A couple of weeks ago, I decided to make my annual wildflower reconnaissance up to Sunrise on Mt. Rainier. It was a beautiful day, if a bit too hot in the lowlands, the best kind of weather for escaping to the Mountain.
So I got up early, and packed a lunch, and made the two-hour drive — only to discover that the story we’d been seeing on the news about a 64-year-old man who’d gotten lost on the Wonderland Trail would have a direct effect on my day, as well as the day of a lot of other people hoping to visit the park. Not nearly the effect it was having on that poor hiker’s day, thank goodness, but the search and rescue effort had closed the parking lot at Sunrise so that the helicopters from Joint Base Lewis-McChord could use it as a landing pad.
So, now what to do?
I hadn’t driven all the way around Mt. Rainier in at least a dozen years, and to the best of my knowledge I’d never done it in a clockwise direction. I’d also been intending to go to Tipsoo Lake, just inside the eastern border of the park almost to Chinook Pass, for a long, long time. I was already headed in that direction, and had a good jump start, so, I thought, looking at my full gas gauge, why not?
Tipsoo Lake isn’t more than about ten miles to the southeast of the turnoff for Sunrise, on the road that leads to Yakima. It’s a beautiful alpine lake which, in still and sunny weather, reflects the Mountain in its water. Today wasn’t still, but the view was still pretty spectacular, as were the early wildflowers. I was surprised to still see snow on the ground, too, which made me wonder if I was really missing anything by not going to Sunrise — I’m not all that fond of hiking in the snow.
After an enjoyable hour on the footpath encircling the lake, I headed south — and downhill a few thousand feet — to Ohanapecosh, at the southeast corner of the park. Ohanapecosh is back down in the deep, lush forests that surround Mt. Rainier, and a trail winding through them is appropriately named the Grove of the Patriarchs. The grove itself is on an island in the middle of the river, reached by crossing a sturdy but fragile-feeling suspension bridge, which gave me the weird sensation of still feeling like I was on it even after I was back on dry land.
From Ohanapecosh I drove up Stevens Canyon, which is a spectacular drive clinging to the sides of cliffs and passing through avalanche chutes.
The Stevens Canyon road leads up to Paradise where I had planned to walk the Nisqually Vista Trail before heading home. However, when I got there, I discovered that Paradise was still snow-covered, in the middle of July! Normally the snow is almost gone by then, but we had a very late winter this past year, and a very heavy snowpack, and it was still snowing up there in May.
So, as I said, not being a fan of hiking in the snow (and the main reason I’d wanted to hike the trail being wildflowers), I decided to head on home.
Not exactly the day I’d planned, but I’m still glad I did it. It’s fun to explore different parts of familiar places, and Mt. Rainier is just about as familiar to me as my own back yard.
I’m just really sorry they never found that poor hiker.