My sole memory of the Pinnacle Peak trail in Mt. Rainier National Park as a teenager with my family was a steep loose shale path the width of a finger nail with a cliff on one side and a sheer drop on the other. Oh, and terror. It was my first known experience with aeroacrophobia, decades before I knew its name.
Imagine my confusion when a friend told me, followed up by a trip report on the WTA from a hiker with the moniker “oldwoman,” that Pinnacle Saddle (half way to the Peak) was an easy trail with a staggering view and a mountain meadow payoff. Others call it strenuous, but I decided to put it on my summer hike list anyway.
Yesterday was the day. And a gorgeous one it is. I get my adventure latte and gas (which sets me back a few minutes, wanting to get the the Park ahead of the heat and the line-up at the gate), and it’s 5:50 before I head out of town.
I take the route across the valley below my house. Mt. St. Helens is disappeared in haze, but the hay rolls and barn in the wispy fog make me glad to be alive and living in this place as I head across this vast and beautiful county as the sun rises.
I’m third in line at Park entrance at the single ranger booth that’s open this early. Later both booths will be open with a line down the road. Flashing my lifetime pass (cost me $10 a few years back vs the $30 per car single entry fee), I drive into my favorite place on the planet. I wind along the Nisqually River, through the dark forest on the sun dappled road and break out to views of Herself.
I turn onto the Stephens Canyon Road just short of Paradise. A few moments later I’m at Reflection Lake. I lace up my boots, slap on knee straps, slather on sun screen, pump on Deet, grab my poles, sling on my camel pack and walk down to the lake for a couple photos.
I’m on the trail at 8:15. There are a few cars in the parking area, but I have the trail by myself for now. The 1.3 miles to the saddle starts in forest on a soft dirt and fir needle floor. Herself is behind me, the Tatoosh Range above me. The sun hasn’t risen above the ridge line, keeping the trail in the shade. It was 57º when I left the car, but I’m closer to the sun here, and I know when it shows itself, it will get hot fast.
The alpine scent overcomes me. Other places have that scent, but there is something about this Park that is the smell of childhood. The picnic table just below Paradise where my mother passed out paper plates to my father, my sisters and me, the tuna sandwiches she mixed with tiny chopped sweet gherkin pickles and meticulously spread to four corners of the white bread before we left home, packing them in the cooler with the blue frozen gel pack. The grey jays—camp robbers—squawking from the trees waiting for a dropped crumb and the chipmunks that ran right up onto the table and grabbed potato chips from our plates.
I climb steeply above timberline onto shale and past talus fields, where I build an inukshuk to show Mama where to come. The stones I choose refuse to balance, and my eye is on the rising sun. I get a few to stay standing, shoot some film, tell Mama to find me, and move on.
There are no scary parts. I come up with four possible explanations for my memory: 1) faulty memory, 2) it’s beyond the saddle, 3) the trail has been widened in the past 50 years, 4) I’ve become a less fearful person. They are all feasible. Even #3. There is one stretch that could have been it, the up slope side has a long human-made retaining wall and the trail has been extended in width. I won’t solve the puzzle today, because I’m not going to the Peak.
I reach my destination at 9:45. A marmot greets me at the door, as the trail busts open into the sun above the meadows looking out over the Cascade Range. It is breathtaking.
The layers of mountains in the haze remind of the Smoky Mountains, except these newer mountains are more rugged, of course. And today, anyway, it really is smoke. The left coast is on fire, obscuring Mt. Adams, which I know is right ahead of me. I suppose St. Helens is out there too.
Signage (the only one up here) says the maintained trail ends at the door between the cliffs and there are paths everywhere down into the meadow. I know the trail to the left is Pinnacle Peak, and guess the one to the right is Plummers Peak, which I am thinking of going to.
I decide to start with the meadow. There are a dozen two- and three–pronged choices. Which are trails and which snow melt routes? There are boot prints in all of them. There aren’t even any signs like those dotting the meadows at Paradise to tell me what is not a trail. I start one way, then retrace my steps and go another, deciding later I was right the first time. Or not.
No matter, it’s wide open and all trails go to the same place: across the meadow where a streams babbles down, and on across to a ridge where the trail gets lost in the rocks. I keep going, watching boot prints and looking ahead to where I can pick up the trail that’s not a trail again. I want to see what’s around the corner and over the ridge. Probably more of the vast sweep of mountains, and St. Helens and Hood, no doubt. But they will be hidden, and it’s become clear this is not a way to Plummer’s Peak.
I turn back and sit on a flat rock in the stream where a little waterfall drops into a pool in a flat spot then gives way to the tumble again. It’s perfect, though not very photogenic, like it was created for a Pixar movie. The insects are keeping to themselves too. I wish I’d brought Rebecca here last week instead of here.
I don’t have much time today, I have out-of-town guests coming and oodles to do before they arrive. As I clamber back up through the deep cuts from last month’s snow melt, I observe a young couple on the Pinnacle Peak trail. She scampers right around a curve, while he proceeds with extreme caution. I see his foot slip once on what looks like a very narrow trail. Aha! Is that the spot? It looks embarrassingly short to have occupied such a large space in my memory for five decades.
I get back to the doorway and decide to go a little way toward Plummer’s Peak. I go far enough to decide next time I will go farther. Then I go up the other trail to check out the scary spot. It is narrow, and there is evidence that it has been slid off of. But to unintentionally glissade would not be world without end. At the very worst, there’s a large bush that would break a slide. I could do it. Of course, I don’t know what’s beyond. And it’s in the sun from the get go.
Back at the doorway, the young couple is eating lunch in the shade. They offer to take my photo with Herself. I take theirs. I ask them where they are from. They live in Portland, he says, but she is from the Netherlands and he is from Ohio. It’s only later I realize with a chuckle how perfectly that explains their performance I had observed on the trail.
I meet many hikers coming up as I head down, in full on sun. They are panting and red-faced. I’m sorry for them, and congratulate myself on my early arrival. It explains the discrepancy in the assessment of the trail difficulty. Easy to moderate if you hike in the shade, strenuous if in the sun. My inukshuk is still standing!
I get back to Flutterby at 11:45, and head up to Paradise. I need to go to the bathroom, if there’s a parking spot, and I want to see when the parking lot fills up on a weekday, for future reference. Before noon is the answer. I drive slowly past the overnight lot, there are cars circling the two aisles. I go on to the regular lot, cars are circling. I didn’t take my boots off when I finished hiking, because I was NOT going to be seen at Paradise in flip flops even if I was only going to the bathroom. So I’m stuck in them now.
At the edge of the lot, Just before I head down the one road loop route on the other side of the valley, I turn into the lot. What the heck. Maybe I’ll get lucky. I head for the last aisle. An engine starts up and back-up lights come on in the car beside me. I put ‘er in reverse and score the absolute closest spot to the Inn.
The parked cars snake down the road below the Inn. At the Park entrance, 45 minutes down from Paradise, there is a long line of cars waiting to get in. I wonder where they think they will park. Flutterby’s thermometer says 81º. I will be back on Thursday with my mid-Atlantic coast friend. We’ll be arriving early.
Meanwhile, the Pinnacle trail has been redeemed, after 50 years.
#adventurelog, Adventure Log, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Daughter on Duty, family caregiving, hikes at Snoqualmie Pass, hiking in the PNW, Kendall Katwalk, meeting the spirit of dead loved ones, memories of my mother, mothers and daughters, Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest, solo hiking
Dateline: July 17, 2018
I can’t tell you what Kendall Katwalk looks like, because after some 17 miles of a 12-mile hike, and 9-1/2 hours on the trail, I didn’t get to it. But I’m ahead of myself.
It’s not my usual start to a hike, nor my usual region. I spend the night in Seattle with the family so I can get an early start for a hike in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. The Littles get up early, so it isn’t difficult to be on the road at 5:15. Missing my lovely coffee kiosk in Centralia, I have to settle for Starbucks, the only thing open.
The adventure begins with two interstates rather than SW Washington back roads. The trailhead is just 2/10ths of a mile from I-90; and now I know one of the upsides of the miles of potholed, washboard forest service road routes to trailheads: the trails are miles from the madding crowd. The roar of traffic accompanies me for much of the hike, and the stupendous views of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness include the interstate and the Alpental ski resort at Snoqualmie Pass.
I’m on the trail (part of the Pacific Crest) before 7am, while the temperature is still refreshing. It’s going to be another hot one before I’m done, but I plan to miss the worst of it. It’s a 12-mile hike with 2600 feet elevation gain, both of which are at my limit. Though not super steep, the trail is relentlessly up, for a long time. It’s not the most beautiful forest I’ve been in, and other than a couple of stream crossings, it’s monotonous. The other advantage of FS road approaches: a lot of the upshit is in the car and the trailhead is closer to the payoff point.
It gives me plenty of time for reflection. Of course my thoughts turn to my mother, a relationship that is now frozen in time for the rest of my life. I can’t change it, but I can better understand it. I continue to speculate on her shame at not caring well for her mother (her belief), and her obsession with “helping” me not have the same regrets.
First of all, while of course I have regrets, I know I could not have done better. I can re-story the past—cast it in a different light—but I can’t change it. She was who she was and I am who I am. That doesn’t change because she’s gone. My mother, however, had re-storyed her relationship with her own ancient mother into some falsehood she spent the next 30 years being mired in guilt over. “Someday you will understand what it’s like to be old,” she told me, wanting me to understand right then.
As I walk, one foot in front of the other, the road noise a constant companion, my thoughts return again to how easily I forgot the challenges after she died. What I understood, because I educated myself, was that she could not (or would not) comprehend my attempts to reason with her. (Mostly I was never sure if that was a brain thing or a control thing.) And her brain could not assimilate multiple pieces of information thrown at her at once, i.e. normal conversation. What I also understood was that understanding that did not make it any less frustrating. Probably there are more patient people than I; I was and am, at least outwardly, more patient with people who are not my mother. You can’t ever leave your ancient history with your mother behind. I forgave myself in advance for any sorrow at not being able to do it better that might linger after she was gone.
I’m sure she had the same issues in caring for her mother. Her mother was maddening, and no amount of understanding that she was old could make my mother less frustrated and hurt. Difference was, she turned the re-storying after death into failure and shame at not doing it better.
My mother worked out her shame by telling her mother’s story for the rest of her life: on paper, on cassette tapes, and verbally to anyone who would listen. I suppose I am doing the same, seeking to reconcile any hurt between us, forgiving myself, forgiving her, hoping she forgives me.
Surprisingly, the two young women in the parking lot when I left don’t catch up to me until two miles in. By the end of the day I will see several pairs of women hiking together—college students, I surmise. I think of my mother hiking with her girlfriends in the Smokies, until they met men and probably never hiked without them again. It makes me kind of sad.
At one hour, the trail finally gets more interesting as it breaks out of the trees to cross a talus slope with a jaw-dropping view. A solitary pica scurries from rock to rock, but doesn’t let me take its picture. If I squint my ears, I can imagine the highway noise to be a rushing river. I build a cairn to help my mother find her way.
I plunge back into trees after resetting my mother’s pedometer that I finally remembered to bring, forgetting to press start at the trailhead. When I get back to the car I’ll add two miles.
I’m more than ready when I finally leave the woods behind for the rest of the ascent. Kendall Gardens, at 5000 feet elevation, is full of heather, bunch berry, penstemon, phlox, columbine, paintbrush, spirea (I’m trying to learn the flowers). Mt. Rainier graces the horizon behind me whenever I look back.
Some time later, in a snow patch, I take an overgrown path a few feet off the trail to a sweet overlook. Back to the snow patch, I continue.
I come to what I assume is Kendall Katwalk at what, according to the pedometer, is about the right mileage: maybe a bit over 6 miles. I had no intention of crossing what was described by its name and by the WTA as a narrow path blasted out of the side of a rock face. Though trip reports said it wasn’t really scary, I figured I had no need to prove to myself I could do it.
However, Mt. Rainier is peaking around the curve at the end, and I have that gosh darn curiosity about what’s around corners. It really isn’t bad at all and my aeroacrophobia doesn’t kick in. Or maybe I’ve just learned to channel my inner mountain goat; which reminds me, I really need to clean the roof.
I walk a few yards beyond, until the trail starts down, then turn around. When I get to the beginning side of the Katwalk, I reset my pedometer again, noting that it says four miles, plus the two I missed at the beginning, of course. This should be exactly half way, giving me a more accurate reading than adding on approximate mileage at the end. I pass the snow patch and stop beyond to eat my lunch. The bugs attack when I stop and I apply Vick’s Vapo-rub, which put the insects off but does nothing for the taste of my lunch.
As I walk again, a moth lands on the orange bear whistle that hangs from my pack. And stays and stays, slowly lifting its wings up and down. I begin moving again with it riding along, until a gnat flies into my mouth and I blow it out, blowing the moth off too. It reminds me of the time Mama said she had a stomach ache and told the hospice nurse she might have swallowed a fly, or maybe a lady bug. (She was serious. Read the story here.) Right after that, I see a ladybug on a flower stretching out into the trail. A true deep red ladybug, not those pale Asian intruders that fill my living room windows. Crazy. I think the moth (the first four letters of mother) is Mama’s spirit letting me know she forgives me, and sending the ladybug just in case I don’t get it.
That’s when I begin to sense trouble. It steals in as silently as the beating wings of the moth. Was the moth(er) warning me or reassuring me in advance that all would be well?
The trail doesn’t seem familiar, there weren’t this many snow patches on the way up, were there? I meet two young men who passed me on the way up and I’m more confused. I puzzle over it for the next mile. How could I have gotten to the destination ahead of them? I convince myself that they stopped somewhere or took a detour, otherwise I will think myself mad. But really, was there this much snow?
Then I spot a lake. There was no lake on the way up.
And a wide expanse of snow, which I cross, knowing there was absolutely nothing like this before. And it’s scary. The snow is getting soft and there are melted out holes that go way down to rocks below. It’s an invisible talus field, and the foot tracks across it are not over the solid path that will be obvious in coming weeks.
On the other side I meet another pair of young women.
“Is this the way to Summit West parking lot?” I ask them. They tell me it is. The way they are going. Not the way I am going.
“Kendall Katwalk isn’t that way?” I ask, pointing in the direction from which I’ve come.
“No,” they say, “it’s across there,” pointing the way they’ve come from, across a divide to another slope.
What the fuck? How did I mess up? Surely there were no other trails. They kindly tell me they got a little confused too. They ask if I crossed a narrow place. Yes. With a big lake below? No. I tell them I’m going just around the curve where they tell me there are two lakes; and that I’m not looking forward to crossing the snow field again.
I glance at the lakes and scurry back the way they were going, realizing I don’t want to lose them and spending not a second’s regret that I won’t see the Katwalk and I won’t be back. They’re going where I’m going and I suddenly wonder if I’m having a dementia event. My mother thought I suffered it. They finish crossing the field and feign a need to stop and rest. I think they are waiting to make sure the dotty old woman makes it. I’m not sorry they’re waiting. When they see that I’ll be fine, they leave. I hike fast to keep a visual on them, but eventually they are too fast for me.
I come to the first familiar snow patch again. There has been no trail I might have missed. But there must have been. I’m tired now and it’s hot. I’m scared. I don’t know what’s more terrifying: I’ve lost my mind or I’ve lost the trail. There are plenty of people up here, I know I’ll get back, so I just concentrate on where I left my mind.
I turn back the way I came again. I meet a trail runner (he’s not the first one, and they make me think I’m not the only crazy person up here), and ask him which direction the parking lot is. He tells me that’s where he’s headed and assures me I can’t miss it.
I turn around once more, cross the narrow trail I thought was the Katwalk for what I think is the third time, but is obviously the fourth.
I work out what must have happened. At that first snow patch when I briefly left the trail, I wasn’t paying attention and instead of continuing toward the Katwalk, I turned the way I had come from. The narrow chiseled portion of the trail must have looked different going the opposite direction and I didn’t recognize that I had been there.
I think I will never get back to the markers I know are coming: the shade, the stream crossing, the first talus slope, the picnic table just in from the trailhead. I’m exhausted. My feet hurt. Though I’m not aware until I empty the water bladder in my pack at home, I’ve consumed most of my water. It’s a couple hours after I get back to Seattle, that I realize the insects were biters and I itch from neck to ankles. The pedometer says 11 miles, I add the six I figured I hiked before the last resetting. No wonder I’m tired. (I’m not sure of the pedometer’s accuracy, since the length of a stride up mountains and over rocks, roots, and rivers are not the consistent length of those on a track.)
I let the family know I won’t be there for dinner and stop for a salmon burger and beer at the ski resort village. I need to relax before I hit rush hour traffic in Seattle. It’s not Basecamp Grill at Rainier, and Snoqualmie is not the Gifford Pinchot. It’s good to get out, but there’s no place like home, Dorothy.
Postscript: Turns out what I thought was the Katwalk really was the Katwalk. I did get there. And crossed it four times. The lake I almost got to was well beyond my destination. Vindicated.
#adventurelog, Adventure Log, Hood Canal, Mt. Zion, Olympic National Forest, Olympic Peninsula, Olympic Peninsula hikes, rhododendron, rhododendron hikes, solo hiking, Washington Trails Association, wildflower hikes
It was a long week. My mother’s memorial service was Saturday and there were guests in the house for a week. When everyone left, I knew I would have to turn my attention to the abandoned house and garden projects. I needed a break, so I took a friend up on her offer of the family vacation spot on Hood Canal, offered when my mother died six weeks ago.
The weather wasn’t great so I just did what my body told me it needed: three naps in one day. But before I left for home, I went to Mount Zion.
The hike in the Olympic National Forest just north of Quilcene has been on My Backpack list on the Washington Trails Association site for a long time. It’s claim to fame is rhododendrons and I’ve been waiting for them to be in bloom. There hasn’t been a WTA trip report since mid-May, when they were not blooming yet.
It was an overcast day, and I’m a fair weather hiker, but I was halfway there from home, so I decided to go for it. It was the rhodies that was the draw after all, not views.
The trail head is 10.5 upward miles of Forest Service road from Hwy 101. The potholes weren’t too bad; Flutterby took them with ease. I saw no other cars as I climbed into the clouds. I did start seeing rhododendrons along the road though, a good sign. But I was feeling increasingly isolated, and I had forgotten to tell my sister where I was going. “Maybe,” I thought, “I’ll just go to the end of the road, eat my lunch, and head back down.”
But when I arrived, there was a car in the lot! It never occurred to me that the sole party on the trail might be an ax murderer, because I don’t think that way. I just knew I wouldn’t be alone. The long-abandoned pickup truck hanging off the edge of the parking area was a little ominous, I admit.
I suited up: boots (I’d forgotten my boot socks, only had shorties and wasn’t sure how that would work), knee straps, poles, driver’s license in case my comatose body needed to be ID’d, and camel pack and headed across the road to the trail head. It was chilly. I have never taken my jacket on a hike, but I left it on. As it turned out, I never took it off.
Of course the trailhead signage included the cougar warning and what to do in a rare sighting. Tell that to the hiker who was killed by one a few weeks ago, a story I chose not to read. I took my newly acquired can of bear spray out of my pack and put it in my pocket.
There were rhodies right away! And, true to the WTA report, the trail headed “up” right away. It’s a short hike, just 2.3 miles to summit—another half mile if you go beyond to a vista overlooking Puget Sound, the Olympic mountains, Mt. Baker—with a 1300 foot elevation gain. People use it for quick workout, the WTA says. People are nuts.
Did I mention it was chilly and damp? Mist hanging about in the dripping-lichen trees. And quiet; very, very quiet. “Maybe,” I thought,” I’ll just go for a little ways, then turn around.” But the rhodies were oh so pretty next to the trail and through the trees, just short of prime with some still-closed buds. My feet kept walking. “I’ll turn around a half hour in,” I thought.
I came upon a view point over the valley, but low hanging clouds obscured the horizon. Maybe it was the damp—I’m used to sunny hikes—that gave it a creepy vibe. I started thinking about cougars, forgetting the part about how rare it is to see one. And where was that other hiking party? I started thinking about ax murderers.
I checked my watch. The half hour had passed. It really wasn’t as steep a trail as I’d anticipated; I’ve been on far more strenuous. The socks were good, my knees were good (they’ve been bothering me a bit lately). And it really was pretty. Lots of rhododendrons. “Okay, I’ll turn around at the one hour mark,” I promised myself. I’m not a quitter when it comes to hiking. And I was feeling a little less uneasy.
Then I heard them. Voices. I rounded a corner, hoping not to startle them. My bear bell was tinkling, but it’s not very loud.
Two young women. Not ax murderers! We chatted. I asked them if it was much farther to the summit, said I had never been anxious hiking alone, but was a bit today, thinking about turning back. They said I was brave, and agreed that the weather cast a bit of a creep factor. “It’s not much farther at all!” they said. “The rhodies are beautiful. There’s not much view, but the shifting clouds are pretty. Maybe it will clear for you.”
Their “not much farther” and my “not much farther” are different. But I arrived. I did not use the outhouse. I walked most of the way out the point, beyond the summit. The rhodies at the top were short of prime, another week maybe, but beautiful in the mist.
There was going to be no view though, so I finally turned back. I’ll have to come again in the sun for the view. But this time, there were rhododendrons.
The parking lot was empty when I got back to Flutterby. And I met no one on the road going down. I was very glad not to have to worry about my car breaking down. When I got to the highway I started breathing again. I think I’ll stick to sunny day hiking.
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.
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.
Not My Mountain, the Second Day
Since the mountain is hidden behind a smoky veil, I decide to hike a few of the 13 miles around the lake, saving my trip to Timberland Lodge—on the actual mountain—for the next day, when the smoke is supposed to clear. I want to hike the part that is the Pacific Crest Trail. (I also want to sit in my tent and work on a writing project.)
I drive a mile and a half up the road, rather than take the trail that goes through my campground and two others. In the parking lot near one end of the lake, I don knee straps, bunion guards, ankle support (newly added for my rolling right ankle, it worked great!), grab my trekking poles (which I don’t use) and set off to fall in love with these unfamiliar mountains.
As I step onto the PCT, its history shoots through my feet to my heart. I feel the spirits of the thousands of other adventurers who have hiked some portion or all of the trail that runs from Mexico to Canada. I am one with Cheryl Strayed (who lives in Portland), sans ill-fitting boots and 75 pound pack, who wrote about her adventure on the PCT in “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.”
The trail is mostly flat after a few switch backs from the lake up a talus slope to the PCT section. It’s pleasant, if not monotonous; no breathtaking vistas. There’s a section of winter blow-down that, I’m sorry Oregonians, but it kind of made me laugh. Pickup sticks compared to the mighty giants that thunder to the ground in my mountains.
The trail splits at one of the other corners of the lake, one fork continuing on the PCT, the other going on around the lake. It’s my turn around point.
It’s an easy hike, but when I finish, as always, I thank my body for its strength and my circumstances that provide the opportunity to follow my bliss. It won’t always be like this; it could all change in a flash or in a slow decline until one day I realize it’s done. Getting old might be hell, but for now I am loving every minute.
But these are still not my mountains.
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.