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 am super excited for the launch of my entire season on podcast titled “A Year of Wonderland”. It is full of wonder and adventure set in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest on Mt. Rainier in Washington State.
You will enjoy the history, Native American lore and descriptions of my great-great uncle who came to Washington in 1843 when it was part of the Oregon Territory as I tell the story of my backpacking journey around our nations fifth nation park, Mt. Rainier National Park.
Please consider supporting my writing and podcast.
This past weekend Washington experienced unusually high temperatures in the low 100’s! My friend Carrie and I had a trip to Leavenworth scheduled and we were bound and determined to hike to both Lake Stuart and Lake Colchuck. Since both lakes’ trailheads start at the same parking spot, we headed to the left at the Y to Lake Colchuck first for our 12 mile hike.
Getting up at 3:30 am to hit the trail early would be our goal as we left our cozy hotel room a bit after 4:00 am. There was nothing too unusual about the drive except the moon over the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, a deer in headlights and man who literally was sleeping face up on the side of the Icicle Creek Road, as we traveled along.
We applied plenty of DEET, unfortunately the only thing I know of that truly combats the reported mosquitos and ticks here. Trust me, I’ve tried many products in my 50 years of outdoor activity and every time someone comes up with a new line of environmentally friendly insect repellent, I am willing to give it a go but I end up spraying the DEET on top after a few minutes.
We headed up the rocky trail, already in the toasty 70’s along Mountaineer Creek with its flowing winds cooling us. Upon seeing the trail junction for Lake Stuart and Lake Colchuck, we luckily took Colchuck, and I’ll get to that later as to why we did.
Getting passed by backpackers, I realize I am getting old and slowing in my 63 years of age. Luckily I have such wonderful hiking companions like Carrie that are a part of my tribe. I suppose they realize my experience is an asset and in return I appreciate their enthusiasm and energy.
Arriving at Colchuck
We arrive at Lake Colchuck just before sunrise. As we watched in amazement, it was everything I had dreamed it would be. The deep navy blue of the lake and surrounding mountain turned a jewel toned turquoise. Dragontail Mountain with snow still tucked on Aasgard Pass reminded me of of a little slice of heaven. The sun then peaked over the mountain to the east and in it’s golden light began to cast shadows and contrast to the trees.
Carrie and I just sat in wonder and amazement at the spectacle of the alpine wilderness.
Arrive at Sunrise
Lucky us! For the hot temperatures got us up and moving that morning after a fun day in Leavenworth, as we made our way back down the mountain.
We passed quite a number of people that day on the trail and stopped and chatted with “Dave” a firefighter from Cape Cod. Then an entire family at the junction to Lake Stuart.
A nursing mom and two families were stopped at the junction to Lake Stuart. As we chatted, they shared yesterday another group had been run out of camp by swarming mosquitoes but they did not heed their warning to turn around.
One of the women shared her horrid evening in a tent in triple digit temperatures with the rest of her family. What should have been a magical backpacking trip ended with they too leaving early completely covered in bug bites.
I asked what they used and it was pretty much every thing but DEET. I just filed it away in my mind figuring there really was nothing left to say that hadn’t been already been said in their experience the evening before.
Although I felt we could have added this extended trip to Lake Stuart, with the heat and getting up early, I felt completely spent at this moment in time, perhaps it was all the wine the day before and just didn’t want to fight bugs like they had.
Until I return again, hopefully soon, it will be an experience of a lifetime at Lake Colchuck in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.
14 Days Around Mt. Rainier wasn’t an easy walk in the park. It included 150 miles at elevations between 2800′ to 6200′. When I added up the elevation gain and loss on my Garmin, it was 60,000′ up and down steep trails carrying a backpack that weighed any where from 32 pounds base weight to 38 pounds with food and water.
Prior to the leaving in August, I was training on average of six days a week for a triathlon I was was planning to participate in, in September. I worked at weight training in a high intensity interval class plus either, ran, walked with a backpack of 20 pound kitty litter or road my bike. On additional days I was off I would swim at least a mile.
Regardless, still after all the training, each night we made it into to camp, I felt like I was crawling there.
Was there something I missed in my training, nutrition or equipment selection?
Giving myself a little more credit where credit was due, I compared myself to the many younger people who do not finish and leave early off the trail due to a variety of reasons. You cannot control the weather but you can control your physical preparedness and being physically unprepared is probably the number one reason hikers leave the trail. The second being rain or adverse weather conditions.
Putting physical preparedness aside, for me it was more of a personal, emotional and mental challenge that started my ability to live in the moment and relax with all that was around me.
A Native American Tells His Story “Behold This Day”
by Black Elk Hehaka Sapa, Oglala Sioux, Lakota
Black Elk, 1863-1950, a holy man of Oglala Sioux, told the story of his life and his vision to the poet John G. Neihardt in 1931. He received the great vision by which he steered his life at the age of nine.
And a Voice said: “All over the universe they have finished a day of happiness.” And looking down I saw that the whole wide circle of the day was beautiful and green, with all fruits growing and all things kind and happy.
Then a Voice said: “Behold this day, for it is yours to make. Now you shall stand upon the center of the earth to see, for there they are taking you.”
I was still on my bay horse, and once more I felt the riders of the west, the north, the east the south, behind me in formation, as before, and we were going east. I looked ahead and saw the mountains there with rocks and forests on them, and from the mountains flashed all colors upward to the heavens. Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of the many hoops that made on circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.
Live Your Life and Behold Each Day of Your Journey
1.If You Lack Confidence and Walk in Fear, Make a Plan
As I thought about using Nathan Olney as my first chapter, what gives me confidence is to have a plan and choreograph my moves. I used a table and on each day I had across each column, distance, elevation gain/loss, elevation of camp and miles. I memorized my map, studied each camp, planned each meal in every column and row. If this is what it takes to lessen some fear, do it. Otherwise you are the very adventuresome type who craves living on the edge.
2. When You are Faced with Humbling Challenges, The Opportunity You are Presented is to Think Things Though.
The option I chose most often was to break things in to manageable chunks. Most important, do not be in a hurry. Most of the time we arrived at camp at dinner time or later.
3. Gritis The Drive that Conquers Pain.
Beauty can be both great and small. Beauty always follows Pain, but you must keep your mind open, have enough trust and look for it. Having a Growth Mindset that you can do hard things is essential to staying with your plan and having daily reflection and practice that allows for you to seek positives in your life are essential to enjoying your journey when you need a rally.
4. Your TribeShould Be Your Allies
If you are taking others along in your journey, go for a test run. Set limits on discussion if there are sensitive topics. Nothing is worse than to have a conversation hijacked.
5. Maturity and Wisdom Matters.
Use your experiences in life to apply to solving problems.
6. Decision Making is a Combined Effort
Over and over, we discussed the possibilities and weighed outcomes over dinner each night. We checked in with each other in the morning to make sure we were still good with the plan or if something came up as we slept on it. A good night’s sleep in a cozy tent of fresh air can inspire revelations.
7. If You Are Always Hungry, Then you Must Learn to Delay Gratification
I’ve done a lot of reading on this topic. Being a retired teacher there is an abundance of research around children that can delay gratification are the most successful in life. Forage for food as much as you can, drink an abundance of water otherwise you’ll be miserable trying to pack treats and trail mix 150 miles.
8. Do not succumb to Competition. Through EmpowermentWe can Grow
Our capitalistic world has it backwards and there is nothing that shows this more completely than being on the trail together. This is your makeshift family and you all look out for each other. Any other way is a waste of energy and a distraction from what you should be focused on.
9. Experiences are what You Bring to the Table
Every person has something to offer in life no matter how young or old, little experience or well seasoned, they may have.
10. Reflection with Grace is Your Right Spot to Be.
The stories and use of Raven the trickster in Native American lore is a creature that is magical. It often transforms itself into another natural object or life form, even human. It cannot be trusted to always do the right thing and is often portrayed as an antagonist or protagonist. He keeps secrets and focuses on his own self preservation but can also be a hero.
The Tlingit story, “Raven, The River Maker”
At first, the animals had no fresh water, no water at all to drink. The water on earth was filled with salt, and the animals were thirsty. Raven was thirsty too.
With feathers white as clouds, Raven floated above earth searching for water to drink.
Just like a cloud, Raven could move about wherever he pleased, unnoticed by anyone.
Even Wolf did not see Raven as he passed over his tiny island. But Raven saw Wolf.
Raven saw Wolf fill buckets of fresh water from his well.
Raven saw Wolf carry buckets of fresh water to his house. Raven saw that all the fresh water on earth belonged to Wolf. So this was why the other animals had no fresh water no water at all to drink? Raven flew down.
This is just what Raven wanted him to do.
Soon it was dark. When Wolf fell asleep, Raven tiptoed over to the buckets of fresh water.
How thirsty he was!
Raven drank until all the buckets were empty.
Raven drank up all the fresh water in the world.
Wolf woke up. He saw that his buckets were empty. He saw Raven fly up the smoke hole to escape.
But, Raven, fat and swollen, full of water, got stuck!
Wolf lit a fire of green wood. Thick smoke quickly rose up and darkened Raven’s feathers. Now Raven was black like the night of no moon.
When Raven escaped, drops of water dripped off his feathers as he soared high above land. Each drop of water became a river. Each river split into other rivers and small streams.
Now, thanks to Raven, the thirsty animals all over earth at last have fresh water to drink.
Trust and Serving Others
When you learn you can trust others, and can be resourceful and smart, life goes a lot easier for everyone. We are lucky as humans we can problem solve, think through various scenarios and come to consensus as we work together.
Just this past weekend, I was volunteering for our local fire lookout organization, Snoqualmie Fire Lookout Association and my continual haunt was back. I had a hard time working as a team and wanted to prove myself but it is a newer tribe and a mixed group of female and male, across age groups. I guess I will always feel like I need to prove myself even though I can still pick up 40 pound rocks, move logs and dig out the sides of trails to make them wider. It is the kind of work I like doing still today at 63.
Once you know your tribe and your tribe knows you, it is easier to assume or delegate responsibility. Most importantly, you also build trust and collaborate more freely understanding each others talents and safety decisions they make.
The Wolf and The Raven can work together.
Crossing Kautz CreekOne Month Prior
Earlier in the summer, prior to the 14 days on the Wonderland, Sandy and I had gone on a scouting trip from Longmire up to this exact location at Kautz Creek Video Here.
Crossing Pyramid Creek and Kautz Creek was one of the biggest challenges we would have, I believed. Raven had done his work, the creeks had spilled over its banks multiple times this year and the footbridge was tossed over and sideways. Due to COVID and reduction of staff at the park, it was doubtful it would be able to be repaired. I realized I needed to be Raven in the clouds and have my eyes on this area, take a close look at options and the lay of the terrain.
As you leave Longmire you walk east on the Wonderland and then turn and cross the Paradise Road to go clockwise on the Wonderland. Heading up to Pyramid Creek Backcountry Camp the trail cuts steeply across a former washed out area where the bank has not grown back. The trail then skips across a younger alder grove and the trail is mostly sand here where you can watch for boot prints as they make their way around smaller and then larger and larger boulders.
As you continue to cross the delta of multiple fingers that make up Pyramid and Kautz Creek, the main creeks both become bolder hopping or if you grow tired of that, you just precariously walk across through the water. If early enough in the day the river will not be too high and difficult to balance our packs across.
Sandy and I lay out several options this day and we practice with our packs and poles, balancing, hopping on this gorgeous beautiful day.
We have lunch then head back home.
August 2020 AnAbundance of WaterCrossing Kautz Creek
In the heat of August there is an abundance of water on Rainier. The heat swells the rivers and creeks even more and we plan to leave camp early from Devil’s Dream and give ourselves plenty of time in order to cross the Pyramid area before noon.
Sandy’s sandals and taped feet and toes seem to be holding up fairly well for flat ground but in my mind as we walk the trail, I realize we are going to have to cross boulders that are round and fat and not exactly the best shape for a pair of sandals and tape in water with a backpack that weighs about 20 pounds by now. We discuss our options to find the best areas up and down the river’s bank.
As we walk and get closer, we notice a man standing on top of some very large boulders peering off in the direction down river. I holler over to him and we make our way over to talk to him. He says he is lost on which direction to go up the river bank or down, he is not sure where exactly he is. I think, he is Raven who has changed into a man.
We assure him that we had just been out to the area a month ago and could spot the cliffside where the trail traverses down on the other side as it comes out of the woods. At the point where he was standing we convinced each other the crossing would be down river , so we continue down a distance until the trail that was cut in the hillside appears on the other side. Now we just have to get across.
At this point in the day the river has risen noticeably. The farther down river we go the swifter the current. It is so swift we cannot have a conversation with each other without stopping and standing within a foot of each other.
It was obvious we would need to boulder hop, toss our backpacks across and then ford. Luckily, Sandy and I do a lot of box jumping at our gym because we are both not the longest legged ladies and our hops end up being more like powerful frog hops across the river at the swiftest part.
Next, we cross several other small ones and then another larger one where there are several fingers converging with each other into more rapids with no boulders.
As we walk down the middle of the delta we notice the grove of alders and on the other side the trail.
With feet completely soaked, our nerves completely rattled, Sandy’s sandals falling to pieces, we put our trekking poles away and begin to bend the small alders to use and trekking poles to guide us across like railings on a bridge and catapult our way across the raging water.
I never was so glad to finally be through an area in my life and if this would have been where we started, I probably would have given up on our first day.
As we make our way across, the man is gone. Raven makes water for the animals and can also be a hero as we were able to gather our thoughts and cross safely.
We arrived at Longmire just shortly after lunch, did the backpack boogie and high tailed it over to meet up with our friends from Bend and burger and fries thanks to our trickster friend.
Earlier this year I finally made it to Indian Henry’s (Soo-Too-Lick) burial site.
I never realized Indian Henry had been near me where and when I lived in Eatonville all along. He wasn’t that hard to to find either. A 4-H Club had built his monument, a few Eagle Scouts later refurbished and cleaned up his grave, and years later here he lays south of Eatonville along the Nisqually area on the side of the Mashel Prairie Road. There is a small shaker church cemetery where he and only a few others rest.
If you remember from one of my episodes back, Indian Henry had been one of the three only Indian guides who was immortalized by areas of Mt. Rainier being named after them and he probably never fully understood at the time how one person could have such a big impact.
Indian Henry came to Western Washington in the 1850s, banished from the village of Simcoe, where my great great uncle was an Indian Sub Agent on the Yakama Indian Reservation at Ft. Simcoe for killing a medicine man. Today I am unsure if their paths had crossed.
Born Soo-Too-Lick in 1825, historians aren’t sure of his tribal origin. He is believed to be of Nisqually, Cowlitz or Klickitat origin. He eventually settled on the Mashel Prairie near present-day Eatonville in 1864 among other Native Americans primarily of Nisqually and Klickitat descent.
According to Edmond Meany, when Henry Winsor, a mail carrier, met Soo-Too-Lick he asked him his name. It was unpronounceable to Winsor prompting him to joke, “that’s no name-your name is Indian Henry,” offering Soo-Too-Lick his “Boston” name. The name stuck. Indian Henry adapted well to this name as he did with many of the customs of the “Boston” settlers. He was equally as comfortable with his Native customs and had little problems living within both of these “worlds.”
Indian Henry wore western style clothing and took up farming on the Mashel Prairie. He raised horses and cows as well as cultivated grains and vegetables. He was fluent in English and several Indian languages. He converted to Christianity. He was hospitable to both natives and non-natives, establishing many friendships and companionships. Many folks who headed to Mount Rainier would stop and stay at Henry’s homestead for a night, purchase supplies from him and use his guide services.
Indian Henry became known as an excellent woodsman and guide. He led several climbing parties to Mount Rainier, but never summited the mountain. Like most area Native Americans, he held the mountain as a sacred place and would not venture onto its glaciers believing to do so would bring bad luck. Some of the notables Henry guided included James Longmire, George Bayley, Philemon Van Trump, and A.C. Ewing. In 1888, Henry guided John Muir and his party to Mount Rainier. Fay Fuller spent the evening at Indian Henry’s place on her way to the mountain for her historical ascent.
Indian Henry Had Three Wives
Indian Henry had three wives as was customary of his people at the time. One story goes that Henry was brought before Judge James Wickersham in Tacoma to explain his marriage to these women. The judge told him that he would have to give up two of his wives. He kept his first wife which he ended up having five children with including a son he named Wickersham Soo-Too-Lick. Despite the conflict of having to let go of two of his wives, he apparently didn’t harbor any ill will for the judge, naming a son after him. Henry respected that Wickersham had an understanding of native cultures. Henry’s other two wives remained nearby working for him.
Indian Henry became fairly well off. It was believed by many of the area settlers that Henry had a gold mine somewhere on Mount Rainier. He always paid for his supplies at the local mercantile with gold nuggets. Some area settlers looked for this mine around Henry’s favorite hunting grounds but to no avail. Aside from the gold, Henry made a decent living by providing travelers lodging and supplies at his farm.
Despite raising cattle and cultivating crops, Indian Henry often left his farm for periods of time to hunt and gather food for the winter; keeping within his native routines. One of his favorite spots for hunting mountain goats is a beautiful alpine meadow area splotched with sparkling tarns-a beloved place by hikers today known as Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground.
Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground
Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground was one of the first hikes I took my 3 boys on.
Coming up from Kautz Creek, my then husband took our 8 year old twin boys and 6 year son on our first attempt. We started our adventure early in the day but soon the steep hill and large steps were too much for them. We ended up having lunch, treats, snacks, cookies, and just having fun playing in the forest that day.
Years later, my second attempt from Longmire was with my friend Diane. I believe it was around 90 degrees that day. We ran out of water, the bugs ate us alive, and because of the fact there was no way to treat water or filter water on me that day, I ended up jumping into snow banked Mirror Lake to cool down. If I wouldn’t have, I probably would have become so dehydrated, I wouldn’t have made it back the 17 mile round trip.
After that experience, we decided to only go in early or late summer and not during the heat. Diane and I would spend many years hiking in this area between the Nisqually entrance to Paradise and Camp Muir. It was my good fortune to have a friend like her during a difficult and challenging time of my personal life after becoming a newly divorced 40 year old with three teenage boys.
The Wonderland Trail today circumnavigates Mt. Rainier in Washington State. We begin this episode with an excerpt from the 1915 book, The Mountaineer, describing the first ascent of Tahoma by a white man named Tolmie. Travel back and time to 1833 long before Washington was a state, and then again in the 1974 for a look into two journeys quite different. This episode ends with Lisa saying goodby to Shannon after their ten days together backpacking in 2020. You can find this podcast and others at “A Year of Wonderland” on Spotify, Apple Itunes, Overcast, RadioPublic, Google Podcasts, and many others.
I do not carry bear spray while hiking in Washington State. I never have and probably never will. However I do carry pepper spray for self protection from humans. You actually have a 60,000 times better chance of being murdered by a human than a bear in Washington.
Washington State however used to have a grizzly bear population.
Human attacks can happen and can be extremely dangerous. The most recent being in Montana in 2021 where the grizzly was protecting its food a moose near by. Most attacks are by females protecting their young.
The second largest removal of the grizzly population happened when prospectors came to the North Cascades in search of gold. The number declined another 200.
Finally with open grazing and the final push out west the last one was located in 1967 in the Glacier Peak Wilderness of Washington State.
The last confirmed tracks in mud were located in the North Cascades in 1996 and in Canada in 2010.
The following Native American story was used to tell about the grizzly bear. It is symbolic with hot rocks being shots and the coyote being an animal that is a trickster, perhaps man.
Chances are if you hike long enough you’ll encounter a black bear in Washington State. It is estimated there are between 25,000 to 30,000 black bears.
They range in color between a cinnamon brown to black.
Black bears can startle you because of their quiet demeanor and large size but are in general not harmful.
The biggest misconception according to American Bear Center is females are dangerous if their young is present or you get between them. The centers best advice is speak calmly and back away slowly. If a bear becomes nervous it will “bluster” and really it is trying to communicate it is nervous and has a problem with you. None of the bears I’ve encountered at Mt. Rainier have ever shown a sign of being bothered with me.
Startled black bears often run up a tree so if you are bothered by them, your best bet is just to walk on by and continue to talk calmly.