Dateline: July 30, 2018
Snowgrass Flat, Gifford Pinchot NF
Note to self: Don’t hike when the temperature is forecast at 95 degrees in the closest town. I thought I would pass out several times. Apparently others knew better. There wasn’t much traffic on the most popular trail in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and most of what there was were backpackers. Hence we had little competition for attention from the flies. I read on WTA trip reports they were bad, so I succumbed to a small bottle of Deet. Don’t like it, but I like fly bites less; and I seem to have none on the morning after, so I guess it worked.
I had promised my sister I would take her with me on a hike; I don’t know if that felt like a gift to her or not, she is not a hiker. But she closed her shop for the planned day and got up early. Both sacrifices that felt like a gift to me!
We picked up our adventure lattes and headed for my new favorite trail, as of last summer. I was hoping, two weeks earlier than last year, the wild flowers would be at peak.
I promised her it was a pretty easy hike, with a big payoff.
Okay, so I hiked it after I did Indian Henry’s last summer. Compared to that it is a pretty easy hike. It wasn’t 95 degrees last year; and there were no bugs except when I sat on a log to eat my lunch. The sky was deep blue behind the white Mt. Rainier last year; there was no haze from California’s wild fires, making it more a white on grey view this time. And the signage on the long forest road up wasn’t broken off last year and was this time, causing us to miss the turn off. Twice. It was already hot when we started up the trail. I also lied a little bit about the mileage. Unintentionally of course.
The first two miles through the Douglas fir/cedar/hemlock forest are flat. Well, there was some downhill, but of course we didn’t notice that until the return. It would have been pleasant, but for the hungry flies. Then the up shit started for the next two miles. That’s when the almost passing out part came, when we couldn’t really stop because of, you know, the flies.
We reached the lower meadows, which, I see now, is the destination of the 4.1 miles the WTA lists, but the big meadow is higher up. We ate our lunch by a babbling brook, soaked our hot feet and dirty ankles in the icy water, and noted the flies weren’t so interested in us there.
There are many options when the trail breaks out of the woods to the lower meadows, and I picked the wrong one (didn’t read the minimal signage). We found out the trail with the brook crossing was heading for Goat Lake. I knew we didn’t want to go there, so after lunch—not sorry for the detour to the brook—we turned back through the paintbrush meadow and got on the right trail. More up. I’d forgotten that part of the trail. Rebecca didn’t believe me that there was a bigger meadow, and by the time we got there she was unimpressed.
The flowers were not what I had hoped, and we weren’t clear if they were past prime or still coming. The bear grass, though, was as pretty as I have ever seen it. And anemone (Old Man on the Mountain) always delights. And there was the paintbrush at the lower meadows.
We built a cairn for our mom and headed back for the bypass loop trail that adds a bit of mileage, but different scenery as it descends in full view of Herself.
Last year I missed the bypass trail, and after asking someone coming up from wherever that portion of the PCT comes from, I hiked back a mile to the missed trail. Rebecca impressed upon me the need not to miss it this time and I watched closely, knowing now what to look for. Still, I thought we’d gone too far and we turned back before we headed down another slope we’d have to come back up, if indeed we’d gone too far. Finding another PCT hiker at rest, we learned we hadn’t gone far enough, and hiked back where we came from, finding it this time, looking exactly as I remembered it.
We thought we would never get back to the car. The bugs weren’t bad up in the Flat, but picked up briefly when we returned to the forest. A beer at Base Camp Grill in Ashford was screaming our names! And the Grill closes at 8. I would have hurt someone if we missed it, and there was a chance. There was still the 12 or whatever miles of washboard road before we got to the 25 miles of winding road between Packwood and Ashford. And we weren’t down the trail yet. (I discovered the next morning the water bladder in my camel back was empty except for what was in the hose.)
Suddenly, as we walked in exhausted silence, there was a loud scuffling around a curve in the trail ahead. We stopped dead. What the hell was that? I knew what it was. There was only one thing it could be, and I raised my bear whistle to my lips. But it had no interest in meeting up with us, so I didn’t blow it. Black bear. One. We hoped. We started singing, “Valderie, valdera…” loudly as it crashed up the hillside as fast as it could go through the bushes and over fallen logs.
“Well, that was exciting,” I said, when the incident seemed good and truly over. We walked on clicking our poles against rocks and roots just in case.
Farther down the trail, we found tiny wild huckleberries. How had we missed them going up? How did the bear miss them? We picked some, until the flies found us, and the beer stepped up its call, tick tock.
Never have either of us been so glad to see a parking lot. Why the heck are trails longer on the return? We reached the Grill at 7:30. I don’t think Rebecca will ever hike with me again.
Last summer I thought I would do this trail often. (You can read about the first time here.) It was like Paradise without the crowds and flip flops. Now I think I’ve done if for the last time. Maybe I should stick with once per hike; except for Paradise, it will always be my favorite, crowds or not. I’m getting older, and there is still so much to see.
I guess if you try to go home again, you have to know it will be different.
#adventurelog, #ilovewhereilive, Adventure Log, Anne Lamott, Daughter on Duty, Ed's Trail, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Help Thanks Wow, hiking, hiking in the PNW, Lewis River Region, Silver Star Mountain Trail, Washington Trails Association, Yacoult Burn State Forest
Dateline: July 11, 2018
Help. Thanks. Wow!
The prayer that is sufficient for everything is applicable for this hike in all its essential bits. The impassible road; the belated arrival at the parking area; the soul-expanding, eye-popping majesty of Creation.
The day starts at 5:30 at the espresso kiosk where my favorite barista is on duty. She hasn’t been there the past couple of times and I’ve had to tell the replacement my order. As she whizzes up my 16 oz. extra-hot latte without asking what I want, she asks me about the hike I had been off on last time she saw me, remembering it had been my birthday. (That was three weeks ago.) I tell her about the unexpected adventure and we chat about where I’m off to this time. She asks me if I’ve been to Goat Creek (yes). I give her my blogger card so she can read about this adventure, and I’m off, off to a great beginning.
It is, again, my favorite kind of morning to drive south on I-5: the sun’s promise glowing just above the horizon through the fog, blue sky above as it clears. I’m going three-quarters of the way to Portland, so I settle into Flutterby’s comfy seats (made by NASA, I’ve heard), with my latte and recorded book.
I should have used the exit instructions on the WTA website, but Google Maps had a different idea so I have two sets of directions. It’s probably a short-cut from the north, so I take it, later wishing I had consulted an actual physical map first instead of waiting until I get lost. I have a pretty good sense of direction and a compass on my dash, and I like depending on them. With not much help from Siri, I get back on track eventually. Part of the adventure.
I heard about this trail in the Lewis River Region for the first time from a friend of my sister’s who was there over the weekend. “The road is the worst I’ve ever been on,” she told me. “Worse than Goat Creek?” I wondered. Now that was a bad road. WTA warned of the road to Silver Star too. “Must have a high clearance vehicle and 4-wheel drive.” Check and check.
First you drive 6.6 miles up a bumpy DNR road creatively named L1100, then you turn off onto Road 4109 “a road to the right going uphill.” It’s unmarked, as are several roads going uphill to the right before it. I watch for the clues offered by the WTA and hope for the best.
The “best” cannot be attributed to Road 4109. It’s not just potholes, but abysses. I go .4 of the 2.7 miles to the trailhead and stop at the grand canyon of ruts.
In spite of all-wheel-drive, Flutterby’s rear wheels are spinning without purchase. She’s digging in her heels, screaming “hell no!” The ravine on the right as I scrape vegetation on the left will swallow half the car if I fall in. Maybe, I think, CuRVy’s wheels—my 20-year-old Honda CRV that is no longer mine—could have hugged the edges, but Flutterby’s wider body is not going to flit by; there will be no return from a missed calculation. Plus I don’t know what’s coming up.
I briefly wonder what other trail I can find in the area, foiled again by a road as I was on my birthday. But, no! The road may defeat me, but the goal will not! There just happens to be room not only to turn around, but to park out of the way right there before the chasm. I will walk.
I lace up my boots, unfold my trekking poles, and take off.
I know I walk uphill at about 2 miles an hour, and I figure this will be all up. But there won’t be any photo ops, so I project an hour for the 2.3 miles. I’m already behind the time I thought I would be at the trailhead, what with chatting with the barista, getting lost en route, and the surety that Google Maps didn’t take the condition of L1100 and Road 4109 into account in their projections. Still, it’s only 8:45 and the hike itself is just 5 miles RT. I can for sure add 4.6 miles, albeit boring ones.
As I walk, my mind strays to my years as Daughter on Duty. I lived with my mother for almost five years before the road defeated me; but the goal did not. There was not a good option then for staying on the road I started off on, there is no option for this road but to choose another mode of transportation. I tried through those 5 years at home with Mama to take the high road, but often found myself on the edge of the rut I kept falling into, never learning that you can’t fight dementia with reason. You just can’t. Moving her to assisted living was not defeat, nor is this, they are just different roads to the same end.
At exactly the one-hour mark, I round a curve and there ahead the road ends in a giant keyhole, and the horizon opens up.
I would have felt the road hike worth it even if I went no farther than the parking lot. There is Mt. St. Helens and the vista that stretches to the silhouetted Olympic Mountains. The Pacific Ocean is out there somewhere beyond the towns on the valley floor and the patchwork of forest and selective clear cuts and reforesting. My father would be proud that I’m seeing the view not as travesty as I once did as a cocky youth, but as using and replenishing for another generation our renewable natural resources.
The WTA’s trail instructions are unclear. There are many options here as the two trails wind up the mountain, one on the west side overlooking the valley, the other on the east overlooking the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. But the WTA gave a cautionary tale about a stretch in which a slipping foot would be disastrous on Ed’s Trail, on the east side; so when I arrive at the junction, I will stay on the wide rocky Silver Star trail to the west.
At the diversion of the trails, my heart expands right out of my chest, my eyes open wide.
Mt. St. Helens has company: Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams; the three white queens laid out in a row. And, turning 90º, there is Mt. Hood. Snowy mountains against cerulean sky beyond verdant forests. I’m a little disoriented at first, viewing the girls not from the angle I’m accustomed to; but eventually I figure it out and name them.
I take a long drink of it all, then start up the trail not marked “Ed’s Trail.” Signage will remain sketchy (i.e. non-existent) as the trails enter and leave the one I’m on and crisscross the mountain between the two trails. I expect they all go up, though, to the pointed peak I can see above me. If I hit the scary place, I can always retrace my steps and take another route.
“How many stars could you see from here?” I wonder, when I come upon a fire pit on a wide windy spit of meadow.
As I hike, the sound waves are full of the hum of nectar-seeking bees in the profusion of paintbrush, Queen Anne’s lace, tiger lily, columbine, pasque flower, penstemon, Oregon iris, gentian, bear grass, elephant’s head, valerian, and on and on. Butterflies silently flit from bloom to bloom with the same goal. Is this even real?
I turn around when the trail begins to descend into the forest on the other end, backpacking country. After lunch on a rock at the top of world, I head back down the rocky trail until I get to a cross path I saw on the way up and take it. I reach the top and look down on the Gifford Pinchot, across to Mt. Hood. The trail continues both up and down. I wonder if it’s Ed’s Trail, and decide to give it a try for the return to the parking area. I can always return to the familiar safe trail, I tell myself again.
I meet two guys coming up. They confirm it is indeed Ed’s Trail; the best side, they say. They tell me the place “with a bit of a scramble” is on up, beyond where I came from. Yay! They have been here many times, they say, and have never seen the road like it is. They came in a jeep,. They tell me there are two 4×4 pickups in the parking area and more cars down where mine is. I’m not a chicken shit, just wise.
I get back to my car, meeting another rugged pick-up truck, and find Flutterby’s had company, and another car has just arrived. The driver directs me out of my tight parking spot without scraping bottom on the drop off between car and road. He tells me this is his favorite hiking spot. “Two years ago the road was not like this,” he says. If the road gets improved (which seems unlikely), I will go back. If not, I’ll move on to other trails. I have weekly summer hikes all laid out until mid-September with two weeks free for make-up dates or additions. Only two are trails I’ve hiked before. God, I love where I live.
What a day, what a way to forget the horrors of the world for a few hours and bask in the beauty of the way it was intended to be. Thank you, thank you to all that was, is, and will be that my legs can carry me to places like this for now. I think of my parents, who surely never came here, but would have loved it. I carry them with me always.
When I get home and showered, I sit on the deck with an Alaskan amber and the western tanager makes a return. A young one this time, it’s the second I’ve seen since my mother died, and only the third time I’ve seen one in the six years (I missed my anniversary last week, BTW) since my return to the PNW. It sits on the railing post, head cocked, observing me; like it’s looking right into me. Hopping two posts closer to the feeder, it turns toward me again. “Hi, Mama,” I say. It looks a moment longer then flies off, passing the feeder that clearly wasn’t its interest.
#adventurelog, #ilovewhereilive, Adventure Log, adventuring, death of a parent, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, hiking, hitchhiking, Mt. Adams, Pacific Northwest, Sunrise Peak, Takhlakh Lake, Trout Lake, Washington Trails Association
I had an uneasiness about Sunrise Peak in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, that the last review on the Washington Trails Association website was two years ago (virtually to the day). Gone are the days of choosing a hike from the description in a 10-year-old book (or 60 years, if you live in your parents’ home). I’ve grown accustomed to up-to-the-day information about trail conditions, snow and wildflower status. It sounded like a great hike, though, and it was to be a beautiful day. And it was the first day of my 67th year; an adventurous spirit was called for on this of all days.
Isn’t not knowing where the road will take you the very definition of adventure? What twists, turns, redirection, and road blocks might reach out to meet and challenge you? This day, as it turned out, would meet the criteria.
The day before the day, a friend dropped off a birthday gift that included a gift card for my favorite adventure latte coffee kiosk! Sweet!
On the way down the hill at 6am (30 minutes behind my hoped for start time), a dear friend from Raleigh calls. I pull into the drive of Avenue Espresso, but not up to the window, to finish chatting with her. When I get to the window, the barista has my 16-oz-extra-hot latte, ready to hand me. I feel known and special. The day is off to a great start!
The forecast is for a hot day, and I’m eager to get to the trail ahead of the heat, so I take I-5 south to Hwy 12 rather than the more scenic route. I must say, I love the interstate’s 20 miles either side of Centralia where the sun rises with Mt. Rainier driving north and St. Helen’s driving south.
US Hwy 12 is a deadly stretch of two-lane, for no real reason other than cocky drivers on the long straightaways through the verdant valleys of Lewis County. But it’s one of my favorites. The long bridge across Mayfield Lake—a major water source for the area—the strawberry and blueberry fields, the now fallow fields of the DeGoede Bulb Farm, taciturn cows munching breakfast, the misty foothills in the distance and peek-a-boo Rainier.
Addicted to my camera, I take a play from a friend’s book and see what I see through the lens without the lens, forming word pictures in my head. It’s harder not to write down the words than it is to let go of the desire to take a picture while I’m driving (see previous paragraph about cocky drivers).
The clouds look like the uneven patches of lettuce in my garden, then morph into more neat even rows like my overachieving friend’s garden. (Next year I’m going to have neat even rows.) There are three bent pickers with wide-brimmed hats in the vast strawberry field. I feel their pain. Commercial strawberry picking is hard work. I did it for three days in junior high, then quit getting up to catch the bus to the field. It’s a lesson in concentrating on what is right in front of you and not looking too far into the overwhelming future. We live this life one day—or one strawberry—at a time.
This is the first year ever my mother, who was there to hear my borning cry, hasn’t told me happy birthday I realize with a stomach-clenching, eye-watering jolt. I play it in my head: “Happy birthday, my smiling daughter!” I hope she has forgiven me for asking her to stop calling me that. I haven’t forgiven myself.
I turn off the highway at Randle and a mile down the road take the left fork into the Gifford Pinchot. The right fork goes to the east side of Mt. St. Helens and is still closed by snow on the road. I’m immediately plunged into the forest with bouncing brooks, roadside waterfalls, primitive road surfaces. Where the road narrows, the vegetation leans into the single (but paved!) wavy lane. It could use a good buzz cut.
I chose the Gifford Pinchot for the day because I want to check out the sight-unseen campground at which I have a site reserved for next month. I decide to save it for after the hike. I miss the cut off to the road to the trail and turn around in the middle of the road.
Five miles on this? My initial skepticism about this choice of hike returns.
Barely a 10 of a mile in though, my plans for the day change. No wonder there were no trip reports. Why the WTA had no alerts is more puzzling. I was not prepared to add ten RT miles to the hike, especially with no trip reports. I’m adventurous, but I’ve never been foolhardy.
There’s not really a place to turn around, and I am not a good backer. I move a large rock out of the way, then maneuver Flutterby up the berm on one side and jockey her around and head back out to the paved road. I don’t want to go back to the campground yet, so I decide to go to Trout Lake, thirty some miles on down the road; reigning monarch: Mt. Adams. I’ve been on the road it’s on before, when I camped at Takhlakh Lake in 2013, but I hadn’t been to the lake.
Flutterby is turning out to be a good adventure partner, and we soldier on as the odometer hits a milestone.
I continue on Forest Road 23 through where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the road, and see two women in the shade next to a bridge, their large packs beside them. I vaguely wonder if they want a ride somewhere, but they don’t move so I drive on.
Ahead of me I see two more people who had been sitting near the road with their packs, scramble to their feet. Briefly the man sticks out his thumb. I drive by then see his hand drop in my rear view mirror, not sure it was really up. I put on my brakes and back up, knowing that even as I do so without really making a conscience decision to pick them up, I am committing myself. A man and a woman, they don’t look like ax murderers.
They hustle up to the car. I power down my window, not really believing I am doing this. But it’s an adventure, right?
“Is this the right direction to Trout Lake?” he asks.
“I think so,” I hesitate. Is it? Yes, of course it is, but maybe I don’t want to fully commit.
“Great. Thanks,” he says, they look both relieved and crestfallen as they back away.
“Do you want…” I say.
“Can we get…” he says turning with resolve back toward the car.
“A ride?” we say in unison.
Oh my god. I’m picking up hitchhikers.
“I’ve never in my life picked up a hitchhiker,” I say through the window. “But you don’t look like ax murders.”
“I’ve never in my life hitchhiked,” he says.”
“We’re definitely not ax murderers,” she says. “I was hoping you weren’t.”
“I’m definitely not,” I say. “It’s my birthday, and it seems made for adventure.”
They are effusively grateful as they put their packs in Flutterby’s roomy rear and climb into the seat. They were hiking the PCT from Walput Lake to Mt. Hood while their boys toured Europe. (They don’t look old enough to have boys touring Europe. A fourth grade field trip maybe?) They kept getting thwarted by snow, and like Cheryl Strayed were a bit unprepared with no snow cleats and not enough food for as long as it was taking. Two days (three?) to go 18 miles, during which they saw three people. Crossing snow-covered rivers, not knowing the first was a river until they saw the “DANGER” sign on the other side, hearing water rushing under their feet as the crossed the other.
They finally gave it up and were going to the Trout Lake café where his parents would drive them to another part of the trail. Their feet were burning and they had just taken off their shoes when they heard Flutterby coming on the not-well-traveled road and slammed their shoes back on jumped up, grabbing their packs.
“He told me to stick my thumb out,” she said. “I told him I’m not sticking my thumb out! And no one is going to pick us up!”
I save them ten boot miles to Trout Lake. I am really loving how this day is turning out. I didn’t get my hike, but I rescued desperate hikers. Best. Birthday. Ever.
“Where are you from?” I ask.
“Chehalis,” they say. Five miles from where I’m from.
I go into the cafe for directions to the lake. When I come out Trisha hands me $20.
“Happy birthday!” she says. “Get some lunch on us.”
“Thank you so, so much,” Shawn says.
I go to Trout Lake. It barely qualifies as a lake, more of a wetland. I don’t stay.
I ask about hikes in the ranger station then decide not to go on a hike. I return to the café and sit outside with lunch. I had been wishing I had packed more than granola bars—and I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t. And then lunch came to me.
I visit my favorite place in all the land—Takhlakh Lake—dreaming of my stay there in September. I haven’t been back because of a road washout they didn’t fix for two years (and a forest fire in the area the year before that). Not only have they repaired the breach, but the road has been improved from the bone jarring washboard and axle clunking potholes.
I stop at the July campground before turning toward home; it’s the worst I’ve ever seen. When I get home, I cancel the reservation, losing $20—$20 in, $20 out. I’m looking for a new destination, and I had done so well getting an early reservation.
All in all, not a misadventure at all. It was just what it was meant to be.
Happy Solstice! Here’s to another trip around the sun. My mother has been gone for two months today, it seems longer; my father for 23 years, also today. My sister says I’m a story gatherer. Christina Baldwin uses the term Storycatcher in her book of the same name. I am gathering my family’s stories and catching my own. I love sharing them with you; mostly I love writing them.
Cheers, Mama. Thanks for borning me.
It’s an unpretentious name for a lake in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, Gifford Pinchot National Forest that’s been on my hike list for a while. After all, it’s just a public water source; undeserving, apparently, of a name like The Enchantments or something.
After six miles of forest service road above the tiny mountain town of Packwood, Flutterby and I arrive just before 9am to an empty parking lot with Mt. Rainier looming across the valley against cloudless blue.
It’s an easy 5 mile hike in to the lake, just 600 feet of barely noticeable elevation change, and I don’t really need my trekking poles, but I use them anyway. Really, I do need them. My joints are aging, they distribute the abuse; nevertheless, I am hurting by the time I get back to Flutterby. Ten miles is a long hike for so early in the season. And there is hiking on snow, and several blown down trees to scramble over.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I’m a slow hiker, I’m okay with that. I hike alone, who cares what my pace is. I don’t. Two, two and a half miles an hour gets me where I want to go. Of course I brake for photo-ops. I remember my mother’s frequent stops on family hikes for picture taking and plant identification. Drove me and my sisters crazy. And now I’m as obsessed as she was. Thank goodness for digital cameras. And solo hiking.
Snow melt has been recent along this trail, as noted by the flattened but not defeated ferns. (Is everything a metaphor for my mother’s old age and death?) The snow under the trees, and in patches on the trail the last maybe mile, competes for season’s rights with the lush green moss and budding shrubs, where death meets rebirth. The creeks are full as they tumble down from the top of the mountain, trickling across the trail where I rock hop across.
I look down at my feet to dozens of heart-shaped rocks. My mother collected them, so I look for one to take home and add to hers. But once picked up and examined, they merely look like rocks, so I leave them lie.
I arrive above the lake, sparkling and clear, Herself reflected right in front of me. I stop breathing for a minute.
When my breath returns, I continue up the trail that skirts the lake for a while, stopping when a serious blow down over a wide creek helps me decide I’m done. I go off-trail over to the lake where I sit on a log and eat my lunch mesmerized by the mountain. The blue sky. The clear lake. The green green. “Stellajoe,” my father would say to my mother, “how would you like to live in a place like this on a day like this?” I would! I do!
I sit on the log for an hour with my notebook and pen, writing a beginning of my part of my mother’s eulogy. I cry again for her loss and for my gain to have been her daughter; in gratitude that my parents migrated to this land where I can always find them in places of beauty.
The only people I encounter all day are a party of four that passes me on the way back, and their dog named Grace; and a party of two I meet an hour later, and their dog named Grace. Grace has walked with me for the past two weeks since my mother entered her final bit of the journey, when grace walked her home. I carried her with me today.
Dateline: August 15, 2017
Snowgrass Flat, Gifford Pinchot NF, Goat Rocks
8.2 miles, + the added loop and my mistake
It was not an auspicious start to the day, I overslept—a rare occurrence. I didn’t wake up until the time I had hoped to leave the house. I carried written directions this time, not relying on memory, like I did when I went to Mowich Lake several weeks ago and ran down my car battery while I tried to figure out where I needed to be.
What I forgot was the WTA (Washington Trails Association) assumes everyone is coming from Seattle, and the inconspicuous sign I wasn’t yet looking for to Forest Service Road #21, was a right turn before Packwood, not a left turn beyond Packwood. Ten miles past the turn, while waiting at the beginning of the line for the pilot truck to take traffic past road construction, clock ticking and knowing this was good and truly not right, I realized I had a Gifford Pinchot map in the car door. That’s when I remembered I wasn’t coming from Seattle. I hate it when part of the adventure is my own stupidity.
I turned around in the La Wis Wis Campground entrance, which fortunately was right beside me, before having to pass the road construction and wait in line again. A victory.
The 15.5 miles of gravel FS road (with a stretch of serious washboard, but no potholes) took 45 minutes. I was at the trailhead at 10, an hour and a half past when I wanted to be there. The ambrosia alpine scent began right at the parking lot. It’s a smell that could make a person pass out, and it drove away any lingering disgust with myself.
The first hour through the beautiful forest was virtually, stunningly flat, with a few low grade downs that would be ups on the return. I chose this trail partly because at 8 miles, it wasn’t the 14 Indian Henry’s was. I wasn’t ready for that much again so soon. I didn’t expect it to be easy, though.
It started up, then, but never did get particularly difficult. Indian Henry’s is my comparison now; this was a piece of cake. And there were a few huckleberries to sweeten the climb! Also water features that are always a distraction. And glimpses of mountain peaks.
Climbing to these “parks” is like the heroes’ journey, the prescripted writing of novels and movies. The trail starts getting closer to the crowns of the trees and there are glimpses of the sky opening up beyond them. Your heart quickens for the climax; then nope, not yet. Then anticipation builds again toward the climax; and again, not yet.
Then, finally, the trail breaks out of the curtain of trees and stretched out ahead is the glorious open-meadow vista, the curve of the azure sky, the horizon of mountains, the flowers. And you want to fall to your knees, toss back your head, throw out your arms, and sigh or shout, sing or whisper: thank you, thank you, thank you.
I guess that sounds like sex. But I have more experience with the heroes’ journey than I do with sex. (Speaking of sex, did you know grasshoppers can hop while mating? Awkward.)
There were an unusual number of hikers at the top who were likely using their Senior Access passes on this glorious day. It was nice to see “my people” there. I even spoke to some.
In spite of the rigors of the road to get here, Snowgrass Flat is the most popular hike in the Gifford Pinchot. A note on the kiosk at the trailhead warns not to be surprised if there were 100 people at the flat. There weren’t that many on a weekday, still there were more than I usually see anywhere other than Paradise.
I knew many of the cars in the full parking area were backpackers. There are a plethora of campsites scattered about the meadows and in the trees, and it’s part of a network of trails, including the Pacific Crest. This is a national forest, not a national park. Although it is well cared for, the rules of use are less stringent. I even thought it possible I could manage to pack into here myself. The thought of watching the sun set and the sun rise in this place made my heart leap up. A personal questing time, perhaps. Probably won’t happen, but a girl can dream. I feel strong.
One of the (backpacking) elders I spoke with suggested I take the loop back. It’s two sides of a small triangle out of the meadow that follows the PCT for a ways then loops back via Trail 97 to Trail 96 (Snowgrass). I had seen that on the kiosk map and decided NOT to do it, given my late start. I confess I had in the back of my mind, if I got back to Packwood early enough, I could return home via Ashford and the Base Camp Grill.
Temptation overcame judgement; I decided what the heck, I would do it. But I wasn’t ready to head back yet. I walked on through the meadow on the PCT to a cairn on a small patch of dirt, and stood glorying in the vista. I gazed, further tempted, at the green hill beyond me, wanting to know with all my heart what could be seen beyond it. Possibly Mt. Adams and Mt. Baker, maybe even Mt. Hood, though it was a little hazy low on the horizon. The man who urged me to take the loop said the highest Washington point on the PCT is somewhere just over there.
But if I was returning by an unfamiliar route, I best not. I built my own wobbly cairn (falling as I snapped the shot) instead, took one more wistful look at the hill, and started back down the trail. I would be here again. I could save it for another day.
I met two women of my age or so coming up from the way I was headed. “It’s beautiful,” they said. Affirmation.
I watched a couple pikas playing in a talus field, trying and failing to get a good photo before they scampered off. And I missed the intersection with Trail 97. I thought it seemed too far, and it was getting late. I was a teeny bit anxious. Finally I knew it couldn’t possibly be right. I asked the next hikers I met. Yep, missed it. Maybe 3/4 of a mile back. The signs up here, unlike national parks, are mostly nailed on trees. This one was on the back of one, from the direction I’d come. Also they don’t have miles on them. And there are a lot of unmarked trails, that might not be trails.
I came to a river crossing, on logs and stones. The sign sorta sign said to cross it. It was nearly 4:00 now, and getting dark and shadowy in the trees. I met someone coming up. Okay, that’s a good sign. She liked my hat. I liked hers. Just as I was getting anxious again, I came to the trail intersection. Never been quite so glad to see a familiar place.
It was a beautiful loop. I’m glad I did it.
I scurried on down the trail and got to the car at 5:30. No time for the Grill. Next summer. Late July or so for the flowers.
I have picked a gloriosity of hikes this summer. Spray Park at Mowich Lake, Indian Henry’s at Longmire”—both at the height of the flowers. This one I will do again. And again. As long as I can. It’s my new Paradise, sans crowds and traffic.