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.

Narada Falls to Reflection Lake

We took our fifth hike of the season on Mt. Rainier two days before we left for Colorado to visit Tyson’s family before Logan left for Montana State and the girls started back to school.  I’d hoped to post it before we left but was too busy packing to finish until we returned. This hike was nearly the same as our hike from Narada Falls to Paradise, but in the reverse direction so we didn’t have to finish with the steep climb at the end of the trip.  I hoped that a strenuous hike at this altitude would help prepare me for Colorado’s altitude.

I’ll spare you pictures of the first half of the hike since they’re not as good as those in previous posts and they’re not as striking as this shot of Reflection Lake.

Though the Avalanche Lilies were mostly gone, there was still lots of Paintbrushes 

Fireweed,

and various white flowers, adorned by various butterflies.

Leslie wanted to repeat this trip so that Kylan could see the remarkable views, and he had lots of time to enjoy them while waiting for us to catch up with him.

The trail wasn’t a lot easier from the other direction, but the pain was eased by occasional glimpses of Tiger Lilies on the trail

and views of Mt. Rainier through breaks in the trees as we descended back to Narada Falls.

In retrospect, perhaps we should have been hiking a little higher up the mountain to really get ready for Colorado, but if we had done so I wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much as I did.  Hiking Mt. Rainier is definitely my favorite way of getting in better shape.

Sunrise Rim Trail

After four weeks of hiking around Mt. Rainier, I thought we were ready to tackle the Sunrise Rim Trail,  probably my favorite hike on Mt. Rainier because of its views, like this one taken halfway up the steep climb from the visitors’ center to the trail.  

Once to the top of the ridge you get some impressive views looking north —  and down. On a clearer day you can see Mt. Baker from here.

We didn’t see Mt. Baker, but we did spot something even more exciting, a Mountain Goat resting halfway down the cliff, the first we have ever seen here.

It was quite dry and dusty on the trail, but the slopes were covered with flowers galore!

There were also quite a few butterflies, but this was the only one that stopped long enough for me to get a shot of it.

We followed the Wonderland Trail back to the parking lot and managed to get a very different view of the mountain.

It’s a challenging hike for me, but it’s worth the effort because hiking here feels like Cloud Heaven!