the iconic viewpoint, which has been closed off and on for repaving all summer. The tall poles marking the edge of the road to Paradise for the snow plows are in place, the “chain up” signs turned back into view. The snow will come eventually.
After a brief visit to Reflection Lakes, I cross the road and head up toward the saddle. It’s a short, but fairly steep hike with a huge payoff. It is no longer difficult for me, I’m happy to note.
The autumn color is fading, or perhaps it wasn’t particularly brilliant in this dry summer, once summer began in July. My friend who hiked here and at Sunrise last week, inspired me to look for the beauty in the dying.* I think of my mother’s hands, I loved her hands that had stroked my baby cheeks and those of her fourth great-grandchild, born just short of 100 years after her own birth.
Surely the rains and snow will come soon, but there is none in the ten-day. As the climate changes around the world, should we recalendar the seasons? I ponder. We humans seem hell bent on changing the climate through our selfish and greedy mismanagement of resources we’ve been gifted. But hopefully we will never mess with the tilt of the planet and reschedule the solstices and equinoxes to suit us, rather than taking responsibility for returning Mother Nature to her intended change of season.
There are very few people on the trail. A pair of young men pass me, sprinting up, not stopping to look back at the mountain, or at the scarlet and golden huckleberry, the spent hellebore. I meet them again on their return. “Yep, did that; onward.” Closing in on the top I hear before I see three women coming down the switchback above me. Traveling in a pack seems to compel hikers to chatter, as if the gold and scarlet silence is too much to bear.
I reach the saddle, the magnificent saddle, the view stretching across ridges to Mt. Adams on the horizon, hidden today in wildfire smoke. If I didn’t know where it was, I wouldn’t know it was there. The bit of the summit is undistinguishable from a cloud. I follow the maze of social trails down into the meadow and choose a flat rock to sit on.
I inadvertently left my bar in the cooler bag in the car, so I eat the tuna and crackers instead while I watch for marmots. Their hibernation schedule must follow the equinox rather than the actual temperature, which is in the neighborhood of 70 today. The water is dried up in this meadow, as are the plants; without food and water, they can’t take advantage of lingering sun like I can. A couple of chipmunks scurry over the rocky terrain, and an ant explores my rock. Otherwise, all is still, except for this guy that glided in.
I look up at Pinnacle Peak and the other direction to Plummer Peak that I hiked up to on a spectacular day a couple years ago. I remember going to Pinnacle as a teenager with my family, and being terrified of the steep, narrow, rolling rock covered trail. The memory has kept me from trying the unmaintained trail. I wonder now if we really went up it. I remember a small lake, or seasonal tarn. Was it the one on the Plummer Peak trail? Or was my memory of scary what I just hiked and it has been improved over the years? Or was my fear the beginning of aeoracrophobia after I left behind my childhood joy in swinging high on the flying rings, climbing trees, walking on the split rail fence in front of our Olympia home? Maybe I should try Pinnacle. Or not.
Reluctantly I get up and re-don my pack, but only because my bum is numb. I would like to stay until the sun goes down, or the snow comes. I head down past the spot at which I exchanged photo shoots with two women a few years ago, the photo that is in my book trailer.
On the way down I meet Christine and Gary from Grass Valley, CA. They are up this way often to visit friends. We talk trails and wild fires and books, a lovely long chat. The young family I saw climbing toward Plummer earlier passes us. The woman says she had wanted to take a picture of me sitting on my rock, but realized she had no way to get it to me. So she took one of me on the trail.
I decide to head up to Paradise one last time. Signs warn that both parking lots are full, but it’s past noon, and people are leaving. I find a spot in the closer lot on the first pass and walk up to the Inn to eat my trail bar, read, and watch park workers shuttering the Inn against the snow that will be up to the eaves.
I did my first volunteer meadow rove in early August, when there was still snow on the upper trails and the flowers were not yet blooming. Just two months later preparations are underway for the return of winter.
I reach the park entrance, eighteen miles down from Paradise, at 2:00. The lineup of cars at the fee stations is more than three miles long and barely in motion. It will be nearly dark before they get to Paradise.
*I invite you to read my friend Bonnie Rae’s post about her last seasonal visit to Sunrise, the other side Mt. Rainier National Park. Her beautiful words and photos are homage to why we hikers hike (and rise early). Putting Sunrise to Bed.
There’s one more week to preorder Mother Lode: Confessions of a Reluctant Caregiver and get a gift from me, a chance to win a hand knit lap throw, and an invitation to an exclusive Zoom celebration on October 23! Details here.
You can also find a book club kit on my website. Family caregiving is an important topic, I hope you will consider exploring it through the questions posed, whether with a book club, a church or other group, or just by yourself.