Tuesday, October 3, 2017

"Sauntering" on the Naches Peak Loop

 (The adventure continues...day three recap from my late August trip to Mt Rainier National Park)

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.

Pink asters

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.

Unnamed tarn

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. 

Battered butterfly

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.

Tipsoo lake

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.

Rainier reflection

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.

Flowers everywhere!

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.)

Aster close-up

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.)


  1. you certainly do have wonderful walking trecks and the scenery in these images are FABULOUS, even breathtaking. The flower are abundant and beautiful

  2. Paisagens lindíssimas fotografias magnificas e gostei bastante daquela ponte.
    Um abraço, boa semana.

    Dedais de Francisco e Idalisa
    O prazer dos livros

  3. Sauntering, I like that. I take a lot of photos when I'm walking to help the sauntering and when I stop, I really stop. Food, stove, cup of tea. No point heading out in the hills if you don't stop and admire it

  4. I love the idea behind Muir's quote though his etymology is suspect; it's a much older word just meaning to wander or stroll. As a photographer I'm sure you'll agree that the best photos are never taken from the summit of a mountain, though time after time you'll see people get to the top and then search in their rucksack for their cameras.

  5. I agree.. Saunter! So much more observed on a slower pace.
    Gorgeous captures.. loved the misty mountains!

  6. ...gorgeous, I "saunter" too!

  7. Yes, photographers normally saunter on a hike. We have several quite old hikers (88 plus) in our walking club. So often we "younger 60-year-olds" stay with them. Your images are amazing. This is my first sighting of Mt Rainier. Thanks for sharing. Jo

  8. Hello, I enjoyed sauntering with your virtually. Gorgeous views and love the flowers. I am sure the PCT hikers have lots of interesting stories to tell. I am just amazed how strong you are to keep hiking on your sore foot. I love John Muir's quotes. Happy Wednesday, enjoy your day!

  9. Boy, you sure had some beautiful blue sky views for your saunter! That mountain and its surroundings are stunning, you did it great justice with your photos.

  10. What a beautiful Saunter! I loved your photos!!!

  11. Wow, what a beautiful hike. Here we call those flowers Hippie Heads.

  12. Stunning truly Gods country a place you could find peace in this awfull world

  13. Sauntering comes naturally to me. I'm always at the back of the pack. Someone's got to count the daisies.
    So glad the sky stayed clear for this wonderful walk. Do hope the toe is improving.

  14. Now that's a spectacular hike! I always saunter on my hikes, regularly being passed by folk seemingly in a hurry.

  15. What spectacular views! I'd run out of superlatives trying to comment on all those beautiful pictures. I'm interested in the 'sauntering' (partly because I'm the best 'saunterer' around - in other words I'm a slow walker)! I attributed this to Muir too, but I recently read a passage in Thoreau's essay on 'Walking', and discovered him writing some very similar words. And when I check the dates I think Thoreau was first, in 1861. Muir didn't even head west until 1868, and spent 1864-66 very near here on Georgian Bay. I'm sure he would have been familiar with Thoreau's writing too. Regardless, here's to sauntering whenever you go out for a walk.

  16. What an amazing place, Linda! Glorious views. Thank you so much for sharing.

  17. Sauntering. Yes, I totally agree. Gorgeous area.

  18. I didn't know you broke your toe! Ouch! These photos show spectacular scenery from your morning's saunter. I wonder why we don't have Hippie on a stick?

  19. Lovely snow, lake and mountain meadow photos. Funnily enough I'm just back from a section of the John Muir Way across Edinburgh. Looks nothing like your landscape though and I doubt he ever walked this section himself in person as he left Dunbar for the USA as a boy.

  20. Wow, awesome scenery! You make the smoke look gorgeous. I like the idea of sauntering too... sounds effortless.

  21. Beautiful spot nicely captured

  22. Wonderful - I think we used to call fireweed 'rose-bay willow herb'!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  23. Now I love all of your photos but that second one is really cool and well kind of out of your norm and I love it!

  24. Saunter on so you can bring us more spectacular scenery and stunning images.

  25. Nice hike..er..saunter. I think I need to put this one on list too

  26. Your walks are always so scenic and so beautifully photographed.

  27. Such gorgeous photos! I love when the mist is rising up form the mountains like this, and those furry looking wildflowers are so unique. I had hoped to see many of them in Glacier NP last year but missed their peak time. I see the Painted Lady Butterfly was there too! There were so many of these butterflies migrating through Denver that a 70 mile large cloud of them was picked up by radar recently and was on the news.


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