We’ve visited Mt. Rainier more times this year than any other that I can remember. Maybe we’re finally taking full advantage of not working? (Okay, we’re retired, though I don’t like that word.) Or maybe it finally dawned on us how very close and accessible that wonderful Mountain is? Today we got off to a late start and when we arrived in Enumclaw, we learned the route ahead on Highway 410 was closed. No matter. We put Plan B into effect and headed south on State Route 165 to the less frequented Northwest corner of the Park. Into the wilderness and onto a gravelly, pitted road we went (oh yes it was) towards Mowich Lake. The views of the mountain were worth it.
After 11 miles of a bumpy, dusty, ride, we entered the National Park without any fanfare, save a self-service box for the entry fee, and a sign that told us we were in for a rough ride up the gravel road. (Yeah, we noticed; next time we’ll bring the truck.) Dusty cars lined the side of the road the last two miles, and we realized just how popular the area was to the locals. Still we carried on and arrived at Mowich Lake (el. 4,929 ft.), where my husband kindly dropped me off while he went to park the car, his first hike of the day.
Notwithstanding the number of cars, peace could still be found in secluded spots next to the pristine lake, the largest and deepest in the National Park. The temperature was in the nineties so the smart ones were swimming or boating in the lake.
The trails in the area are part of the Wonderland Trail that encircles the base of the mountain for 93 miles. We saw a few well-equipped hikers on the trail hiking 12 to 15 miles a day (sturdy young men with large backpacks, strong legs and determination), but mostly we saw day hikers like ourselves opting for shorter hikes, including families with children.
We stopped to eat our snack in a shady spot on the lake, before taking the hike to Ipsut Pass, which followed the lake through the woods, providing great views of the Mountain, before turning away and gaining some elevation.
On the trail up to the Pass we encountered many hikers coming down, mostly from Eunice Lake which was further than we intended to go.
‘How much farther?’ we would ask and always got the same general answer. Eunice Lake and Tolmie Peak were a couple of grueling miles further but well worth it (though not to us.) Ipsut Pass being half as far, was ‘just a little bit further’, ‘maybe 3 more switchbacks ahead’ and the trail was ‘not too steep’ though ‘rocky and rooty,’ a description I rather enjoyed. I suggested to my husband that we stop asking ‘how much farther’ as it only disappointed us when the estimates proved inaccurate.
Still, the camaraderie with other hikers is what makes hiking fun and that was the easiest thing to say to one another. One family coming down had two little girls, covered with dirt from the dusty trail, no more than five years of age, and cute as can be. They had come from Eunice Lake.
“How much further?” one of them asked us.
“You have a way to go to the bottom,” I replied having already learned the disappointment of bad estimates, “and actually we were going to ask you that very question!”
While we were chatting, she glanced at my watch and her eyes lit up as she exclaimed, “Oh what a beautiful watch! A blue watch! Blue is my favorite color!”
Charmed by her exuberance, I was almost tempted to give her the (cheap) watch. She surely appreciated it more than I did.
As they moved on down the trail she hollered back to me, “I love your necklace!” and I had to laugh.
We continued on under the shade and cover of the woods, though one short section sent us into the brilliant sunshine and onto a ledge with craggy rocks above, where the trail overlooked the valley below.
Shortly afterwards we passed the cutoff to Eunice Lake, and arrived at Ipsut Pass, a rocky area which dropped sharply below us where the Wonderland Trail continued on.
After a quick visit with a couple of backpackers who were taking the pass down to the Yellowstone Cliffs for the night, we headed back finding the way much faster and easier than coming up.
Back to the car and down the dusty, bumpy road we went, but not without a stop for another view and photo of the Mountain.
The long summer drought shows on her. But it won’t be long until winter will return and the mountain will be covered with snow once again.
Looking forward to it.