A Tall Glass of the Olympics, and a Double Shot of Rainier

Spending three consecutive weekends in National Parks?  I’ll drink to that.

Three weeks ago, I went on a 3 day/2 night backpacking trip at Olympic National Park.  I savored it until the very last drop.  However, each of the past two weekends, I went day hiking in Mt. Rainier National Park; two quick hits, but they certainly packed a punch.

Heart Lake
Heart Lake

The chosen trip in Olympic National Park was the Seven Lakes Basin/High Divide Loop.  I went along with my friend Nick.  This took me back to the Sol Duc area of the park (mentioned in “Camping Cures All”).  However, this time I got to travel farther into the wilderness.  The Seven Lakes Basin is a beauty.  We started out on the Sol Duc Falls Trail, but eventually left the valley aside the river for the climb to Heart Lake.  It was amazing to see the environment change as we climbed.  Down below along the Sol Duc River, the environment was moist, moss was everywhere, the soil was soft.  As we climbed, the aspect of the mountain changed and we were on clay hillsides, dry and arid feeling.  We eventually made it to our campsite for the first night, which was Heart Lake.  This was an amazing place to camp.  It was really hot, however.  It seemed like the lake’s basin caught all the suns rays and funneled them right towards our tent and campsite.  However, because it was so warm and clear, we got to sleep with nothing but the bug netting set up.  Heart Lake basin was extraordinarily quiet.  It’s amazing that we can go through a whole day when at home, and not even be aware of the sound of our own feet.  It was so quiet, you could hear the crunch of each rock beneath your boot.  You could hear the bugs buzzing very clearly, and the sound of distant streams.  We arrived at camp early, so I had plenty of time to listen.  However, a long afternoon of listening merged into a spectacular sunset.  I caught the sunset across Seven Lakes Basin and Mt. Olympus.  Day two featured outrageous views as we walked across the high divide, admiring views of the Seven Lakes Basin and Mt. Olympus.  While hiking, we were told about some elk along the trail.  We walked in silence to try and spot them, but our efforts were in vain.  They never showed up.  After 13 miles, we descended out of the sun and back into the forest to camp at Mink Lake.  I staked out the lake with my camera at dusk in hope of some wildlife activity, but to no avail again.  Either way, a relaxing evening was much appreciated after a long day on trail.  The third day was an easy walk, looping around back to Sol Duc Falls and our car.

Mt. Olympus at sunset
Mt. Olympus at sunset

The trip to the Olympics was an interesting one.  As I had previously mentioned in a blog post (“Why It’s Important…”), it was my first time carrying a bear canister.  Not only was it my first time carrying a bear canister, but also my first time carrying my DSLR camera on a backpacking trip.  As I become increasingly invested in ultra-light hiking and backpacking, I am constantly making conscience decisions to lighten my pack.  Quite frankly, I feel that I’ve got a pretty decent system down.  When I bought my camera, I told myself I would only take it day hiking, leaving the point-and-shoot camera for the backpacking trips.  However, ultra-light went down the drain this trip, between the bear canister, my DSLR camera, and a stuffed pig named Chancho I took along for no good reason at all.  I definitely enjoyed having the DSLR camera, and I took a lot of great photos, but it certainly was heavy.  I also got to try out a new shelter I purchased for dirt cheap from a friend.  It is a GoLite Shangri-La 2.  It is an ultra-light two person shelter, which sets up with trekking poles.  I must admit, I do think it has some design flaws.  I think it pitches much better as just the fly, rather than as the fly/bugnet combo.  However, I like it, and can’t complain for how cheap I got it.

view from Tolmie Peak
view from Tolmie Peak

The week after felt like no time at all, and by Saturday, me and Nick were headed back the trails, this time at Mt. Rainier National Park.  The first trip to Rainier was a multi-sport endeavor.  We did, what I like to call, a “hike and bike” (mentioned in blog post “A Fun and Challenging…”).  If you can, I highly recommend mixing sports into one day’s trip.  It makes for a lot of fun, and provides a bit of variation.  We started at Carbon River Road, biking just over five miles along the gravel road along Carbon River to reach our trailhead.  The bike up wasn’t too strenuous, and took just about 40 minutes.  It was cool to see how nature was beginning to reclaim the edges of this road once open to vehicular traffic.  We reached the Wonderland Trail trailhead, with our intentions set on Tolmie Peak.  The trail started out easy, but a difficult climb began at the foot of Isput Pass.  While climbing Isput Pass, we were treated to our first views, and even a sighting of two bears.  Unfortunately, in order to save weight, I did not take my DSLR camera, so I couldn’t get a great shot of the bears.  I had my point-and-shoot, so I snapped a few photos while keeping our safe distance.  Once Isput Pass is reached, it isn’t too hard of a hike to Eunice Lake and Tolmie Peak.  We had Tolmie Peak essentially to ourselves.  We sat on the porch of fire lookout, and wondered in the view.  I personally feel the view from Tolmie Peak towards

bears
bears

Rainier is one of my favorite views of all time.  The lake was incredibly blue, the forest was a truest shade of green, and Mt. Rainier was a crisp, clean white.  The way these colors contrasted under a bright blue sky dotted with puffy clouds, was absolutely spectacular.  It is amazing that colors can seem so rich to the naked eye.  Also, in that moment, a new tradition was born.  The night before, just goofing off, me and Nick decided to buy a small berry pie to eat at the peak.  Naturally, as pie is, it was delicious.  We then declared that we need to bring pies from now on each time we hike at Rainier.  The hike down was smooth, and the bike ride even smoother.  Although not a steep grade, it was easy to pick up speed while biking down Carbon River Road.  It was so much fun!  We stopped for a quick side trip to Chenuis Falls.  At total mileage of 21.8 miles.  Definitely worth it.  All in all, a great day!

biking on Carbon River Road
biking on Carbon River Road

The second trip to Rainier was the very next weekend.  I picked up two friends from the airport, and we headed straight to the park.  One of them was my friend Jerod, who worked at Mizpah Hut in New Hampshire the same time I was working at Zealand Falls.  Continuing with the previous weekend’s theme of fire lookouts, the hike of choice for this weekend was Mt. Fremont Lookout.  Given our late start after the airport pickup, we just figured

Jerod and I atop Second Burroughs
Jerod and I atop Second Burroughs

we’d hike to the lookout and just that, about 6 miles.  Starting at the Sunrise visitor center, which sits at 6,400 feet, there wouldn’t be all that much strenuous climbing.  We began towards Fremont Lookout, with amazing views right from the outset, one advantage of a high trailhead.  We passed Frozen Lake, which in fact was not frozen at all.  The views from this side of the park were much different than those from the Carbon River/Tolmie area.  I’m sure it had to do with elevation, but also may have had to do with aspect and location in relation to Rainier.  This side was much more barren and rocky.  Rather than forests, there was much more small, alpine vegetation.  It was cool to see two very different environments, one lush and one stark, in consecutive weekends in roughly the same place.  After enjoying a piece of peach pie at the summit, we were headed back down.  Realizing we had extra time, we decided to loop around via the first and second Burroughs.  The Burroughs range is a set of three mountains, named after essayist and naturalist John Burroughs.  I have written about Burroughs, due to my connection with him and the Catskill Mountains in New York.  It was cool to summit something in his name, but on the west coast.  All in all, we ended up hiking 8.5 miles.  It was a day jam packed with views.  While Rainier was clouded over for most of the day, the mountain revealed itself on our descent, and we were treated to views of the mountain, different features revealed as the clouds changed positions.  A quick trip, but a good trip!

Rainier begins to reveal itself late in the day
Rainier begins to reveal itself late in the day

The past few weekends have been amazing!  I feel extremely lucky to be a able to visit these beautiful locations.  Whether longer trips I get to savor or quick trips that hold me over until the next one, the mountains have definitely treated me to experiences of the highest quality.  And when you go to the mountains, remember to drink it in!

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