Last Friday my friend Carrie and I went for a full moon sunset hike. We started at the far NE corner of Mt. Rainier at the Sunrise parking lot of Mt. Rainier National Park, elevation 6200′. We then hiked about 3 miles gaining 1200′ elevation.
It wasn’t a difficult hike but we decided to carry 3 liters of water, a bottle of wine, our dinner, a JetBoil, fuel and then a bunch of camera equipment and then there was the workout I had done earlier, a circuit class and then 12.5 miles of hill climbing on a bike.
My legs were toast.
As we made our way to the Mt. Fremont Fire Lookout, it was more than obvious our mountain had shed its winter layer early and now looked like end of summer. The Emmons glacier, the largest on the mountain seen on the left of the photo, looked rather normal but it was the ice cap that is 300 ft. thick that was throwing a punch down the Willis Wall to the right. One of the park volunteers we stopped to chat with mentioned the rock and ice fall that had been happening all day.
That is an important piece.
Rainier is made of many glaciers. Some no longer exist. Enormous rocks the size of your neighborhood are what remain as a reminder to evidence of our changing world. Two observable areas no longer in existence, Paradise Ice Caves and the area just south of Forest Lake. In my life time lost ice and gained giant boulders with fresh evidence of not being a part of the landscape for long.
This one photo shows how these two extremes; extreme snowfall and extreme heat can create sudden mixed change that is stark and unrecognizable. Most of us PNW people are now calling the mountain naked so early in the summer season.
The Good News
Mt. Rainier is truly beautiful. The alpine meadows are beginning to reach their peak. The hills are visible and a wonderful place to experience. The starkness of the tundra and pumice. Many people from all over the world visit here for its meadows, frolicking wildlife and the fresh air and the forever changing landscape that can be experienced in a day.
We are lucky to have such a monument to nature.
My Take Away
The challenge is to take it all in. That can be a difficult task. Younger people seem to get it. Nature gives back more than it receives.
Our evening at Mt. Fremont Lookout let us experience just that. Take in what others take in. Don’t let the endless trail lock you into a way to do it fast or for time.
I look for recipes that can easily be chopped into equivalent sizes for dehydrating. I added diced and cooked chicken breast after making the main recipe then dehydrated the regular way by rotating racks and breaking the meal into small pieces. It took a bit less time than the 8 hours shown. After the dehydration process, I placed the separate racks into one zip lock bag and put them all in the freezer for storage.
The following is a prelude to Episode 9 Video. You can click and watch here or read and click the link at the bottom.
Video Synopsis: Episode 9 finds Lisa and Shannon covering the most mileage of the entire trip with over 6600′ vertical gain and 6600′ vertical loss. Lisa finds trail miles are a lot longer than regular miles as she pushes across the Carbon River Suspension Bridge with still another uphill climb with epic scenery hardly ever viewed. Runtime 12:25
The Big W– Where the Boots Meet the Trail
We plan to leave early, breaking down camp before breakfast around 6 am. The decision last night was to get to bed early, put a few miles behind us and to cross a sketchy river crossing at the West Fork of the White River in order to enjoy breakfast stretched out in the early sunshine.
Shannon titled this day the BIG W due to the elevation loss, gain, loss and then gain again. Her title made it simply understandable of the amount of miles ahead of us this day.
Planning ahead, if the miles wouldn’t challenge us enough, the West Fork of the White River crossing known to be hazardous, and the elevation gain and loss certainly could. Reports of years of downed timber and limbs and blow downs strewn everywhere, we wanted to put this section behind us early. Recent reports had been good that the foot bridges were in place and stable so our positive outlook remained optimistic.
Remote and seldom maintained by the park due to limited access to get trucks or machines to the area, rangers and crews on foot carry chainsaws and hand tools to do the work Mother Nature and her forces push at them each winter. I remember seeing a trail on a map that continues down the east side of the West Fork of the White River. Just as we start heading west to cross the map showed further north leading to the boundary and possibly a forest service road that is used to maintain the trail crossing.
Other than that, this portion of the Northern Loop is an often overlooked by backpackers as a must do. Most prefer to go on The Wonderland running inside and closer to the mountain.
Early Morning Hike to the West Fork of the White River
Along the southern ridge we could see the deep valley below with the West Fork of the White River. We survey the river towards then up towards the mountain leading to the Winthrop Glacier. The forest floor exploding full of bright green foliage and yellow wildflowers. Around the corner of the ridge, the trail now down switches back and forth and back and forth and back and forth with long easy switchbacks lasting miles.
This forested section appears very dry comparatively to the other lush areas of the wet landscape of Rainier. The dropped needles on our path look dry and hardy. There were minimal trickles and creeks spilling across the trail, which made the trail a gradual slopped descent to the river. The trees still towering above were smaller in size and meek in girth. We saw no one as The Northern Loop is very much isolated as predicted compared to The Wonderland Trail.
Hearing the river below as we near the crossing, then seeing it before us, helped push our mental state through the delta of silt. This hard to find trail has been diverted several times over the years and it could take some bushwhacking and common sense. My thoughts were how difficult the navigation must be in the snow early season or depending on the time of day or the time of year.
When we see the sign to the crossing, indeed showing there is a way to continue north to the park boundary, we have already started picking huckleberries and eating them. We imagine fairy gardens on logs and are entertained by the mushrooms and moss that could be hiding little people.
Breakfast at the West Side of the West Fork of the White River
I’m sure Shannon would agree this one of the nicer places to have breakfast. We pull out our stoves, take off our packs, boots, coats, and bask and enjoy our little outside diner complete with fairy gardens, water features and the sights and sounds of the morning.
Van HornCreek and Falls
At Van Horn Falls we come across two men who appear dressed in street clothes. They seem as startled as we do. After seeing no one for hours, imagine coming across two younger men out in the middle of no where. We stop to filter water and a brief hello to survey the falls.
A Mountain to Climb
Still continuing on The Norther Loop Trail, we begin the steep ascent next to Redstone Peak, a mountain range to the north and slightly west of Rainier. Beyond will be Lake James, Lake James Camp then a range with jagged mountain peaks with names like Sluskin of Native American legend, dotted with lakes.
Seemingly uninhabited, Lake James I read feeds the Van Horn Falls. The lake looks shallow as the beach sides are also shallow. The lake I’m sure fills with grasses and the sunlight reaches the soggy bottom.
Lake James Camp was on our list to stay but it was “full”. We find that most of our trip has shown full campsites on paper but there must be a lot of “No Shows” because we see no one at Lake James and hardly no one on the trail either coming or going, person, squirrel, bear or ranger.
The Sluskin Range is named for the Native American, Sluskin who guided the first successful ascent of Mt. Rainier by Hazard Stevens and P.B. Van Trump in 1870. The mountains are named, The Chief, The Squaw and the smaller ones papooses.
History reads the name Sluskin was used in several generations after the Stevens and Van Trump summit as well. Native Americans from the Yakama Nation were given hunting rights and treaties were carried when they frequently hunted at Yakima Park adjacent to the Sunrise area of Mt. Rainier. Recounts of rangers coming into camp are now part of the park’s history.
My family has its own ties to the Yakama Nation. My great-great Uncle being the only non-native buried at Ft. Simcoe, Nathan Olney.
Fire at Redstone Peak
As we head from Lake James we notice a tall peak to the south. Large boulders have fallen all around. Trees appear lifeless, limbless and scorched at the trunks.
I spend the better part of a day researching the fire here. At the time of this writing the only mention I can find is there was a fire here and the next mountain over at Grand Park at some time in the 1960’s.
The trail is a steep gain to a beautiful alpine meadow where wildflowers are blooming and another perfect spot to bask in the sun contemplating lunch.
We stop near the top of Van Horn Creek to rest our feet and get lunch in this lovely picnic spot perfect for a break.
Across this area to the Natural Bridge, Crescent Lake and mountain, was the some of the most beautiful scenery on The Northern Loop. It felt like being in the Alps or at least the opening scene of The Sound of Music. Wildflowers, alpine lakes, craggy mountains topped with snow, meadows, walls of andesite, and easy trails made this section just after lunch a needed break to the uphill along Van Horn Creek.
Crossing down the backside of Windy Gap the switching back over 5 miles went quickly with the Carbon River Glacier ahead of us then back up to Cataract Valley Camp.
Towering to the North of Windy Gap the Yellowstone Cliffs emerge create a hidden spot in the wildflowers to have another backcountry camp. We take a short tour of the camp, with the signs of one group who appeared to have camped there.
This is where the trail descends 5 miles downhill to the Carbon River.
We literally saw no one the remainder of the day as we went across the Carbon River Suspension Bridge. Most hikers would have been at camp by now but our had been long and arduous. A solo woman hiker who didn’t speak to us, probably because she had equally as long of a day, was going to Carbon River Camp as she turned downhill. The sign at our junction pointed us up where we encountered a couple who encouragingly told us Cataract Valley Camp wasn’t too far after a long, long day.
The upper part of the Wonderland trail here became heavily used. The steps up were rocky and steep, worn by boots and people. Coupled with my legs not wanting to move at the end of the day, my backpack felt heavier and my trekking poles were a blessing that gained me additional help up.
As we crossed the Carbon River we gave our thanks and said our good-byes to the lovely, peaceful, serene spectacle that was The Northern Loop Trail.
The following is a prelude to Video Episode 7 Wildflowers of Berkeley Park. You can click here to play video or read and watch at the end.
Video Synopsis: Now on the Northern Loop Trail, Episode 7 takes us through Berkeley Park wildflowers and a lovely creek that meanders parallel and gives us perfect background music to a relaxing and lovely day. Runtime 6:55
Headed for the Northern Loop Trail, we leave Sunrise Camp directly to the cache to resupply for the next 3 nights and 4 days. It is already getting warm with the extra weight but most of Berkeley Park is downhill.
We meet several groups of people enjoying the brilliant wildflower display that makes this hike so delightful in August. Like Summerland, a hill that blooms from the bottom up most of the month of August. As if planned for us our coming, the entire hill was in bloom.
I think about how each lovely arm on the north side has been nothing short of a showcase. To the far northeast of Sunrise the seven lakes glisten next to path below the Sourdough Ridge an intense blue. Forest Lake with a peek into a past glacier with enormous rocks chiseled and carved with water and freezing temperatures, the last remainder of time past. Then down the Huckleberry Creek area, a lovely jade green forest and spa camp. Now the Berkeley Park trail, showing off every color it can in a buzzing fury of insects.
We aren’t at Berkeley Camp long when a couple a long way from home arrive at camp. Berkeley Camp is a small camp like a bed and breakfast and you must walk by other sites to either go to the pit toilet or to filter water in the creek, making it impossible to avoid the other campsite.
While hanging my food at the bear pole, we exchange greetings and have a short one-sided exchange about plans. I never say too much that wouldn’t make me feel safe as a female in woods. The couple proceeds to tell me about all their forthcoming accomplishments, together they are hiking The Northern Loop, then the man was going to run around the mountain by himself supported by a commercial group he had paid that would help him. There is nothing humbling in this exchange. That means, a commercial company helps him finish, feeds him, sets up his tent, gives him encouragement, praise, food, shelter, and whatever else it takes to allow him bragging rights.
We pick a site, the one with the stump kitchen, that gives us a little forest cooking table and logs to sit on and carry on with our routine of filtering water, organizing the insides of tents, and decide to have an early evening since tomorrow is a long day.
Running the Wonderland
First, I want to say I am a runner. My runs have been at the most half marathons and 5ks. I run all winter and early spring to train for hiking season.
The last few years however, there have become more and more of supported groups of ultra runners on the Wonderland Trail. Most backpackers have something to say about them in forums on the internet. At times it seems they do not get along with one another.
While I am all about creating access to the wilderness and believe trails are for everyone. I also believe trail runners, like hikers and backpackers do cause an impact to the environment and need to adhere to trail etiquette. Since trail runners can finish so quickly with assistance, they also need a way to marshal their numbers with a permit system.
There are truly only a few really stellar endurance athletes that can run The Wonderland Trail without someone by their side or close by. My advice is if you cannot run over 100 miles at sea level do not attempt this, use it as a training ground in order to tromp the vegetation, scare the critters and ask backpackers to step off the trail or if they have an aspirin or ice pack.
The fact that runners can do this quickly means they don’t need a permit to be there. Companies that get paid good money, get away with sending literally hundreds of people to the trails.
It goes without saying , furthermore we will have nothing left of the fragile alpine meadows with this kind of attack by humans.
Trail runners also have a long way to go as far as etiquette.
On more than a few occasions during our time up a hill with heavy backpacks, we were forced off to the side. One young lady with nothing but her shorts and tank top, telling us how much she loved the wildflowers as she made her way down the narrow path through the meadow. My thought was if you have two men on the sides of you, assisting you, you do not respect the wildflowers.
Another time I was approached from behind and elbowed to make room and move. The excuse came later after the two runners could finish and get their breath.
Then there is the occasional runner who doesn’t even step off trail and stop, they just run down the meadow, or up the meadow, avoiding the trail all together.
I truly hope they do stop to look at the scenery. I truly hope they stop to appreciate the beauty of a wildflower and mostly I truly hope they advocate to protect it now that they’ve seen it.
Trail runners need to start a permit system and adhere to a code of environmental ethics and we must be respectful of one another, above all respectful of the environment that has no voice.
The following is a prelude to Episode 6. You can either watch or read the following then watch.
Episode 6 video synopsis: After seeing a big bear foraging at bed time, Episode 6 started with a 4:30 am wake up and eye lock with a big buck. Lisa and Shannon experience the sunrise of a lifetime and end with coffee by 9 back at the campsite by Shadow Lake. Runtime 12:42
Sometimes the wisest choices are made in the most spontaneous moments. This was day 7. We had never planned to get up before sunrise and hike to catch a sunrise. Something beckoned us that we should experience and do just that.
In a headlamp I begin to wake and I call to Shannon in the tent next to mine.
“Hey, Shannon are you up?”
Shannon, replies, “Yes”.
I believe we both said at the same time, “Let’s go.”
And we begin walking after grabbing a few items, to Mt. Fremont from Sunrise backcountry camp.
Waking to Walking
Just a few steps out of camp, we are met by a giant buck with glowing eyes at 5 am. It is heart pounding. My senses heighten, I’m cold, I’m shaking off my shivers one step at time, one foot in front of the other. I’ve planned my direction so my gut and instinct finds the way through with my small headlamp in complete blackness. That buck just stood erect in the same manner I did and I probably wouldn’t have noticed it if it wasn’t for his glowing eyes from my headlamp.
Once I warmed up and got my feet under my breath, each step started to quicken as we make along the ridge to the top of Mt. Fremont Lookout right at dawn. The pikas whistles carry from the rocks below. The wind churns the blowing clouds below as I find a few boulders in order to hide away and tuck myself between.
To the east was the red and orange glow of the sun, to the west and south was the sleepy giant ready to glow in unison with the rising sun. Like gasping for air between holding your breath I couldn’t decide if I should have my camera out, my video out, be turned to the east, turned to the west or just be completely awestruck and sit down and take in every moment so I did them all.
This is when I start to feel completely badass but insignificant. It isn’t about making it to the top or walking so far or doing it in in record time. It is simply about being able to make decisions and pull it together in order to experience life and STOP for a frickin’ moment to realize I am where I want to be and should be and need to be in this moment in time.
When the sun rose, I forgot my discomfort and all that we both could say repeatedly was, “I cannot believe this.”
You can tell by my face this is one decision I will never regret as long as I live.
We make it back to Sunrise Camp around 9 am just in time to warm up to the real heat of the sun next to Shadow Lake.
Having my coffee and taking a walk around the lake makes for one of the most memorable mornings so far.
The following is a prelude to 14 Days of Wonderland. You can skip to the video by clicking Episode 3 here or read and click at the bottom of this page.
Video Episode 3 Synopsis: As Lisa continues to dry her gear, episode 3 takes you on several trails on the Wonderland. Through the White River area, to Sunrise. The group meets up with Bob and Wendy for a two day stay at Forest Lake. Runtime 9:25
My bedtime fears have always haunted me. In a demonstrative fashion every sound, sight and sense of movement seems abrupt and larger than life when backpacking and alone in my tent.
Overcoming my slight personality quirk was a mental goal of mine which eventually I hoped to find peace through the night. The first night on my sleeping pad, an old Z mat that I notice is starting to compress, is always an adjustment in comfort so I wrestle with physical more. Then there is the no pillow thing that I use a portion of my backpack that has my clothes rolled up into a ball inside to elevate my head slightly. Next there are more physical challenges, cold feet. I sleep with clean wool socks, I wear the next day with toe warmers or hand warmers or both inside. I also sleep in leggings, a long sleeved shirt, my puffy jacket, my wool hat and zip myself fully into my 35 degree bag. That’s my summer pjs. In Spring and Fall I use a 20 bag and a bag liner. Coupled with weather extremes, hiking demands, carrying extra weight over days, heat all continued to push me to my limits, clothing is a big deal.
After several full days on the trail laying down to sleep came well received but not without some mental challenges still.
It took me 4 nights to shake my bedtime fears even with Carrie and Sandy as my part-time tent mates.
Oh my goodness my friend, Carrie saved my bacon. Carrie is neither self centered or self serving. She is a giver and an emitter of happiness with her golden locks, continually in tune with the feelings of others.
Wise beyond her years plus, with the added bonus of being a kick ass athlete, I hope some very deserving man comes to realize the drive in this woman. Drive, wisdom, determination, smart, understanding and knows her character, can I say more.
Carrie is just as passionate about nature and a true adventurer as myself. I love this woman for just who she is even if it was a bad day for her which I wonder if there ever could be, as she always is turning checking to make sure the rest of us are right behind her and happy.
Letting go of fear and breaking through to awareness was magical for me, as our group spent the first of two at Forest Lake. In the morning light, I discovered a lovely reflection in the lake. The air was calm and wonderful, reflecting the surrounding hills and forest. It seemed there was a forest both in the lake and I was surrounded with green. More than likely the reason a brighter person than myself had named it Forest Lake.
Even more magnificent was the lake at night. Standing at the shore after midnight and before the moon had rose, were billions of stars reflected below within the heavenly waters. I do not know what woke me that night, at that particular time, coaxing me to the shore but, I had to go see if the reflection at night was equally as spectacular at day and was curious if a reflection of the moon would emerge in the lake as well.
I remember standing for a while, and in this way, realized the show above and below me moving in a semi circular scene ever so slowly with my face pointed upward. Turning my back and walking few steps to my cozy tent, I realized the hard evidence in the scene. It was grander than life itself in the mirror of the lake. The remainder of the disappearing world was suspended, floating in the heavens on this very tiny ball called earth. That night when it was simply me and the sky and the lake, the rest of world the evaporated and disappeared and then so did my fears.
In essence perhaps my biggest fear was not what I couldn’t see and what was lurking at me with glowing eyes hidden behind some tree. My fear was based on a perceived feeling of anxiety triggered by being alone. I’m sure whatever critter it was that chewed several holes in a nice silicone bowl Wendy had cooked in that first evening, really could care less about me and more about if we had left a morsel or crumb around for them.
I understand the critters but how do you explain my hot mess and where it comes from.
We like a good charcuterie and my thanks this evening for good friends and wonderful locations.
Walmart charcuterie at Forest Lake during a pandemic.
Forest Lake felt like an outdoor spa. It had the cold plunge pool, and an even colder one with fountains and water features. This was our Yoga studio with all our mats.
Carrie’s mat doubled as a top layer to our sleeping bags as Forest Lake Camp is 5,660′ elevation so it became chilly at night.