When we get out of the glass bottle of our ego and when we escape like the squirrels in the cage of our personality and get into the forest again, we shall shiver with cold and fright. But things will happen to us so that we don't know ourselves. Cool, unlying life will rush in. — D.H. Lawrence
Tuesday, 11 July 2023, Mt Rainier NP
Sitting at the Eagle's Cliff overlook, gazing at the mountain slopes dropping off into the distance, glaciers dotting the high slopes, clouds hiding the highest peaks (including Rainier) from view.
I closed my eyes for a micro-nap, at peace with nature...
What a day. I noticed the mists when I unpeeled myself from the sleeping bag, wondering what the day had in store. In minutes, I noticed Mother Nature bidding me, "Good morning and g-day!"
The greeting lingered while I boiled water and reconstituted my Breakfast Scramble pouch.
While I ate, I formed my plan for the day. Hike a mile into Spray Park, look around, and take the spur to Spray Falls on the way back. After lunch, I could hike two miles back to the car, grab my book and mp3 player, and maybe even refill my water bottles (instead of boiling cascade water).
I love making plans. It gives me the chance to practice writing fiction.
Call it Mt. Rainier, the Unplannable Park.
It took little time to reach the trail fork. To the left, the Spray Park trail immediately started switchbacks, zig-zagging up the slope, oft accompanied by the beautiful white flowers. (I found out later they were called bear grass.)
Not nearly as many switchbacks as at Cascade Pass - only five, instead of 18 - but the first three were far steeper than those three days ago. Praise the Lord I'm not lugging a backpack up this!
The zigs and zags bounced between two cascades tumbling off the mountain
(one of which served aa my camp's water source). The fifth zag finally carried me over the stream into an open glade with Mt. Rainier looming in front of me.
No clouds tarnished the sky, leaving the sun to sparkle off the glaciers tumpling down its slopes.
July is wildflower is wildflower season,
and the meadows bore testament. Groups of white, yellow, red, and purple garnished the land, surrounded by a thousand shades of green.
The trail wove through copses of trees,
and through the glades, never far from a view of the peak.
The beauty kept pulling me forward, and irresistible force. I stopped often for photos, sometimes sitting in the middle of the trail to get the best angle. I had this paradise to myself.
I was well above Spray Park when a shout broke the silence. I looked around, and in a moment, I saw three - no, four - hikers come around a bend. I'll happily share this special with them.
As I worked my way around a large rock, looking for a reflection in an adjacent pool, a hiker passed close by on the trail. He looked scraggly, wizened and older - a lot like me. "You're on Bear Rock," he greeted me.
"That's what I call it. Last year I was up here, and a guy had placed his backpack on the rock and was rummaging through it. I called to him, 'There's a bear behind you!' Hardly looking up, he said, 'I know,' and turned back to his pack. I called again, 'I mean it's RIGHT BEHIND YOU.' He glanced over his shoulder, and then in one fluid motion grabbed his pack and took off running... I hoped maybe I could see a bear today, too."
I staged a running debate with myself as to how far to continue uphill. The winning answer: go until I hit the saddle looking down into Cataract Valley. Or stop when I got tired. Or turn around when I stopped having fun. Every time I topped a rise or rounded a bend, another promising stretch laid ahead of me, urging me forward.
The note on the ranger station's status board of 'complete snow cover' obviously had not been updated for weeks. A few patches dotted the hillsides, but I only encountered one on the trail, maybe 40' wide with a well-worn path cutting across it. As I approached, a hiker on the far side silently pointed to his left. I looked to see deer munching in the meadow, then moving off into the trees.
The trail continued its gently climb up the saddle, with wildflowers galore, until I finally reached the saddle. Yeah, choosing not to backpack over the saddle and down into Cataract Valley was DEFINITELY a good choice.
I'd seen only six hikers on my entire climb, but passed dozens on my way back down. I relished the downhill through the open glade,
but I had to pick my way down the switchbacks, as many had rock or rooty stretches. At the bottom, I took the spur a short distance to Spray Falls, an impressive cascade. I took pictures from the near side of the creek, though I later heard that you could scramble across on the boulders and get better views on the opposite side.
Back at camp, I found I had neighbors. I wandered over to chat with them, and to ask if those hammocks they'd strung up doubled as tent. Yes, they were hammock-tents, they told me. Man, engineers are inventive!
Turns out they had also planned on hiking from Ipsut Creek to Cataract Valley (like my original plan), until news of the downed bridge forced them to change plans. "But now we've heard that the new bridge is in and opened today," they reported. I'm glad I didn't know that.
At my tent site, I enjoyed a delicious lunch of beef jerky and a jumbo-sized apple. Afterwards, I returned my food bag to the bear pole, marveling at the ingenuity of the mechanism the park had installed at their campsites. Engineers rock!
It was early afternoon, so I still had time to trek the two miles back to the car - but did I really want to? Do I need the book? the music? drinking water from a faucet? While considering it, I walked the quarter-mile back to the water source
to fill the pot for water to boild for dinner. And since I'd bought a water-filter system at REI - a collapsible one-liter bottle that you can fill with stream water, screw on a filter, and drink - shouldn't I at least try it?
OMG!! That's a moment that will resonate with me the rest of my days. To dip the bag into a cascade, and then drink snow-melt water directly from its source... I quaffed a half-liter on the spot, and refilled the bottle for later.
That took going back to the car off the table. Instead, I grabbed my poles and hiked back a third of a mile to Eagle's Cliff overlook. The white, featureless canvas I'd seen yesterday now stunned me with its beauty.
Later. Chef's special for the night: Kathmandu Curry!
When I got back from Eagle's Cliff, I noticed another tent had popped up. Embracing the role of campground greeter, I welcomed them to Eagle's Roost. The couple had camped at Carbon River (near the broken bridge) yesterday. "You won't believe this," the man said. "There is a suspension bridge over the river. Not very long, but I've been over it and seen how it sways with each step - you know, limited to one person at a time. Well, yesterday as I was watching, a bear came out of the woods. Damned if that bear didn't walk over the bridge! I could see the bridge sway. On the other side, he got off and disappeared into more woods. Looked like it wasn't the first time he'd done so, either!"
When I mentioned I'd next head to Glacier NP, they quickly recommended their favorite hike there. Though they couldn't recall the name, I could tell from the description that it was the Hidden Lake trail - one of my favorites.
Even later. The NPS website recommends catching Spray Falls at sunset. So why wouldn't I? I wandered down an hour early to check it out. Sure enough, the sun now shone directly on the upper falls as it sunk in the west.
Once again, I couldn't see any reasonable way to cross to the far side. As I worked my way back to camp, a woman suddenly appeared behind me. She had crossed the creek, but she admitted, "It was dicey."
I took a trip to the privy before darkness fell.
The clouds had finally cleared, and through the thick canopy I could glimpse Mt. Rainier bathed in a sunset glow.
A picture-perfect day from beginning to end!