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.
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!
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.