Backpacking Mt. Rainier ~ 14 Days

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 with a Glimpse of Rainier

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.

Lisa at Cataract Valley Camp

Seattle Park

DAY 10

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, 

Lisa Crossing Marmot Creek
Seattle Park 
Glacier Skiing at Flett below Observation Rock

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. 

Spray Park

Rainier from Spray Park

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

Dehydrated Mushroom Stroganoff

Dehydrated Mushroom Stroganoff

Backpacker’s Mushroom Stroganoff  

                      Modified recipe from Susan Seutter

This recipe is absolutely delicious and super easy to make and rehydrate.

1 Whole Onion Diced

2 Cups Sliced Mushrooms

2 Garlic Cloves

2 Cups Spinach

1 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce

1 tsp. Hot Hawaiian Sea Salt

3 Tbsp flour

1 Can Coconut Milk (save out 3/4 C for flour mix)

2 Whole Bay Leaves

1 tsp. Pepper

1 Scoop plant based Protein Powder Vanilla Organic

Add onion and garlic to pan, on medium heat, saute’ until onion is clear and caramelized. 

Add approximately half the can of coconut milk, mushrooms, spinach, and seasonings. Stir   until well combined over low heat.

In separate bowl add remaining coconut milk and flour, shake or whisk. 

Turn up heat to a simmer and add flour mixture stirring until stroganoff thickens. 

To Dehydrate:

Using parchment paper. Scoop out stroganoff until about 1/4 thick on racks. It might take 4-5 racks.

Dehydrate for 8 hrs, rotating racks and breaking pieces into smaller chunks.

Dehydrate until the chunks are uniform and crumbly.

Place each try in one ziplock freezer bag and freeze.

To Rehydrate:

Boil water, add 1/2 C to each ziplock, seal and place in bowl. Add more water for desired consistency. 

We serve over Idahoan dehydrated potatoes. 

Dehydrated Chicken and Rice Curry Recipe

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.

An Indescribable Sunrise at Mt. Rainier

An Indescribable Sunrise at Mt. Rainier

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

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Shannon at Mt. Fremont Fire Lookout, Mt. Rainier

Day 7

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.

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Waking to Walking

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Before sunrise at Sunrise
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dawn seeping through
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Rainier to the west still sleeps

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.

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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.”

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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.

Watch Episode 6 video here.

Backpacking Rainier, The Stars of Forest Lake

Backpacking Rainier, The Stars of Forest Lake

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

Day 4

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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.

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Meet Carrie

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.

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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.

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Lisa, Wendy and Bob

We like a good charcuterie and my thanks this evening for good friends and wonderful locations.

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Walmart charcuterie at Forest Lake during a pandemic.

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Carrie and Lisa
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Wendy, Lisa, Carrie and Shannon work on Yoga stretches

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.

Episode 3 Video Forest Lake Day 1

Forest Lake and Swimming

The following is a prelude to Episode 4 Video of 14 Days of Wonderland. If you want to watch the video click here or read and click the link at the bottom of this chapter.

Video Synopsis: Mushrooms and Lake Swimming continuing into day two at Forest Lake and a trek along Huckleberry Creek looking for fungi as well as a refreshing swim in Forest Lake. Runtime 7:28

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Meet Bob and Wendy

Bob and Wendy arrived at Forest Lake ahead of the rest of us. They had met up with a man who had commandeered our already reserved camp spot complete with personal outdoor toilet, bear pole and fresh-running Huckleberry Creek for our water source.

He was compliant about picking up and leaving and did not know that you needed a permit to stay at all backcountry camps in Mt. Rainier. There was some discussion later with some friends of mine who said you used to be able to camp any where, no permit at least 1/4 mile off trail. I’m still uncertain about that one because there is quite the process to get permits and it is an extremely protected area. In an emergency, I read if that is the case and only the case.

Regardless, Bob and Wendy are a delightful, fun couple. Bob an avid cyclist and bicycle attorney and I hit it off quickly. I bike pretty much all summer every where. Wendy, a former high school art teacher and I also hit it off quickly. I am a retired elementary teacher. Both Bob and Wendy spent two nights with us at Forest Lake.

As we learn more about each other and had said our good-byes to Sheli at Sunrise, I find Wendy absolutely loves shelf fungi and really any mushroom or fungi for that matter. Wendy takes photo ops with fungi any time she can. With that being said, Forest Lake was just the ticket for her.

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On day two we rise, get our breakfast, hang our extra items on the bear pole, and head down Huckleberry Creek Trail. We learn from Shannon at the end of the creek and at the park boundary may have been one of the original entrances to Mt. Rainier National Park.

After 4-5 or so miles we break to have lunch and decide to head back. The trail becomes very overgrown and with many blown branches and logs to cross. Which could be one of the reasons it was a less desirable area for the park to try to maintain.

With all the snapped off trees, this is where the lovely shelf fungus loves to grow and some of those had even blown down and were the size of our hands and as big as our heads.

After returning to camp, we take a much needed swim in Forest Lake, dunk our heads, cool our feet and then are treated to the most delicious coconut cream desert Shannon makes.

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Shannon and Lisa walk Carrie back to Sunrise for a glorious sunset as we say our sad good-byes to Carrie.

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Lisa
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Carrie
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Shannon and Lisa

We complete the evening with forest spa and yoga.

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Episode 4 Video of 14 Days of Wonderland.

River Warning at the White River Crossing

River Warning at the White River Crossing

If finding Deer Creek Camp was like a needle in a haystack, White River Camp was like finding Woodstock.

After our Summerland day excursion, we end back at Frying Pan Creek. The Wonderland Trail continues north a short mile or so jaunt along the highway and crosses the muddy White River. This junction is where we split from Shannon and Sheli so they can get to camp and set-up and so Carrie and I can dance with the cars as we strategically place them at various trailheads.

Earlier in the month however, the footbridge over the White River was completely underwater and the hazard had become so concerning to the park, they placed a detour back to the highway, over the vehicle bridge and then meet back at the White River Campground.

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Meet Sheli

If there ever is awards for Rock Start of Backpacking Sheli has my nomination. It’s a given, backpacking takes mental will and physical endurance but it also takes a lot of problem solving. Like I said earlier, Sheli is the one who had found the sign for Deer Creek that saved us from spending the night off trail. She also gets A+ for tent skills. Her tent could hold up in a hurricane if necessary. Also, she has eagle eyes, so we gave her the spotter badge along with a keen sense of hearing. On a different trip Sheli woke me around 4:30 am with a whisper “Lisa, did you hear that?”, when an early riser porcupine squeezed itself between our tents and scrapped its bristley quills along the walls.

Sheli is also intrepid and unfathomable. Rather quiet at the right times, for example when I’m being stubborn in wet clothes, she was also a perfect person to have along on our adventure.

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Sheli, volunteering to lead crossing the White River
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Late in the day is never a time to cross a river and especially this one but Sheli was the first one out. Footbridges around Rainier are no joke. Many people loose their lives crossing them each year. People use poor judgement, they get thrown off balance, they try to ford rivers that they shouldn’t have forded. My preferred method when there are no handrails is the “butt scoot” where you literally ride the log like a horse and bump yourself up and down using your hands and arms like a pommel horse.

The rule is to always unbuckle your backpack before making a river crossing so if you or when you fall in your bag doesn’t prevent you from saving yourself.

I should have asked the ranger last week the question, why are we in the group camp at White River? It explained try finding a spot or the group camp. As our car and driver fetches any caches at the ranger station, Carrie and I then drive in circles through the haze of campfires, people in shorts, some shirtless.

When we are finally going to make our third trip around the campground, Shannon spots us and flags us over to the “group site” she has made because there isn’t one. Another fine example of the type of problem solving you must take while backpacking.

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As the day draws to an end, I head back home to resupply with my newly shipped rain cover and waterproof gaiters. Another fine example of problem solving in the woods, have someone at home place an order at REI and go pick it up.

Tomorrow I will meet my group at Sunrise for lunch, find Bob and Wendy, say good-bye to Sheli for this trip.

The trip from White River up Glacier Basin around Burroughs is beautiful but a nice elevation gain in the heat. The three find themselves taking frequent stops to gather their courage and strength but the views are worth it.



Bears of Summerland on the Wonderland Trail

CHAPTER 6~ BEARS AND SUMMERLAND ON THE WONDERLAND

Episode 2 Video The following is a prelude to 14 Days of Wonderland video is on the very popular Summerland Trail on the Wonderland system.  You can skip to the video by clicking Episode 2 here or read and click at the bottom of this page.

Video Synopsis: Still boasting the ziplock plastic bags in her shoes, Lisa contemplates returning them to Carrie. Upon summiting at Summerland camp it is found the camp had recently been ransacked by a bear. Runtime 6:40

Day 3

Mt. Rainier from Summerland

We wake up to gorgeous weather at Tamanos Camp and decide on taking a popular trail on the Wonderland for a day hike. Earlier during our planning Summerland Camp and Indian Bar Camps were both full and we could not make arrangements to backpack through both of these beautiful areas. A recent sign, posted, boot prints and a single track of something being dragged across the ground is all that remains of evidence to a scary day to campers who had camped there a few days prior.

Dragging Evidence
Bear Tracks

The story from the other campers was, campsite #2 was occupied at Summerland. During lunch a bear walked into campsite two, snatched a backpack out of the possession of a camper and dragged it and commandeering the bag and contents.

After crossing Frying Pan Creek, having lunch on the rocks and taking a brief moment to catch a few golden rays of sunshine, we were met with a spectacle of wildflowers. Everything from Lupine, Columbia Tiger Lily, Columbine, Magenta and Orange Indian Paint Brush, Pearly Everlasting blooming all at once. In the background the lovely scents were married with the mountain as if standing so proud of her work.

Carrie and Lisa soak in some sun

The trail up to Summerland is a sought after day hiking spot, especially on a weekend in summer. It starts from lush, green forests, on a wide forgiving pine needle filled path that is easy on the knees. Later it switches back and forth as Frying Pan Creek cascades and falls over the rocky face of the hill. From it’s crossing you catch a glimpse of Rainier, here and there along with wildflowers that forever fill the hillside all summer. 

Sheli, Shannon and Carrie, Summerland

When we a arrived to take a walk through camp, we found a posh pit toilet, and high end, solidly constructed rock walled group site. I’ve been here many times with the chipmunks and marmots looking for a handout. I spotted one lazy marmot hiding from the heat under a tree. 

Group Site at Summerland

Which is probably how the bear came to be.

In essence I feel sorry for the bear. People feed the chipmunks, they are aggressive when you sit for a split nano second. They jump all over your bag, and hop inside if you walk away to peak over the hill. The marmots take their share too. 

So why not the bear?

Just there for his share of take-out.

Most, if not all of Rainier’s backcountry camps, have bear poles. We never leave any of our food unattended. Ever. 

It goes without saying Rainier’s bears are generally mild and do not aggressively take food away from humans but this bear decided it would go about his business differently. That’s when the rangers started putting up signs, checking in with hikers, and doing what they call mitigation to scare it away.

We didn’t ask for details what mitigation was, air horn, rocks, yelling, we were just more concerned there was still that particular bear there. 

Sheli chats with a backcountry ranger on “Bear Mitigation Duty”

After filtering some water for the trip down, we take in a snack on a nice warm rock.

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Where the Sam Hill is Deer Creek?

The following is a prelude to 14 Days of Wonderland video on finding camp on the Eastside of Rainier.  You can skip to the video by clicking Episode 1 here or read and click at the bottom of this page.

Episode 1 Video synopsis: A search for a lost camp known as Deer Creek as well as a rainy first day through gorgeous wildflower meadows. Lisa ends up wet from head to toe but with the help of her friends, ends up wearing gallon zip lock bags in her shoes and Carrie’s clothes for a climb up Tamanos Mountain. Runtime 9:31

Day 1

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Out in the middle of no where, our first day didn’t go quite as planned. To begin, Shannon’s car experiences a low tire alarm which keeps her driving at a snails pace in order to not cause any damage to her vehicle.

From past experience, Mowich Lake road is pot-holed, chuck-holed, dusty and busy. Hiker’s and their vehicles hoping to get a parking spot at least a mile within a trailhead on a weekend in summer, get antsy and sometimes plain old crazy. They pass each other, drive erratically, and in more than one case, as the scattered evidence proves, loose pieces of their vehicles to the belly of the washboard gravel road.

Shannon arrives safe and unharmed but her sweet car may never be the same.

From here on out is easy enough!

Our first day out was mostly trips to cache and plant vehicles at various locations and luckily we have all day.

If all goes according to plan, we will make it to camp at Deer Creek for a relaxing JetBoil dinner, filter water for the morning, get plenty of rest and settle in to the sights of the evening forest and sounds of babbling Deer Creek.

Shannon and I plan to meet at Mowich Lake on the north side of Rainier around 10 am. We plan to leave Shannon’s parked car, then proceed to drive together, masked up, in my car to Sunrise, pick-up Sheli where she will be leaving her vehicle. Then we all three will head to White River Campground to drop our cache location behind the ranger station. Finally, we will arrive at the Deer Creek Trailhead on the Southside to Owyhigh Lakes.

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Raspberries make everything better from Shannon’s garden as we ditch Shannon’s car in a somewhat safe and cozy spot we were lucky to get. After jockeying our backpacks, we head down the mountain once again to the other side, a 1 1/2 hr drive away.

Chewing dust couldn’t taste more sweet as we head toward our rendezvous with Sheli.

We arrive at Sunrise around 2 pm. Sheli has encountered a bit of traffic leaving her home in Seattle as Shannon and I enjoy the sights and scenes of Sunrise. The wildflowers are blooming, the summer breezes felt lovely even in a COVID mask and bandana. Luckily we have pad our day with time and aren’t rushed because we know the backcountry camp at Deer Creek is right off the highway with best part being downhill. We could just roll down it if we had to.

We find a good spot for Sheli at the overnight parking area just as she pulls up, stretch our legs, jockey our gear once again in the back of the Jeep and are on our way!

The journey from Sunrise is a short 20 minutes as we pass the image of the mountain in our mirror and through our window as we weave in and out the hills and forest of the dryer side of the mountain. Finally, descending deep into Steven’s Canyon, I remember my comment how the hike tomorrow will be somewhat the same going back up with full backpacks. I am confident mentally we will be ready and prepared for whatever this mountain gives us over the next two weeks, the good the bad and the ugly if there will ever be one given the beauty of what our first evening will hold in our memories.

When I spoke with the ranger the week prior, she gave me specifics on where Deer Creek camp was located. Since I had never been to that particular trailhead, I needed a bit more information on where to park or some interesting landmark that might help me if we had a later start and it got dark in the canyon. The ranger assured me it was right off the highway within 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile on the Owyhigh trail, just past the bridge over Deer Creek.

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Shannon as well looked Deer Creek up on several websites, Washington Trails Association and AllTrails. She comes prepared with a printed copy of a recent trip report that gave directions supporting our start location.

With the beep of the Jeep, we set off for our first night at lovely Deer Creek.

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Passing by Deer Falls, a popular tourist stop, we come upon just a few families who are making their way back up the steep hill. The smell of the forest and the falling waters create a peaceful Zen and worthwhile stopping point for travelers heading west to east in the summer. As soon as we find camp, our first night will be a celebration complete with a bottle of Summit wine and an evening of relaxation.

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As soon as we find camp.

We come to the Eastside junction, of four corners. To the west Owyhigh Lakes, to the North Eastside Trail, to the South Eastside Trail, to the East, where we came from the highway. No sign said Deer Creek.

We continue west on the Owyhigh Lakes Trail as Shannon pulls out her trail report. We read, it can be hard to find and “Good Luck”.

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We walk, and walk some more, then start heading uphill. Things are going to get sweaty now.

We walk, and walk some more. Lisa in a cautious yet hopeful tone says, “Shannon, in your mind did you envision this being this far off the highway?”

We walk, and walk some more. Shannon, in her cool as a cucumber voice speaks positively, “Hmm, maybe not.”

Lisa then says, “Let’s turn around. It is getting late.” realizing I know where my car is but not the camp.

We return to the four corners and talk.

We talk and talk and decide which direction to take, between North Eastside and South Eastside.

Sheli with confidence pointing a trekking pole and says, “That way!” and then points to the tiny etched arrow and scratched in words of Deer Creek.

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We are home after a short what was known as our pre-tour of tomorrow.

Sheli earns her badge as trailblazer, wild animal spotter and she also gets an A+ in pitching a tent.

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From Left: Sheli, Lisa and Shannon

According to Wikipedia, Sam Hill is a euphemism for the devil.

Episode 1 contains a search for a lost camp known as Deer Creek as well as a rainy first day through gorgeous wildflower meadows. Lisa ends up wet from head to toe but with the help of her friends, ends up wearing gallon zip lock bags in her shoes and Carrie’s clothes for a climb up Tamanos Mountain. Runtime 9:31