Now I understand why the ancient Jews’ name for God was the unpronounceable YHVH: sometimes there are no nouns big enough to name a thing. (I know that’s not why God had an unpronounceable name, but it makes sense to me so I changed the reason.)
There are no nouns, or verbs or adjectives, to describe Spray Park. It’s More. More than everything. I think I’ve never seen so beautiful a place. The photos come no where near its grandeur.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Mishaps preceded my hours in paradise.
I wake up later than I wanted to, but I’m still on the road before 6, venture latte in hand. I get lost on the series of state highways in the small towns where the highways change direction. I have the sequence written down, but even as I wrote them they didn’t feel complete. I got confused the other two times I’ve been to Mowich Lake (last year to Tolmie Peak), why should this time be any different? And Siri, of course, wants to take me via the interstate. Even with my rudimentary understanding of geometry, I know the hypotenuse is shorter than the two sides—though in this case, not necessarily faster. Mostly I just want to stay off I-5.
After one quickly discovered wrong turn, I finally stop in Eatonville to see if I can get it right before I make a lengthy error. I was glad when the road construction truck that had been slowly lumbering ahead of me turned off the route. I was all too eager to move to another road, until I began suspecting I should have followed the truck.
I pop the clutch and kill the engine when I stop, and just leave it off while I search the Washington Trails website then Google Maps. Still not being sure, I decide to follow the long-gone truck. I know that won’t be wrong, just maybe not my preferred route. Except the battery is dead. I hadn’t turned off the ignition, or the lights, or the CD player, or unplugged the phone.
There is a guy smoking across the street. I ask if he could jump the battery. He would, he says, if only he had some cables. “I have cables,” I say. You don’t drive alone all over the country in an elderly car without battery cables, coolant, and a AAA-Plus membership, all of which I have used. (I really need to get a can of tire repair stuff. I’m lucky I haven’t needed it. Yet.)
When the car starts, I ask him which road goes to Mowich Lake. He looks blank. “No idea,” he says. I want to say, “Ever heard of Mt. Rainier?” but I don’t. “How about Buckley,” I ask. That he knew. The way the truck went. I drive off, only then realizing, eyes rolling to the heavens, I could have looked at a paper map.
There is no denying the 15 miles of washboard gravel road up to the lake. But there are no potholes, which makes it a super highway compared to forest service roads I’ve traveled off the beaten path. And it keeps the crowds down. Paradise may have a paved road, but winding up the snaking road behind a line of cars—often held up by inevitable road construction—hoping to arrive early enough for a spot in the parking lot, is no advantage. Then one must share the trails—some of it paved—with the hoards, some of whom hike in flip flops, some visitors never leaving the lodge. I’m such a snob. At least they are enjoying the view and, hopefully, the scent.
I’m on the trail at 9:30, not bad considering. The trail through the forest to the park is “only” three miles. The first 2.2 is up and down, the variety making the trek easier. I’ve done that much of the trail before, to Spray Falls, which is incredible. I don’t stop, eager to get to the park. Last time I was here I had to get home to fix dinner for my mother. Today I feel an expanse of time that stretches for hours.
The last .8 miles is all up. I’m grateful as always for my poles, and aware I am in better condition than I was when I moved across the country five years ago. Or maybe it’s just not the most difficult trail I’ve been on. I think that one belongs to Skyline Divide on Mt. Baker. (You can read about that adventure here.) And I’m in better shape, let’s just go with that.
At the two hour mark, the trail breaks out of the trees to a small meadow, which leads to a bigger meadow, which leads to another. On and on it goes to the edge of the world. I’m pretty sure every alpine wildflower that ever blooms in the Cascades is blooming. Every one. I don’t know all the names; I’ll quiz my mother, give her capacity for listing flowers a workout. Herself, the Mountain, in all her magnificence, takes a back seat.
I wander through the glory, greeting other hikers—many of them solo, some I meet and greet multiple times—but never staying near any of them. I am alone and not alone.
I wander a side trail to the edge and look way down into another park. I want to go there. I wonder what it is and if it’s accessible. I like imagining that it isn’t; that there’s only the view from here and it belongs to the wild creatures. Mt. Baker—Koma Kulshan—sits on the far horizon; but Herself hugely rules this piece of paradise. I eat my lunch on a rock overlooking the wonder.
I’m near the end of the park, but see no reason not to climb some more. I know what’s off the side to the northeast; I want to know, if I possibly can get there, what’s below me to the southwest.
I spy a marmot on the way up. My day is complete. I watch it a while until something startles it and it thunders across the trail in front of me, its magnificent tail flying behind. Who knew they could make so much noise, or move so fast? It pops up over a rock and looks around before returning to its foraging.
I cross well-traveled snowfields still on the trail and climb higher and higher, until I find what I’m looking for.
Then I go higher, until I’m satiated, finally ready to head for home. But first, back through the meadows of flowers, a lake I didn’t notice going up, and Herself going incognito, which she does when she tires of the attention.
The .8 down is not so fun. My knees start to ache. I decide to skip the falls on the return too. (You can see photos from two years ago here. It is magnificent.)
I’m really ready for the car, and wishing I had backed it into the parking space. I’m anxious about it starting. It does. I change my shoes and walk down to the lake, but skip the foot soak. My whole body is aching (the eight hours of yard work yesterday is making itself know too). I want to be home.
After I rattle down the 15 dusty miles, I miss a turn again somewhere and end up heading into Puyallup. I surrender and drive the interstate home, refusing to let the traffic ruin the day.
I won’t go so far to say that Spray Park will replace Paradise in my heart. High Skyline Trail is still the only hike I will return to again and again, if only because it has Base Camp’s salmon burger and a beer, al fresco dining, at its end, just outside the park. (And I can tell you, I am longing for it today. I have popcorn and a beer—and ibuprofen—for dinner; all I have energy for.) There are too many places to hike to go back to the same ones. I will take hardy guests to Spray Park though, especially in July.
I have made my peace with the likelihood that I will never see the Swiss Alps, the ruins of Rome, the English countryside (though there is some chance of that; I know people), but I have a never-ending—almost embarrassing—wealth of adventure and beauty outside my door. Next week: camping. Until then, body rest.