CHAPTER 15~ MOWICH LAKE
The following is a prelude to Video Episode 10 you can either click here to watch the video or read through and click at the end.
Video Synopsis: Taking you high across snow fields to the beauty of Spray Park. Lisa says goodbye to Shannon with a backpack boogie send off. Runtime 9:04
My first experience with Mowich Lake happened when I was about 18. When you’re 18 you do just about anything.
Mowich Lake in the 1970’s
Living so close to Mt. Rainier, we frequently would camp up at Ipsut Campgrounds. Back then you could simply drive your car into a camp spot and just spend a night or two. The ranger would be around in the evening to collect payment for the spot usually sometime around evening supper.
Back 45 years ago we had rustic equipment. An old nylon tent that leaked was always accompanied by a blue tarp to over hang in the trees so it didn’t get too damp. At each corner of the tarp you would place a rock and gather the ends of the tarp forming a ball so you can wrap your cord around it then hoist it to a tree. Our Coleman camp stove had to have a few pumps to pressurize the tank and then there was our Thermos brand ice chest that kept things cool for most of a day.
Keeping things simple, the main thing I remember is collecting our own wood to keep warm, which is taboo now, then trying to light wet wood and twigs that steamed because they were so soggy. With little control of the environment we would wake up to cascading water inside the tent mixed with pine needles, an unsettling alarm to get up to. I was always cold.
The experience I remember most hiking on the Wonderland up from Ipsut Campground was a very steep climb that lead to Ipsut Pass. From there you follow the ridge about 1/2 mile leading to Mowich Lake.
That early summer we decided to take on the 2800′ elevation gain early in the morning before heat caught up with us.
This trail starts out lovely and passes Ipsut Falls then takes a sudden sharp uphill grade full of switchbacks through the forest. What kept me going this particular day was the thought of this beautiful blue pristine alpine lake glistening in the sun above. I was reeling and ready with my swimsuit bikini top under my halter top. With an extra pair of jean cutoffs in my bag, I couldn’t see bringing a towel because I was just going to bask on the banks until I dried out in the middle of a secluded paradise.
My thought was I might even just take my clothes off all together, and take a little dip, no one would be there.
The first few miles we made our way easy enough. No one owned trekking poles back then. My hiking boots were tough girdled leather uppers with stiff hard soles. By the time we made it to a clearing where the pass began, we knew the last 1/2 mile would either condition us or kill us straight up to the sky.
What stood before us was giant boulders and loose rock that we ended up climbing on all fours to make our way. It was a scramble. No longer did the trees shelter us from the heat of the day that already lapped at our heals. Needless to say it was tough going and slower than we had predicted.
When we made it to the saddle we celebrated our accomplishment and walked our way along the ridge to Mowich seeing the remainder of a beautiful hot day and glistening lake ahead in our minds eye.
As we caught our breath our conversations started again. In the distance only sounds if faint breezes swayed trees above and low humming noise coming from very far off in the distance. As we continued, the faint noises became slightly louder in a low rumbling tone.
That sound was the sound of cars. A complete caravan of cars headed to Mowich Lake in the dust and music that trailed behind them.
At that point I remember falling to my knees and crying out, “I could have driven the car here!” Dust and people accompanied each and every car. Cars piled up in the parking lot, jockeying for positions, people chewing dirt but still smiling to be outdoors in a party of serenity.
My souvenir was not being able to sit for a week after that hike and there was the continual moaning that went along each time I squared down, “I could have drove, ohhhh,”
The road below to Ipsut Campground is closed and now the only was into the campground is on bike or foot.
And for the really brave person, you can drive the 11 miles of chuck holes if you dare.
Just remember your towel and some repair tools if your car disagrees with your decision and preemptively revolts.
Cataract Valley Campground, Seattle Park, Spray Park and Mowich
After the Big W our camp for the evening was at Cataract Valley. Shannon reminded me she had stayed here before in her earlier trip around The Wonderland and it was one of her least favorite camps mostly because of the fog they had encountered.
At the time we rolled in late in the afternoon, we began our search for we thought would be the best spot. The first two sites, unoccupied, looked like they had just melted out of snow and appeared damp. As we grew closer to the creek, we found an ideal spot next to water, the bear pole and a happy couple just across the way.
We pitched our tents and I hardly remember dinner that night and fell asleep early putting away the long day. Day 10 had been a rough one.
Morning sunrise breaks around at 6 am in August in the Pacific Northwest and like clockwork we were up having our breakfast and gathering our tents up. The reality of this being the last day for Shannon was setting in on her.
Our last day would include over Seattle Park, to Spray Park and then our final day at Mowich.
Day 10 to Seattle Park we come across more downhill assisted trail runners. As we attempt to merge to one spot it’s impossible. The trail is so narrow and only a deep rut uphill. Shannon and I step off and stop to avoid doing trail damage. At this point we know if we don’t the runner will step off and then run down the sides of the trail trampling the little plants that have taken a half century to get to the size of a peanut.
At this spot at tree line, the trees start to look like they are growing sideways because of the snow and wind they carry with them as they stretch toward the sun. It truly was one of my most favorite areas so far. The mountain in the background, creeks babbling and cascading, a few rock challenges, snow,
The snow at Seattle Park still exits in August and the insects appear so excited for the opera of spring to begin, they want to carry us off in their ecstasy. At the rocky outcropping painted orange as a monument to Seattle Park we see backcountry skiers heading to glacier ski probably around Flett Glacier and just below Observation Rock. This the glacier the professor my grandmother admired so well was named for. At this point a few day hikers emerge from the opposite direction telling us of a mama bear and cubs just over the next hill.
We’ve grown accustomed to seeing bears but ask for exactly what was seen, eyes on, not just someone said they saw a bear and decided to pass information on.
Happy but sad, my last day with Shannon.
Along our way we are bear aware but mostly we see day hikers at mid day traveling from Mowich Lake. We start to get a lot of questions at this point. Where have we been, how long have we been out here, etc. Our big backpacks are tell tale of our adventure. I notice other tell tale signs, like white lines at the crease at inside of my elbows due to grasping poles and an uneven tan line and my legs look chiseled and sinewy.
The original Wonderland Trail would have not taken us through Spray Park but instead down to Ipsut Campground and back up the Ipsut Pass to Mowich. Many “Wonderlanders” now choose the Spray Park alternate.
The last time Shannon was there it was foggy and that is what many encounter here but I have been here enough times day hiking to know the beauty of a blue bird day.
I hope her last day was her best.
The Backpack Boogie
The Backpack Boogie Video Episode 10
2 thoughts on “Backpacking Mt. Rainier ~ 14 Days”
Looking forward to “the opera of spring.” A few months to go yet where I live. Enjoyed your post.
Thanks for reading my post. I, like most of us on here, am trying to become a better writer. I appreciate your comment. 🙂