Ridgefield Sandhill Cranes

I had my semi-annual dental check-up recently.  Usually Leslie would accompany me and we would meet up with some old colleagues, but Leslie was isolating for an upcoming surgery so I went by myself.  So, I got a really early start, oh dark thirty, and went to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge early because I had seen some shots of migrating Sand Hill Cranes and I wanted to see them, too.  

The booth at the entrance said that 60+ cranes had been spotted the day before, but I didn’t see a single crane until the very end of the tour, and the small flock I saw was a long way away. 

They weren’t very good pictures, but at least I had proof that I had seen them.  My favorite shot, which is heavily cropped, was of these two vocalizing.

Knowing the morning pictures weren’t going to be very good, I decided to return after my dental appointment to try again.  Unfortunately, even though it wasn’t very late, the clouds had moved in and the light wasn’t as good as it was in the morning.  It didn’t help that I didn’t see a single Sandhill Crane until I reached the end of the tour, where I had seen them on my morning visit.

At least they were considerably closer this time, making for a somewhat better shot.

In the end, the shots don’t compare very favorably with shots of Sandhill Cranes that I took in Merced several years ago where conditions were more ideal, but it was still exciting seeing birds I seldom see.

As it turns out, though, my favorite shots of the day weren’t of Sandhill Cranes at all, but that will have to wait for another day.

Hurricane Ridge in the Rain

When we couldn’t figure out another Mt. Rainier hike to take that wouldn’t be overflowing with visitors trying to visit before the end of the season, we decided to explore Olympic National Park, instead.  I pushed hard to hike Hurricane Ridge since it had been over five years since our last visit. I’m glad we chose that hike, though things have changed considerably since the last time I was there.  It is such a popular trail that they paved it, which makes sense since trails quickly become stream beds up there.  We were reminded that The Olympics are a Rainforest as we spent the day walking in the clouds. The rain was heavy enough that I put my camera in my bag and relied on my iPhone to take shots.

Washington is the Evergreen State, but Fall’s colors were still on display

and I often think that Falls bright hues stand out more when framed with green.

On sunny days visitors are treated to awesome views of the coastal mountain range, but there is a subtle beauty In fog-shrouded forests. 

The signs along the trail pointed out that Hurricane Ridge is aptly named and that trees growing here are shaped by high winds, heavy rain, and heavy snowfall.  These forces combine to produce many beautiful, bonsai-like trees that cling to the barren rock.

I’m not sure if  the heavy clouds allowed us to get closer to the wildlife than usual, but this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a Spruce Grouse, 

and we got close to two different flocks of them.

We also saw several deer, but none quite as handsome as this buck that joined us while we sat and enjoyed lunch.

Rain or no rain, it was a beautiful day.

Crystal Mountain to Lake Henskin

For our last hike of the season near Mt. Rainier we moved north, starting from the Crystal Mountain ski area.  Our trip started a little rugged because we had trouble finding the beginning of the trail and ended up climbing straight uphill on a gravel road.  As it turned out, that was an indicator of what the hike was going to be like.  

The best part of the hike was that it was quite strenuous, providing a fitting challenge for an end-of-the-season hike.  I think Leslie and Paul liked it better than I did, but I was off-put by the clearings for ski trails that we had to cross and the sight of a scalped mountain across the valley.  Still, there was a couple of pleasant small streams crossing the trail.

Lake Henskin, where we ate lunch, was also quite peaceful.  It felt great to cool off after the steep climb up the trail.

Unfortunately, the silence was shattered by the sound of a helicopter flying overhead repeatedly.

At first, I speculated that it might be involved in fighting the fires that plagued the Pacific Northwest and most of the West Coast this summer, but once it flew directly overhead I knew that wasn’t why it was here.  It wasn’t until I got home and put the image up on the screen that it became obvious this was some sort of gun-ship practicing.  

I’m not up on the latest weapons since it has been 40+ years since I was in a military helicopter, but that is definitely a gunner with some sort of machine gun peering down on us, and there’s another machine gun on the back of the helicopter.  I suspect the opposite side was equally armed.

Luckily, the helicopter’s intrusion into the silence was soon forgotten as we descended back down the trail and immersed ourselves in the comforting protection of the old-growth forest.

Sourdough Gap

On September 9th we hiked to Sourdough Gap on the East side of Mt Rainier. We had hiked to Sheep Lake on a previous hike but thought we had better train a little more before trying to reach Sourdough. This time we only paused at Sheep Lake long enough to get a couple of pictures

and headed out for the pass, another 1.4 miles up the trail and quite a bit higher, as attested to by the photo I took of the same lake near the top of our hike.

The trail beyond Sheep Lake offers views of rugged country, the trail itself is never too steep, just a steady climb to the top.  It taxed the three older members of the group but didn’t seem to slow Kylan down at all.

Unfortunately, the smoke from wildfires on the east side prevented us from seeing as far as advertised in some hiking guides, but we got a good view of the PCT as it headed down and then back up a distant ridge to the North. 

Surprisingly, we encountered twelve or thirteen PCT hikers near Sourdough Gap, and all but two were women, most apparently hiking alone. I was both amazed and impressed at that. This young woman was one of the first we met and talked to.  She used the rest to call her boyfriend and let him know where she was on her trek.

 Despite all the years I’ve hiked portions of the PCT, I had only met one other hiker who was attempting to complete the entire trail in a single year. I was also surprised that most of the hikers were hiking solo; I’ve only backpacked by myself one or two times.  

Even more amazing was how light their packs looked; gear has changed radically since I started hiking and backpacking.  Of course, my first backpack was made of wood and canvas and was extremely uncomfortable, nearly as uncomfortable as the cement-like boots that they told me I needed to wear if I was carrying a pack.

If I was sixty years younger,  I would be sorely tempted to hike the PCT from Mexico to Canada.  Since that’s not going to happen, I’ll keep hiking short stretches of the PCT and enjoying the 

beautiful scenery, like this Fall foliage.