Another Failure

Pinnacle Peak wasn’t our only disappointing hike in Mount Rainier National Park this summer.  Our attempt to conquer Eagle Peak was even more frustrating.  We discovered Eagle Peak last winter while snowshoeing. We were the first people to hike it after a snowstorm, and, though it was a delightful hike, we only hiked about a third of it because it was exhausting. Since we knew it was probably even more challenging than Pinnacle Peak, we waited deep into September before attempting it, as made clear by the lack of snow on the South Side of Mt. Rainier.

Mt. Rainier from Longmire

Although it was a beautiful forest,  the trees were so thick that there wasn’t much to take pictures of it.  That’s probably why this dead tree caught my attention,

Rotted Tree with Fungus

that and its unexpectedly bright colors.  We’ve seen a lot of different mushrooms hiking the Cascades, but none of us had ever seen anything quite like this. 

Strange Fungus

Unfortunately, the best views awaited us at the saddle or the peak, but it was a long, steady uphill haul.

Leslie and Paul approaching trail junction

When we reached the end of the “maintained trail,” we were greeted by this trail junction.


The rocky trail straight up the mountain

was the “trail” leading up to the peak — while the trail to the saddle was unclear.  

We decided to have lunch and consider our options,  and another highlight of the day appear — a rarely-seen pika.


After some deliberations, I decided I could probably make it to the top where scenic wonders awaited, but I was not at all sure that —even with hiking poles — I could make it down without falling. Since I’ve gone on blood thinners for my aFib I’ve gotten a lot more conscious of falling, and falling on sharp rocks miles from first-aid seemed especially unappealing.  

It was another disappointing hike, but at least once we finished my Apple Watch notified me that it was the longest hike of the summer and that we gained more altitude than on any other hike. I would have been especially pleased with that nearly twenty years ago when Bill and I regularly walked the Columbia Gorge, Indian Heaven, and Mt Hood looking for challenging hikes, but now it seemed like little compensation.

We Attempt Pinnacle Peak

It’s impossible to hike the trails around Reflection Lake without admiring Pinnacle Peak just to the south of Mt. Rainier. Eventually, we noticed hikers heading up a trail right across the road from Reflection Lake which we later found is marked “Pinnacle Peak Trail.”  However, since we usually hike Reflection Lake at the beginning of summer, Pinnacle Peak looked too steep to tackle.  This year after a few easier hikes, we thought we were in good enough shape that we would tackle it. 

We started out confidently through the Old-Growth forest, with Mt. Rainier barely visible through the trees.

Mt Rainier Through the Trees

We were still going strong as we neared Tree Line and Rainier almost became completely visible. 

Mt. Rainier Emerges from the forest

We knew we were finally above Tree Line when we were greeted by a Marmot family, 

3 Marmots

Unfortunately, once we were above Tree Line, the trail got rougher and narrower with steep drop-offs which triggered Leslie’s Acrophobia.  She decided that she didn’t want to go any further but urged us to go to the top.

Thinking the top couldn’t be too much further and it wouldn’t take too long to get to, Paul and I decided to plow ahead.  Turned out to be further than we thought.  After 20 minutes of steady climbing, it was clear that the top would be at least another 30 minutes ahead, which would have meant that Leslie would end up waiting nearly two hours for us, and, looking across the ravine to the next mountain peak, it might take even longer than that.  

After some discussion, I decided I could settle for a spectacular view of Mt. Rainier, despite being unable to see Mt. Adams and St. Helens from the top of the pass.

Mt. Rainier from the South

So, we headed back to where we had left Leslie, resolving to return another time when we didn’t have to leave anybody behind.  

I still can’t quite shake the idea that when you don’t reach your intended destination that the hike is a flop, but as I age I consider it more of a failure when you don’t try to go beyond your limits. I spend the hiking season testing my limit.

Back to Reflection Lake with Mira

With so many great hikes around Mt. Rainier, we seldom repeat the same hike, but we did hike the Reflection Lake trail just two weeks after our first hike there because Paul couldn’t hike and Mira wanted to join us for the first time and we felt it was a good introductory hike. 

Besides, after two weeks of unusually warm temperatures the hike was quite different than it had been before.  For one thing, there wasn’t a single Avalanche Lily in sight but they had been replaced with lots of new flowers.

Meadow Flowers

The view of Pinnacle Peak from the top of the trail was quite different, too.  It wasn’t shrouded in clouds as it had been two weeks before, and the snow fields had virtually disappeared.

Pinnacle Peak

For better or worse, we didn’t see any bears on this trip. 

I managed to catch up with Leslie and Mira long enough to get this shot of the two of them at The Overlook.

Mira and Leslie With Pinnacle Peak in the Background

It is always a pleasure to walk with kids or grandkids sharing your love of these special places — even while dispelling the notion that you’re still in good shape while trying to catch up with a teenager who spends most of the year playing softball.

Still, looking down at Louise Lake I could comfort myself knowing that I still covered quite a few miles and nearly a thousand feet of altitude simply by persisting and placing one foot in front of another  

Louise Lake

and, back at the car, we were rewarded with a beautiful view of Mt. Rainier with a near reflection, a view we hadn’t experienced two weeks earlier because it was shrouded in clouds.

Reflection Lake with Mt. Rainier in the background

Kylan has walked a lot with us the previous two years, but Mira hasn’t been able to join us because her softball practice and games have conflicted with our hikes.  She really seemed to enjoy this hike, though, and, hopefully, we will be able to find ways for her to hike with us next year.

We Spend Our Summers Hiking

I’ve reached the point where I find it hard to get aerobic exercise walking around the gym track and, unfortunately, my knees are not up to jogging anymore. Sometimes if I shuffle a lap I can get my heart rate up and keep it elevated for another few laps, but I’m lucky if I get 10 or 15 minutes of aerobic exercise in an hour-and-a-half workout.   On the other hand, my heart rate goes straight up whenever I hike in Mount Rainier National Park because there aren’t many hikes that don’t require uphill climbs.  I often earn two or three hours of aerobic exercise a day there.  

Though this is strenuous exercise, it never feels that way (at least until I start driving home or try to get up from the couch later in the evening).  The beautiful Avalanche Lilies lining the Mt. Rainier High Lakes Trail in July always make me forget that I am struggling to keep up with Leslie and Paul, and, perhaps more importantly, give me an excuse to stop and catch my breath.          

Avalanche Lily

Truthfully, fields of Avalanche Lilies early in the season would be enough to inspire me to walk around Reflection Lake early in the season, but Indian paintbrush, Bear Paw, and others soon convince me that my elevated heart rate is due to my love of these flowers —not a lack of oxygen.

Indian Paintbrush and more

Even though I may have prettier Indian Paintbrush growing in my backyard, I always brake for a closer look when I see them in the mountains, where they truly belong.  

Indian Paintbrush

If I get jaded with flowers, I can always look across the valley at Pinnacle Peak, a hike that awaited us later in the hiking season.

Pinnacle Peak

Although this is a regular hike for us, it’s the first time we have ever seen a bear on the trail.  Leslie spotted this young black bear just as we were sitting down for lunch.   Luckily, he wasn’t as close as my telephoto lens made him appear and only seemed interested in berries, not other sources of food.

Black Bear on High Lakes trail

Despite his total disinterest in us, we decided to forego lunch and continue our hike because he seemed to be traveling in the same direction we were. I didn’t want to meet him on the narrow trail back down to the car, especially since I had recently viewed a video of another hiker’s encounter with a bear which followed the hiker for a considerable distance before exiting the trail.  

Still, it was the highlight of our hike, and the adrenaline rush made it a quicker and easier hike than usual to get back to the car.

We try to plan our summer hikes so that we begin with the easiest hikes and end with the toughest ones.  Luckily, the hike around Reflection Lake is both one of the easiest hikes we do and a personal favorite so it’s a great way to kick off the hiking season.