There's a John Muir quote making the rounds on Facebook where he states instead of hiking, people ought to "saunter" in the mountains. Muir described mountains as holy land and felt visitors should pass through slowly and reverently. I liked his quote so much I shared it on both my personal and blog Facebook page. When it comes to sauntering through the mountains, I'm a pro. (Ask my friends, they'll agree) Probably most of us photographers are.
|Mt Rainer and the White River|
There's no finer place to saunter than Mt Rainier National Park's Naches Peak Loop. An easy 5-mile path circling the alpine meadows above Chinook Pass, this trail is a contemplative hiker's (and photographer's) dream.
|Flowers and morning smoke at Chinook Pass|
This would make three consecutive days of hiking (er, sauntering) on my broken toe. Could I do it? After the previous day's mega-trek to Burroughs Mountain, not only was my toe sore, so were lots of other body parts. But Naches Peak Loop was the final trail on my Mt Rainier NP "must hike" list, so I bucked up and swallowed more ibuprofen. A short drive on winding park roads got me to Chinook Pass, the start of today's adventure.
Due to the Norse Peak Fire raging east of Mt Rainier, Hwy 410 was closed at Chinook Pass. Luckily, the parking lot and restrooms were still open, as were nearby north-south trails. All three days of my trip, I'd been fortunate to have clear skies as winds had pushed the fire's smoke eastward. But from the trailhead parking area, I could see a thick layer of smoke hovering on the eastern horizon, now slowly drifting towards the park boundary.
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) runs through Chinook Pass. Approaching the beginning of my day's loop, I admired a stunning log bridge that transported PCT hikers over Hwy 410. Which direction to begin the loop? Counterclockwise towards Tipsoo Lake, or clockwise towards Naches Peak? I really wanted to cross that cool bridge first, so clockwise it was!
|PCT hiker bridge over Hwy 410|
Since half of the Naches Peak Loop follows this famous trail, I ended up meeting a few PCT thru-hikers as I sauntered along.
|More of the PCT|
East of Chinook Pass, Washington Hwy 410 hugged the side of a tall, steep mountain. After crossing the PCT hiker bridge, I climbed a rise that provided epic views of the entire road perched on the cliff. Smoke was beginning to filter through a valley between the peaks, creating interesting light.
|Smoke from the Norse Peak fire|
Hundreds of mop-haired Western Pasque Flowers (or as I like to call them, "Hippy on a Stick") covered the nearby slopes.
|Fluffy "Hippy on a Stick"|
Although still early morning, the mercury was already beginning to rise. Sweating, I trudged uphill as my path rounded the eastern edge of Naches Peak.
About a mile from the trailhead, I passed by a pretty little tarn, framed by mountains on three sides.
|Lots of fluffy seed pods|
I took a short side trip to check out the lakelet (which, according to my guidebook, was unnamed). Lots more fluffy "hippies" covered it's shoreline, while Naches Peak's pointy summit rose high above.
|Naches Peak in the distance|
From this lakelet, the PCT climbed upward to the top of a ridge. This ridgetop, the highest point of the loop, boasted breathtaking views of Dewey Lake, far below.
|Dewey Lake surrounded by misty mountains|
Dewey Lake's blue surface sparkled in the morning sunlight. Smoke trapped in the adjacent mountain valleys made for some stunning scenery. And great photographs too! I may or may not have sauntered here for awhile.
|Sparkling Dewey Lake|
From this marvelous high perch the PCT then descended past the park boundary until reaching a junction. The PCT headed eastward to Dewey Lake, while the Naches Peak Trail continued westward towards Tipsoo Lake. Dewey Lake looked so inviting, I briefly considered taking the short side trip to check it out. But my feet and legs were tired from two straight days of hiking, so I stuck with the original plan and continued on the loop.
|Fabulous Mt Rainier views on the hike's 2nd half|
My guidebook said the Naches Peak Loop was known for amazing views of Mt Rainier. So far I hadn't seen one glimpse of the famous peak. But that all changed in a hurry. Rounding the first bend, Mt Rainier was front and center, filling the sky.
|Wildflowers beside the trail|
Just when I thought the scenery couldn't be topped, it got better. I passed another tiny tarn with a perfect reflection of Rainier in it's waters.
A few more asters bloomed along the trail, accompanied by swarms of lovely butterflies drifting through the air, sometimes landing and posing for my camera.
|Rainier peeking between the trees|
And of course, the grand mountain keep peeking out around corners, and between trees.
|Mountain views to the south|
For a short while, the forest opened up and saunterers such as myself were treated to expansive panoramas of the adjacent mountains. A group of backpackers passed by commenting "This is truly God's country."
|A great view around every turn|
The Naches Peak Loop is one of the most popular hikes in Mt Rainier National Park and on this hot, August Saturday I was rarely alone. I was continually being passed in both directions by hikers (and saunterers) of all shapes, ages, and sizes - people toting huge backpacks, families with kids, and day hikers holding only a cell phone and water bottle.
|Yakima Peak and one of the Tipsoo lakes|
Finally my trail led down to the first of two Tipsoo Lakes. Having photographed these last year, I was now in familiar territory.
Last year I'd visited Mt Rainier NP in late July, when wildflowers were at their peak. But by late August, only a few wilted asters and yellow flowers ringed the first Tipsoo Lake. Still, it was a lovely setting.
After sauntering around the lake, taking in the sights (and having a long conversation with a shaggy bearded old man that claimed he was a Forest Service biologist), I finally crossed the road to the lower Tipsoo Lake. Although the high noon light was super contrasty, I still tried to capture Mt Rainier reflecting in it's waters.
|Purple aster field above Tipsoo lake|
Above lower Tipsoo Lake, the slopes were carpeted with the last of the summer asters. A huge purple spot, it was mighty impressive!
My return trail wound right through the flower fields. More sauntering and photography ensued.
My journey's final leg, I climbed a steep path for a half mile until the Chinook Pass parking lot once again came into view. Coming upon a PCT section hiker, I directed her to the lot below, where someone was providing "trail magic" for weary PCT hikers (looked mighty deluxe - cold drinks, food, and comfy chairs to rest in.)
Although I'd only covered a grand total of five miles and 700 feet elevation gain, it had taken me most of the morning. The ultimate saunter! There was so much fantastic scenery to photograph, I just couldn't rush through.
John Muir would've been proud.
(Read the entire John Muir quote here.)