I spent six glorious days of strenuous hiking with my old buddy, Jon Pollack, whom I met on the Annapurna Circuit trek in Nepal in 1999 and with whom I’ve hiked almost every summer since. He was even on the top of Mt. Washington with me three years ago when I broke my wrist and sliced my chin—an auspicious occasion that caused him great consternation because he had to stop singing “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round The Mountain” and help mop up the blood. But even so, we managed a week in Maine to give Jon a sampling of New England. I must say that he was totally unprepared for the rocky trails of the White Mountains, expecting, instead, the manicured paths of the great Northwest. I like the rock climbing…Jon likes the “exposure” of those great narrow cliffs. To each his own.
I arrived in Seattle on July 12 and the next day Jon and I headed for Mt. Rainier to stay in a secluded campsite of cedar and fir at Sunshine Point, near a small brook. This magnificent site was completely washed out during the floods and rains this past Oct.-Nov. and as of this writing Mt. Rainier National Park is still closed. We took a short hike to the spectacular Comet Falls before sunset.
The 14th was a long wooded climb to Gobbler’s Knob. To get to the trailhead we had to make our way over a grueling 3.6 miles of washed-out road and forest devastation. By noon we were at a rickety old lookout tower on the summit, then hiked down to pristine Lake George, a back country camp reminiscent of those old movies of the gold rush days. Twelve miles later we were back at camp.
July 15, another gorgeous sunny day, found us headed for Kautz Creek Trail, steep with myriad switchbacks, typical of the Northwest. We circled around Mt. Ararat, climbed over the pass and down 260 ft. to Indian Henry Hunting Ground, a vast alpine meadow rimmed in fir and cedar trees. In the center was a small park ranger cabin, an old-fashioned pioneer setting with Rainier rising in the background. We crossed the popular Wonderland Trail around Rainier, but returned on our original route. Several steep patches of snow led to the meadow, and I vowed to carry a stick the next day! I’m not crazy about trudging through snow on an incline. Wild flowers—especially bear grass, avalanche lilies, glacier lilies, daisies, and Indian paint brushes—covered the hills. In one photo I shot an entire hillside of the tall puffy grass that, at a distance, looks like tiny white crosses bisecting the hill. Though the hike was only 11.6 miles, it seemed much longer due to the final mile over a rocky riverbed and washed-out road, the result of flooding in 1987. We amused ourselves with numerous alphabet games, testing our knowledge of shows, operas, music, and famous people. We’re now ready for Jeopardy.
July 16 was very hot but afforded us the best scenery. We saw Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Hood, and Mt. Adams, as well as Mt. Rainier, up close. There were numerous crazy climbers headed for Camp Muir to start their summit ascent the next day. We, however, contented ourselves by watching the skiers and hiking the Skyline Trail, which became rather treacherous in spots due to residual snow. We had a 360 degree view from the ridge. Saw the black, striated Nisqually Glacier and the jagged summit of the Unicorn, part of the Tatoosh, which join more mountains than I can remember. By early afternoon we had reached Pebble Creek, eaten lunch, and headed down toward Paradise. The snow was blinding. After leaving Paradise we drove through a deep forest to Longmire, which bisects the Wonderland Trail. That night, after soaking our feet in a freezing brook, we brought out Trader Joe’s Two Buck Chuck and gathered enough (abandoned) wood from a neighboring campsite to build a roaring fire. What an evening!
Can’t say enough for summer weather in the Northwest. Perfection! On July 17 we headed for Nachez Peak, but after an hour couldn’t find the trail, so gave up and decided to climb on Pinnacle Peak Trail instead. This was our most difficult and, to me, scary day with over 1,000 ft. of gain and many areas of exposure, where one slip and you’d land in the valley below. Jon loves this—I don’t! The trail was very narrow in spots and covered in a slippery scree. I refused to give in to my fear and just stomped hard into Jon’s footprints and looked straight ahead…and prayed. But the views were tremendous! And around every corner. Sitting next to a bubbling brook at lunch, and wherever we were, Rainier was present with its patchy, black and white face. Ice, snow, Camp Muir, climbers scaling the top glaciers, meadows choked with grass and wildflowers, skiers zigzagging perilously. ( click here for pictures)
We broke camp on July 18 and took two interesting short hikes. The first—The Trail of the Shadows—was on the property of Longmire, who discovered mineral springs in the 1870’s and lived in a small cabin near a beaver dam with his wife. The second—Twin Firs Loop—took us through amazing old growth, a veritable forest primeval, with gigantic trees similar to the California redwoods.
The next two weeks were spent with daughter Cary in her cabin at Talking Circle in Langley, WA. She has her own gardening business, but is also heavily involved with The Land Trust of Whidbey Island and in the replanting of trees and shrubs that are native to the island. I always enjoy the beauty of this special place as well as the hospitality of Cary’s friends and colleagues. Over the years I’ve helped with some of her projects, like the replanting and revival of Saratoga Pines, and an area where beaver dams were causing all kinds of environmental and political problems. We attended several benefits, an excellent concert of the famous Mongolian throat singers, and an evening of Zimbabwe drumming, something that took me back twenty years to my travels in Zimbabwe. Enjoyed meeting Sharon and Fred Lundahl, retired State Department officials who lived in Asia and, as a result, have opened an exquisite oriental rug store in Langley, Music for the Eyes, where I gave my first slide show. What a venue—beautiful carpets everywhere! I also enjoyed finally meeting the lovely Christina Rockreise, a friend of Christopher’s, and renewing my friendship with Nancy and Bob Quickstad of Seattle.