I saved this photo for F&FF, then forgot to post it!
It’s been an amazing and exhausting week following the death of my mother early Saturday morning. More about that on Daughter on Duty tomorrow. After three non-stop days with my sisters, today I went with the breath and took an adventure day. Paradise seemed a fitting destination. It doesn’t need many words, other than to say I think it’s been four decades since I was there when the snow came down to the parking lot. And that was on the Fourth of July.
Back in Morton, where the mountain road meets the highway back to civilization, I followed this truck out of town. They provide equipment to hospice patients. The tears returned, the gratitude that my mother is free. That I am free. That I didn’t have to rush home for a visit to the Manor. I stopped for tulips in Mossyrock, along with a memorial hydrangea and my mother’s geraniums for the pots under her bedroom window that have held summer geraniums as long as I can remember.
I wanted to see the color of autumn at Paradise. Two weeks ago it had barely begun. (Read that log here.) Last week it snowed, right down to the parking lot. Monday and Tuesday it rained. Friday’s forecast is rain and snow and 20 degrees cooler, and the ten day forecast is freezing or near freezing temperatures every day. But Wednesday and Thursday the forecast was clear, sunny, and warm. The mountain was calling.
I shouldn’t have taken the day. I have a frighteningly long to-do list before I leave for North Carolina next week to see the bigs (my two older grandsons, whom I haven’t seen in over a year). Also it was yoga and Daughter on Duty blog day. But the mountain was calling.
My mother’s caregiver called in sick for the second time this week just as I was finishing a website project for work so I could get on the road. It was a project I got up at 5:00 to do because the day before my internet provider went down for 8 hours just as I figured out how to do what I needed to do. Rebecca was out of town for the day too. But the mountain was calling.
I picked up my road latte at 8:00 and headed down the interstate feeling a little guilty about leaving Mama in town alone. The hell with it. The mountain was calling.
For an hour and a half as I drove, my brain was on overload. How in the world was I going to get it all done? This was stupid and irresponsible. I should not have come.
Then came that view of Herself just north of Mineral. She in her new white coat (albeit a bit worse for the wear after the rain) rising to the blue sky above the foothills across a meadow. All the brain chatter fell away. I was practically orgasmic. This was the only thing I should be doing this day.
I flashed my senior access pass at the park gate and turned off my recorded book (about a woman trying to get her addled mother to move to assisted living, then dealing with her unhappiness about the horrible food while cleaning out her parents house in which they had kept every thing for 50 years). Time to breathe.
When I passed Christine Falls and the trailhead to Van Trump Park, I had another little niggle. Maybe I should have planned to go there, another feather in this summer’s “new trails” hat. But Paradise was calling. I’ll go to Van Trump next summer. Maybe when the wildflowers bloom.
I beat the crowds I expect to be descending on this, the last good day, and three days before the Inn and visitor center close for the winter. I scored a primo spot in the parking lot, knowing by afternoon the line of cars would extend well down the road.
I realized two weeks ago that my favorite part of Skyline Trail is the winding ridge section back down to the Inn from the top of Golden Gate Trail. It’s only about four miles, and, except for the beginning and end, from the Inn to Myrtle Falls—the darling of the flip flop and purse crowd—it’s the least populated. Ding ding!
I usually don’t take the Golden Gate, and I’ve never been up it. It is lovely, and far fewer people than the trails to Panorama Point.
It wasn’t a long hike, but there were lots of marmots begging to be photographed. (I trashed most of the photos. You’re welcome. You can see a few more here on Flora & Fauna Friday.)
And there was the couple from Florida I talked to for several minutes, who thought I was incredibly lucky to live here (yes, I am) and wondered where they should go in the rain tomorrow. And the couple who stopped where I was ogling the crimson slopes who turned out to live in Chehalis, my town’s sister city. Talked to them for a long time. So, it took almost four hours. Whatever. The mountain called, and I went.
At first it seemed the colors seemed more subdued than previous autumn visits. And perhaps they were. And the meadows were smooshed from last week’s snow. But once I got up higher, and the sun rose higher, the huckleberry reds and Sitka mountain ash oranges started popping. Yes, this is what was calling.
As I finished up the last bit of my hike, a woman coming up the paved trail toward me stopped short and, with wide eyes and a shake of her head, breathily exclaimed to her mates, “Magnificent!” Oh yes.
Sadly, I arrived at Base Camp Grill in Ashford an hour before they opened. They close for the season on Sunday. The salmon burger and Rainier ale will have to wait until next summer. I’ll be there. For now I am complete; bring on winter.
Dateline: September 11, 2017
Paradise, Mt. Rainier National Park, Skyline Trail
It’s fitting that my final regularly scheduled adventure of the season is Paradise. However I may whore around, trying other sides of the mountain, other mountains, other trails—exclaiming that each one is my new favorite—it’s the Skyline Trail at Paradise that will always be the lover I come home to. Just ignore me when I say otherwise.
I was going to go last week, but the smoke was so bad the webcam didn’t even register that there was a mountain. Next week I’ll be in Seattle with the littles, and besides the forecast at Paradise is “a wintry mix.” I wasn’t really up for it Sunday night, I was tired and a bit grumpy; but the weather looked better for Monday than Tuesday and deteriorated after that. The lesson of the mountain: be willing to throw plans and moods out the window and be spontaneous.
I double check the webcam when I get up. The rising sun is a golden glow on the snowy peak. I’m out the door and at the coffee kiosk at 7:05. A little late for me, but there’s no reason to leave before daybreak this time.
I’m on the trail at 10, after getting gas, my pit stop in Morton before cell service is lost, road construction near Mineral again, putting on all my straps and guards and ankle brace. It’s already hot. I leave three of my five layers in the car. I always forget the heat index a mile closer to the sun.
I head toward Dead Creek, skip down Moraine a little ways looking for marmots, then back to meet up with Skyline. The first part, up to Panorama Point, is tough going; but I learned from experience to take this loop clockwise. Get the up over with in this first lung-burning charge, after that it’s gentle down until the up at the end. The other way, the gentle down is relentless up. I feel bad for all the exhausted-looking people I meet on the backside, heading toward the apex.
I leave my camera in my pocket, determined not to take pictures of views I have a thousand pictures of already. I’m just going to hold it all in my heart this time. Uh huh.
I can feel a blister forming on my right foot. When I put my shoes on in the parking lot I noticed my favorite socks are worn thin at the heels, and the ankle brace makes my right shoe tighter. I stop on a rock for moleskin. As I’m putting my shoe back on, there is a group of 19 seniors and their guide coming up the trail. I groan and quickly finish my task, grab my pack and poles, and jump half ready back on the trail just ahead of them. I figure they will be slow and difficult to pass. I don’t want to be behind them in line at the hobbit toilet at Panorama.
They aren’t slow. Their guide is acting as a pace car, setting both the speed and the record for conversation. I pick up my pace. I need to rest, but I don’t want them to catch up. I keep glancing back, but I haven’t put any distance between us, like a car on the interstate with cruise control set at the exact speed mine is. I keep thinking they will stop to rest at one of the large areas with sitting rocks. But they keep coming like the zombies in “Night of the Living Dead.” I really need to rest.
I pass two more guides telling someone the group is attending a camp and they will climb the mountain later in the week. Then I notice they have packs. I have a new respect for them. But I still don’t want to be behind them at the hobbit toilet.
I pass another large group resting on a snow patch, younger people. They are gearing up to take off again. The elders exchange places with the youngers, while I get ahead. I know they will go faster, so I do too. I don’t want to be in line behind them either.
There’s a marmot on the trail, grazing just a few feet ahead of me. I stop short. The boy guide for the youngers practically plows into me. “Marmot,” I say, pointing. “Oh, yes, it is a marmot.” I tell him I was pointing it out, not asking for confirmation of its identity. He doesn’t hear me. “I work here (la di dah); I see them all the time. They’re filling up for winter, they’re everywhere.” My point was not that it was a rarity, or that maybe he didn’t know what it was, but that I was going to stop and watch and he would have to wait. He acts like he’s going to try to pass me. I don’t think so. I wish I had pointed out that maybe his group would like to observe, even if he was snobbishly uninterested. What an ass hat. I’m forced to move on.
Somewhere after that, I lose both groups. I figured they would continue to the High Skyline above Panorama and then take Pebble Creek trail toward Camp Muir, but later I realize there was a lower entrance to the trail. I see another group below me and guess that’s where they went.
I don’t spend time at Panorama, I’m eager to get to the higher viewpoint. There is a group of four women, well into their 70s, at the hobbit toilet. As I climb up the trail, I think it’s them breathing down my neck. Impressive. I step aside to let them pass. Turns out it’s two fairly fit 30-something men. “I dunno,” the one in front says breathlessly, leaning on his pole, “you are setting a pretty good pace.” Damn, nice compliment.
There are a lot of people up here for a weekday after the traditional end of summer vacations, but I don’t come to Paradise for solitude. I have discovered other trails for that. Usually it’s a babylon of languages, and a variety of shoe fashion. Today, though, it seems to be a sturdier crowd of people hiking through. Though there are some young folks (and no families), most are my age. I like it!
It is a spectacular day. I know I say this every time I go, but is this the most beautiful day ever up here? I don’t know where the smoke went, but the Triple Crown is standing in stark relief against blue sky. Adams, Hood (I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Hood from here), St. Helens. Baker can’t be seen, it’s behind a ridge. And there is a plume of smoke rising and shape shifting in that direction, a reminder that Washington is still on fire.
I have a passing thought that maybe I could hike to Camp Muir some day—with a guide. I’m feeling strong. Maybe when a certain hiking friend in Colorado comes to visit. At the top I find a small group of young Asians with a white-haired guide (volunteer, according to his name badge; also a bit of a prick. Maybe it’s a job requirement). They ask him about Camp Muir. He points out where it is, and informs them that it’s a very difficult climb. “More people die between Paradise and Camp Muir than anywhere else on the mountain.” He tells them there is a 5000 foot elevation gain in five miles, the last 2.5 on snow and ice, which is soft on a warm day like this one, with lousy traction. And, at 10,000 feet, it’s hard to breathe. Okay, never mind. Someday, though, I may go to the edge of that snowfield.
I spend a good bit of time at the top, drinking it in. I put another layer of moleskin on my right heel, the first blister of this epic hiking season. I’m disappointed not to find this promontory covered with inukshuks. It was just that one time, the first time I was here five years ago, when a crowd of them populated the rocks. Today there is not a single one, except mine.
The other thing about doing this loop clockwise is that the hard part is over and my favorite part is yet to come. I head down through the barren talus slopes toward the creeks and meadows looking into the layers of view: the valley below, the Tatoosh, the triple crown of peaks in the Cascades, the cerulean sky. And behind me, Herself. Though seriously, the imposing mountain is not what I love here.
Off to my right an unkindness of ravens suddenly lifts off with an audible whoosh from a snow field, dozens of them twirling upward together before splitting out in small groups on private sky paths. Their shadows on the snow as they rise, multiplies their number. (I wanted to call them crows so I could say “murder of crows,” even knowing they were probably ravens. But who knew a group of ravens are an “unkindness”?)
I cross paths several times with the group of four women. I learn they are from various places in the northeast. Three of them are sisters and they have visited many national parks together in their “elderly years.” I’m envious. I tell them they are living right to have lucked into this day at Paradise.
I take a new trail on my way down: Paradise Glacier. I’ve dawdled so long getting there, though, that I only go a little way down its length. But I get to where I was hoping the trail went. It doesn’t, but I see a spur up the hummock when I turn back that may or may not be a real trail. I am hoping for a view of Mt. Baker, but she is still out of range. I do discover the source of the gushing, rumbling, falling water I have been hearing. I’m guessing it’s the Nisqually River far down in the ravine. A new view, after all these years.
The flowers are long gone here, even the old man on the mountain is past prime. I’m surprised to discover that autumn color has not begun, other than the orange berries of the Sitka mountain ash. I wonder if I can get another visit in before the snows come, when the slopes will be awash in red, orange, and gold. First a trip to western North Carolina to visit the bigs, then I will keep a close eye on the web cam.
Back at Myrtle Falls at 4:00—the end destination of the majority of visitors, just beyond the Inn—I find the flip flop wearing, purse and iPhone camera toting crowd that was missing earlier this morning. There is a mix of Asian and European languages punctuating the alpine air. I love this place. Even this. It’s part of the gift. All are welcome in Paradise.
I stopped on my way up to the Park to see if Basecamp Grill is still open. The last time I came in autumn, I was disappointed to discover it was not open everyday late in the season. It hadn’t said on the website, and there was no definitive signage. I’m holding my breath as I approach Ashford. It’s open! It’s closed on Tuesdays until the end of the month when it closes for the season; I am so glad I didn’t wait until Tuesday.
What a perfect day. What a Paradise. And only 203 photos.
With autumn coming and the end of warm sunny days to explore, it’s hard to leave my favorite hiking zones; but variety is good. Yesterday I set the alarm for 5:00 (though of course I was awake…because I set an alarm), and got an early start to the other side of the mountain. I beat the road construction crews, and the gate into the Park was not yet staffed, so I got in free, which was a little disappointing because I like to flash my get-in-free pass. The parking lot that was jammed five hours later, was nearly empty when I arrived at 8:30 on a weekday.
Sunrise is very different from my side of Rainier. No old or second growth forests, therefore no shade. The temperature was forecast in the “upper sixties…’feels like’ mid-80s.” Much closer to the sun up there, plus being on the east side.
The trails at Sunrise are 95 percent sandy, five percent rocky; not full of roots, no carpet of evergreen needles. It’s dry and dusty. There are no streams to cross as they tumble down the mountainside through the forest; no waterfalls. The alpine smell is subtle, because there aren’t many trees. It isn’t damp. There are no high, lush meadows.
There isn’t the sense of anticipation I’ve experienced and loved on my other hikes this summer—the stunning scenery is all laid out in front of you. Which is not to undersell the jaw-dropping awe of the immensity and span of the Universe from up there.
I chose the Burroughs Mountain trail, which goes even closer to the sun, and to Herself. On the good advice of a friend who was there last week, I headed out on the trail less traveled. There are a few firs there, and still some wildflowers in the shade, with the huckleberry already beginning to turn scarlet. Spring, summer, and fall are brief and jammed together in the mountains.
The trail begins on the Wonderland Trail, meandering for half a mile above a shadow-filled meadow, past Shadow Lake and Sunrise Camp. Leaving the Wonderland—and the trees—it continues along Sunrise Rim with spectacular views into the White River valley and across to the Tatoosh Range (I think), rounding a curve to the Queen of the Pacific Northwest.
At the apex of Burroughs 2 (I did not do the third one), I found two women trying to take a selfie while holding a sign. I offered assistance. I stepped back to snap the shot as they held up their sign: “We 💜 you, Gretchen.” What are the odds? I asked them where Gretchen was. She used to live here, they told me, but now she lives in Flagstaff, AZ. 😳. They both live on Whidbey Island, they offered. As they were leaving, on a hunch, I mentioned the names of two of my friends on Whidbey. Yes, they knew them! Sometimes the world just astounds me.
I built a small cairn in homage to Herself—not getting the fourth piece to balance, but pretty pleased the tricky third one did—and headed back to Burroughs 1, planning to take Sourdough Ridge Trail, the rim on the other side, back down. It overlooks Berkeley Park and, perhaps, on into Grand Park. I’ve been to Berkeley and will return one day to continue to the Grand. The parks here are in the valleys, the others I’ve been to this summer are at the apex.
Far below me, I spotted a small tribe of mountain goats run out of a copse of trees and begin grazing. (Yes, they are called a tribe, or a trip; how great is that?) Then I saw another small group, and another. Farther on, right on the Berkeley Park trail, was larger one! As I moved on, continuing to watch them, the smaller groups wandered or ran to join the bigger group. I counted at least 40.
I stopped trying to take photos of goats too far away to take photos of and picked up my pace. The big group looked headed down into the park; but maybe the small one that seemed content to stay a half mile from the intersection of the trails would still be there. It was still early, and I wasn’t in any hurry anyway. I was headed toward Berkeley Park in search of goats.
The goats made the trip memorable. That and the people I spoke to. I made an error in choosing the return trail. I wish I had chosen to hop back on the Wonderland after the goat viewing, rather than the primary trail access from the parking lot, which is like a highway. But then I would have missed the Buddhists on Sourdough Ridge.
I was wearing the shirt the owner of my yoga studio handed me some months ago. I was the right size at the right time and she was getting rid of stored random inventory. I didn’t ask her then or later what the Sanskrit meant.
“Ah, [something that sounded like] moxie!” one of the young men in the foursome said as I stepped aside to let them pass me. I looked puzzled. “Your shirt!” he said, “moxie!”
“What does it mean?” I asked, telling him how I came to have a shirt with something on it I didn’t know the meaning of.
It was a little difficult to understand his accent, and others wanted to get in on the explanation, though mostly they deferred to him. It’s related to “enlightenment” and the cycle of life. Something about the ages 1-7, 7-14, 14-21. After that all is suffering; through the decades from the 20s to the 70s. At that age, through good works and meditation, the Buddha died and achieved enlightenment; and went to heaven. “Moxie!”
“After you die, achieve enlightenment, and go to heaven, the suffering ends,” one of the other young men said. “You don’t want to return to this life, because then the suffering begins again. Stay in heaven!”
If someone can tell me if the word is really pronounced “moxie,” please do. And did I got the story more or less right? I felt enlightened, and glad the trail chose me, instead of the other way around. My PNW is heaven; I’m not sure how any place could be better. But I don’t live on an island; I am aware there is suffering all around me. And I do have to go home to my own. But there was none this day.
Next week: camping at Mt. Hood. I hope there are a few more adventures after that before the weather turns inward. Though I am about ready for introversion, I still have an autumn trip to Paradise in my sights, and then back to my forest a couple more times before the snows.
As I left, a cloud was descending like a curtain. By the time I was out of the park, the mountain was gone.
Update: I asked my yoga teacher about the Sanskrit word on my t-shirt, as mentioned. It’s spelled moksha, not moxie; and it means freedom, or liberation, release. Read more about it here. From this reading, it’s quite possible my enlighteners were Hindi, not Buddhist.