Friday, November 8, 2019

Indian Henry's Hunting Ground

Readers may wonder where I get my ideas for places to hike.  I follow a few hiking Facebook pages, and also regularly check local hiking websites.  That's where I first learned of Indian Henry's Hunting Ground, a gorgeous wildflower meadow on Mt Rainier's southwest side.  Not only huge fields of colorful flowers, the trail also boasts grand views of the famous mountain.  After seeing countless beautiful photographs from the area, I knew I had to go there.

Originally I'd planned a visit to Indian Henry's Hunting Grounds during last year's Mt Rainier trip.  But the long distance (14 miles round trip) and the fact that I was by myself made me waver.  However, this year I had my friend Young as a companion and she was all in!

A long way to our destination!

So on the final day of my Mt Rainier summer trip (click to see Part one and Part Two) Young and I rose a bit earlier to beat the day's heat and headed a short distance from our campground to the Wonderland trailhead.  Indian Henry's Hunting Ground can be accessed by two main trails, Kautz Creek and the round-the-mountain Wonderland Trail.  After chatting with a ranger on the first day, I was told the Wonderland, although gaining more elevation (3000 feet to be exact), had a shorter overall distance.  Plus the trail was forested and shady most of the way.

Mt Rainier sighting while crossing Kautz Creek

Young and I donned backpacks and ran across a busy park road to our trailhead on the other side.  Reading the distance to Indian Henry's on the sign made us both gulp - 6.7 miles is a long way!  Then I put it out of my mind and concentrated on the first of many steep climbs we'd tackle today. 

Crossing Pyramid Creek

First Young and I had to climb up and over Rampart Ridge.  Then the trail switchbacked down to a wide, rocky crossing of Kautz Creek.  A few pink fireweed blooms decorated the river bank and Mt Rainier made an appearance far upstream.  Then we ducked back into the forest to scale yet another ridge.

The flower fields begin...

Passing by the first backpacker camp, Pyramid Camp, we snaked downhill to fast-moving Pyramid Creek.  Luckily a series of log bridges made for a dry crossing.  Then it was time for yet another climb!

Lupine and paintbrush everywhere

By mid-morning temperatures started to feel toasty.  Sweat poured off Young and I as we slogged slowly uphill.  Although I appreciated the shady forest, there really wasn't much of interest to photograph.  Hiker traffic on the Wonderland was light.  We met a handful of backpackers all heading in the opposite direction.  Although Young and I both began wondering if Indian Henry's would be worth the tough climb, a couple of the backpackers assured us that it was.

A "Sound of Music" moment

At 5000 feet elevation, Young and I came to Devils Dream Camp, another backpacker camp along the Wonderland Trail.  A passing hiker had warned of vicious mosquitoes here.  While pausing for a quick break, we got attacked.  Out came the bug spray - Young and I hastily applied it to any exposed skin and then got the heck out of there!  We pitied any backpackers camping here for the night.

Peak wildflower bloom

By mile 6 I was beginning to think we'd never get to the fabulous wildflower fields, when suddenly we came upon a huge meadow full of lupine.  My neglected camera finally saw some action.

The flowers slowed our progress

The next mile was a wildflower wonderland.  Around every bend were more flowers - lupine, paintbrush, asters, yellow Oregon sunshine and many more.  Flower bloomed in green meadows, at the banks of tiny creeks, and on bare slopes.  Although it was now past noon, and we were both ready for lunch, photo-taking slowed our progress to a crawl.

First glimpse of the ranger cabin

At Indian Henry's Hunting Ground was a picturesque cabin, used as a base by backcountry rangers.  Nestled amongst wildflower meadows in the shadow of Mt Rainier I'd seen many beautiful photos online of the place.  Now, I was eagerly anticipating taking some of my own.  But first we had to get there - and it seemed to be taking forever!  Around every bend, and on top of each rise, Young and I would look ahead for any sign of the famous cabin.  But...nothing.  Then passing by the junction of the Kautz Creek Trail, Young spied something between the fir trees.  There is was - finally!  And the scenery was just as amazing as I'd hoped.

Ranger patrol cabin at Indian Henry's Hunting Ground

After seeing hardly any hikers all morning, we encountered a steady stream of people traipsing up the Kautz Creek Trail.  And everyone was heading towards the ranger cabin.  Approaching the cabin, we could see at least a dozen hikers had already taken refuge from the hot sun on it's covered porch.  Young and I were lucky enough to squeeze into the last two spaces on one of the benches.

The shaded porch was a popular lunch spot!

Oh what a marvelous setting for lunch!  Gazing out on the colorful wildflowers, we had a picture perfect scene.  Young and wolfed our food, while striking up conversations with the other hikers on the porch.  One man produced a huge bar of Indian chocolate and proceeded to share with everyone.  Another man told Young and I of his goal to day hike the entire Wonderland Trail (the 93-mile trail that circles Mt Rainier.) 

I reached my destination!

We spent a very pleasant hour eating and chatting with our fellow hikers.  But time was ticking, and we had 7 long miles yet to cover.  So Young and I reluctantly packed up our lunches and shouldered our packs for the return trip.

Mt Rainier towers over the meadow

Oh it was hard to leave this beautiful meadow!  Young and I slowly worked our way back down the Wonderland Trail, snapping copious photos of the ranger cabin tucked underneath Mt Rainier's rocky face.  I'm sure I took lots of duplicate photos from the exact same angles, but it was such a lovely scene I couldn't help myself.

The day's money shot

We lingered in the largest wildflower meadow for one last round of photographs.  Then, knowing there wouldn't be any more flowers for a long while, I packed my camera away and concentrated on covering distance.

Magenta paintbrush

Although the downhill was a welcome change from a morning of climbing, by now the air was stifling hot.  And the lower we climbed, the hotter it became.  After having the trail nearly to ourselves on the ascent, on our way down Young and I ran into group after group of backpackers all going the other way.  Most were hiking the entire Wonderland Trail.  Many had just resupplied at nearby Longmire, so they were trudging uphill under heavy loads.  I couldn't imagine trekking up this steep trail carrying a hefty backpack.  I pitied the backpackers - they all looked extremely hot and tired.

Rainier hiding under clouds as we cross Kautz Creek

Finally we came to Kautz Creek.  After being in shady forest, it was a shock to cross it's rocky plain in full sun.  Then it was a long, hot climb up Rampart Ridge once again.  Nearing mile 12 by then, it was the hardest part of our return trip.  But once we'd reached the ridgetop, it was smooth (albeit steep) downhill sailing the rest of the way.

Young winding through the rocks

Feet aching, Young and I covered the final two miles through thick forest back to the parking area.  Oh was it a sight for sore eyes (and feet)!  Luckily our campground was a mere 5 minutes down the road, so we were back at our campsite drinking beer in no time.  After covering 14 miles and 3000 feet of climbing we'd earned it!

Gigantic trees

Although long and at times uninteresting, Young and I both agreed the trek to Indian Henry's amazing wildflower meadows had been totally worth it.  Next time I go, I'd like to try the Kautz Creek trail just to see the difference.  Or maybe I'll get a permit and backpack some of the Wonderland trail.  Either way, I'm scheming a return trip for next summer when the wildflowers are in bloom again.

Hike No. 39 of my #52hikechallenge was one of my longest distance-wise and also one of my most memorable hikes so far. 

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Mt Rainier NP - Raindrops, Waterfalls, and Steps

When planning a trip, I always pay attention to the local weather forecast.  That's how I knew the second day of my Mt Rainer summer adventure (see day one here) was going to be rainy.  Never fear - wet and overcast are the perfect conditions to photograph waterfalls!  Lucky for me, Mt Rainier National Park has plenty of beautiful cascades to chose from.  So day two became designated as waterfall day.

Iconic shot of Christine Falls

My friend Young and I woke the next morning to the sound of raindrops pattering on our tents.  Since my tent is rather old, and the waterproofing questionable, I quickly threw a blue plastic tarp over the top.  Then Young and I took turns making breakfast, alternating between huddling beneath our one umbrella, and standing under a nearby thick grove of trees.

Bottom of Narada Falls

The forecast called for precip to taper off by mid-morning, so we waited it out under the trees at our campsite.  Although neither of us mind hiking in the rain, it's more difficult to dry wet gear when you're tent camping.  Finally, seeing a letup in the moisture from the sky, we threw our backpacks into the car and headed out.

Narada Falls

First stop - lovely Christine Falls.  This cascade has the easiest access of them all, dropping below a highway bridge on the main park road.  The rock-faced span makes a perfect frame for this gorgeous waterfall.  A little further down the park road was Narada Falls.  A short downhill walk led us to its wide, wispy fan.  We lucked out with the place to ourselves for nearly 10 minutes before other people began to arrive.

Rain-dotted penstemon blooms

The hike to Comet Falls is wildly popular, with the small trailhead parking area filling up well before midday.  Although I wanted to show Young this beautiful trail, I wasn't sure we'd be able to find a parking spot so late in the morning.  But of course I had to try, so after pulling into the lot we scanned vehicles for people getting ready to leave.  I spotted a couple loading gear into their car and hovered nearby.  It seemed to take an eternity, but once their car finally backed away, I pounced. 

Glittering raindrops on huckleberry leaves

The Comet Falls Trail began by crossing a slot canyon over the creek feeding Christine Falls.  These steep rock walls were created from years of erosion, wearing a channel into the rock.  The creek absolutely roared through this narrow opening, creating quite a show of frothy whitewater.  Water droplets clung to the trailside bushes, creating glittering little jewels.  Wildflowers bloomed amongst the vegetation - penstemon, paintbrush, and many others I couldn't identify.

Green, foggy valley below Comet Falls

Although the path to Comet Falls isn't particularly long  (1.6 miles one way) it gains over 1200 feet in elevation.  Having hiked it last year, memories of a tough, hot slog were fresh in my mind.  Although temps were much milder today, the clouds didn't cooperate.  Not long after Young and I began our hike, falling raindrops had us digging for our jackets. 

Um....Comet Falls is somewhere over there in the fog

My friend and slowly slogged uphill, leapfroging a family several times.  As promised, the climb was long and tiring.  One of the ways the park dealt with steep inclines was to construct steps into the trail's tread.  Oh those steps were killers!  I think they were built for long-legged men, not short older women.  (I may or may not have complained about them once or twice.....)

Log bridge crossing the creek

About a quarter mile from Comet Falls, we crossed a single log bridge under another nice waterfall.  I had to tell Young to keep going - the better show was just over the next ridge.  But as we climbed to the first Comet Falls viewpoint we were met by a thick fog bank.  Although Comet Fall's lower tier was still visible, it completely obscured the taller, upper tier.  Last year bright, contrasty light shining in the wrong direction had thwarted my chances of a good photograph.  This year, I thought the cloudy skies would provide nice even light.  I didn't even think about the possibility of fog.  Foiled again!

Climbing down another steep staircase

Since we couldn't see much of the waterfall, there was no use climbing any further.  So Young and I took a break at the lower tier viewpoint, ate a snack, and then headed back the way we came.  (This time down all those steps!)

Lush meadow on Snow Lake Trail

Returning to our campsite for lunch, the rain had finally let up and skies were clearing.  However, after removing the tarp from my tent I made a sad discovery.  Although the tarp had kept the top of my tent dry, I'd inadvertently pitched it on a slight depression. From the morning's rain, a small amount of water had collected here, soaked through the tent's floor, and was beginning to get everything inside wet.  Fortunately only my air mattress and the bottom of my clothing bag got the worst of it.  I laid my tarp, rain fly, and air mattress on a nearby rock in hopes they'd be dry by nighttime.

Fuzzy pink unknown wildflower

Only mid-afternoon and the weather improving, Young and I decided there was time to get in one more hike.  Chatting with a fellow camper near the restroom that morning had netted a recommendation of the short jaunt to Bench and Snow Lakes.  Although only 2.5 miles round-trip, I was warned that the trail had a lot of up and down - and many more of those dreaded stairsteps.

View of Bench Lake

Watching sunshine play peek-a-boo with retreating clouds, Young and I began our second hike of the day.  We climbed more of those darn stairs over a ridge to a lovely high alpine meadow with views of pointy Unicorn Peak.  Young (who besides being an amazing hiking friend also climbs mountains) mentioned that she and her husband had climbed that peak a few years ago. 

Mt Rainier reflection (sort of) on Bench Lake

Trekking on top of a rocky cliff, Young and I were treated to some great views of Bench Lake, nestled far below in a grove of firs.  After getting our photo ops, we then descended steeply to the alder-choked lakeshore.  After crashing through the brush, we came out on the muddy beach and were treated to a view of Mt Rainier emerging from the clouds.  I even got a couple of reflection photos on the lake.

Unicorn Peak

Then it was back through the brush to the trail.  And uphill (up more steps) again.  In order to reach Snow Lake, we had to cross another ridge.  By now the addition of sunlight had warmed the afternoon temperatures.  The combination of humidity from the morning rain and sunshine made for an uncomfortable climb.  To top it off, mosquitoes began to attack.  I thought we'd never reach that darn lake.

Snow Lake and Unicorn Peak

But finally we came to an outlet creek.  A trail led around the lake to a meadow on the opposite side.  And there in the meadow was an amazing view of Unicorn Peak.  Young pointed out the route she'd taken to climb this steep mountain, and I was duly impressed.  (And she'd climbed it in early spring - over snow!)

Gray Jay

My Mt Rainier guidebook mentioned "two of the most beautiful wilderness campsites in the park" at the lake's opposite end.  So Young and I followed a rough bootpath in the other direction.  A huge logjam bridged the lake's outlet creek, and reaching the campsites meant walking across it.  But the views of Unicorn Peak from the logjam were wonderful.  Young and I balanced on the logs, snapping away until satisfied we'd captured the scene fully.

Yet another set of steps....

Then, with daylight beginning to slip behind the mountains, Young and I retraced our steps back down (and up!) all those steps until the trailhead finally came in sight.  Although our daily mileage for the two hikes wasn't large (only a bit over 6 miles) the constant climbing stairsteps had worn both of us out.  Time to head back to camp for dinner and some wine!  (And to see if my tent floor had dried out.  Spoiler alert - it hadn't.  I ended up spreading my tarp across the bottom to keep my sleeping stuff dry)

One more day in the park.  And I'd planned a big hike for our finale, the Wonderland Trail to Indian Henry's Hunting Ground.  Which I'll recap in my next post.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Return to Rainier

Ever since last year's amazing trip to the Paradise side of Mt Rainier National Park, I'd been plotting a return.  My glowing descriptions of trails and photographs must've sparked my hiking buddy Young's interest because this summer she asked to come with me.

Myrtle Falls

More than happy to show my friend this wonderful place, we left Portland in the wee hours one early August morning.  After securing a coveted walk-up spot at the Cougar Rock Campground, Young and I grabbed our backpacks and headed for the Paradise Visitor Center to hike one of my favorite trails in the park - the jaw-dropping Skyline Loop.

Money shot!

This six-mile circuit above the Paradise Lodge packs a lot of scenery into a short distance. Wildflowers fill the forested slopes, especially in early August.  At the trail's high points, mountain views extend from every direction.  Wildlife sightings are common - marmots, pikas, chipmunks, deer, and a large variety of birds.  I'd even heard reports of a black bear frequenting the area.

After hiking the loop last year, (see recap here) I knew it was destined to become an annual tradition. 

Magenta paintbrush and "hippies"

It was midday by the time Young and I arrived at Paradise.  However, being a Thursday I was still able to score a parking spot in the main lot.  And the mountain was out - towering above the visitor center, glaciers gleaming white.  Clear skies highlighted Mt Rainier in her full glory.  After snapping some obligatory photos at the granite steps framing this mountain view, Young and I headed down the paved path towards Myrtle Falls.

Lupine gets in on the action

The wildflower show started immediately.  With both of us toting cameras, progress was glacially slow.  But we finally made it the half mile to Myrtle Falls, and despite shadows, attempted to capture the iconic shot of this cascade with Mt Rainier anchoring the background.

Flower-dotted slopes

We then followed the trail as it wound through more technicolor meadows.  Magenta paintbrush dotted nearby slopes, sometimes accented with purple lupine and fluffy-topped Western pasqueflower (or as I call it "hippy on a stick").

Young taking it all in

We passed an outstanding view of Mt Rainier with a slope full of magenta paintbrush in the foreground.  It was such a perfect photo op!  Young and I spent many minutes capturing the scene from all angles.  I got several money shots - one of these will definitely grace a page of my yearly calendar.


Temps were rising, and it was a hot climb above treeline, past a wide glacial stream with stunning reflections of Mt Rainier in its waters.

Mountain reflections
After a quick lunch break, Young and I continued our climb high above treeline.  Views of the adjacent mountains opened up below us, as well as Mt Rainer front and center, getting closer the higher we ascended.

Stairway to the top

We began to see patches of snow in lower gullies.  On one slope, a few people were happily sliding downhill on their behinds.  In another larger tract, a mountain climbing class was practicing roping up and self arresting with ice axes.

Still some snow patches hanging around

For such a short trail, climbing to the highest point seemed to take forever.  It's 3 miles to the Mt Rainier overlook, but 1700 feet up.  Rocky trails made for slow going. 

Will the climbing ever end?

But finally Young and I arrived at the trail's highest point.  Our reward - a magnificent in-your-face view of Mt Rainier.  The mountain absolutely filled the skyline.  It was as if you could reach out and touch its glaciated slopes.  Copious photo-taking ensued.  One nice lady even took a few photos of my friend and I celebrating our accomplishment.  (Oh - and we didn't plan to wear the same color clothing, it just happened!)

Grand Rainier view at the trail's high point

Taking a break to soak in the views, Young and I also entertained ourselves people watching.  This high point seemed to be a popular stopping area, and there were several groups scattered about.  Lots of different languages spoken, and all varieties of clothing choices, from traditional hiking garb to flip flops.  Lots of cell phone cameras recording the moment - even a few selfie stick sightings!  We spotted many mountaineering groups, loaded down with huge backpacks, heading up the glacier to Camp Muir.

Heading back down

Our climbing now done for the day, it was time to head downhill to Panorama Point.  But first Young and I heeded the call of nature and visited the trail's high-altitude restroom just below the viewpoint.  While waiting for my friend, I had to shoo a very aggressive ground squirrel away from her backpack.

Panorama Point

Young and I made a quick stop at Panorama Point.  This place was swarming with both people and chipmunks.  The little rodents were apparently well-fed because they weren't at all shy about begging people for snacks.  We spotted one portly ground squirrel with his (her?) belly dragging on the ground.  Not sure if it was a pregnant female or just really fat.

Really fat ground squirrel

I thought we'd already passed by the best flower fields, but couldn't have been more wrong!  As Young and I descended back towards the Paradise Lodge, we passed by huge patches of lovely pink heather.

Lots of pink heather blooming

Framed by adjacent mountains, it was absolutely stunning!

Rainier and heather

Last year this was the portion of the hike where I was nursing an ailing camera battery, so didn't get many photos.  I'm happy to report that this time I more than made up for the deficit!

More lovely heather

Although this trail is always wildly busy, hiking on a weekday (Thursday) the crowds weren't quite as large.  It was kind of nice not having to dodge long conga-lines of people streaming uphill.  Note to self - plan next year's trip for mid-week.

Lots of flowers along the Skyline Trail

Oh yeah, there will definitely be a return trip in my future next summer!  And Young was so impressed, I think I'll have a willing companion. 

Wonderful day!

Our trip back to the lodge was a continuous parade of mountain views and flower-filled slopes.  Taking most of the day to traverse the loop, we didn't arrive back at my car until late afternoon.  But scenery this spectacular was meant to be sauntered through and enjoyed to the fullest.  As my friend and I headed back to our campsite, I was already plotting where I'd take her the following day.

To be continued.......