Friday, September 21, 2012

Seattle and Mount Rainier National Park Trip, Day 6: Fox vs. Pika!

Rainier in Reflection
Lake (B&W)
Rainer in Reflection Lake (B&W)

Wednesday, 7 25
Due to fly out of Seattle that evening, I wanted to cram as much into our last day in the Park as possible[i]. While Kate enjoyed the bed at t he Inn after a couple days of cold tenting, I got up at the crack of dawn, adjusted my boot, and took off to catch some early morning light. I had intended to drive back to Reflection Lakes near Paradise after dinner the evening before. Laden down with stew and cobbler, I postponed it until the next morning[ii]. I trudged out to the front porch, and took a couple minutes to enjoy the view of Rainier in first light[iii].I was excited to go get some shots, but also thrilled to be driving the winding roads in the morning[iv]. On the way to Reflection Lakes I stopped to photograph an unnamed waterfall, and some new bird species[v].

Sunlight through
Conifers (B&W)Pine
Rainier Waterfall, Sunlight through Conifers, Pine Siskin.

When I got to Reflection Lakes, it was fairly clear they were pretty aptly named. I hiked a short trail until the lake opened up in front of me, with Rainier reflected majestically in the still water. It was already a little later in the morning than I had wanted, but the views were still pretty fantastic.

Reflection Lake
Reflection Lake Vista
(B&W)Reflection Lake
Reflection Lake
Reflection Lake Landscape, Reflection Lake Vista (B&W), Reflection Lake Vista II, Reflection Lake Vista III, Rainier Reflected.

I could have stayed there all morning as the different hues and temperatures of light slowly shifted, but we had hikes planned, so I slowly and regretfully packed up my gear, trudged back over snow drifts to the car, and started back to the Inn. On the way back I had the extreme luck to spot an (unfortunately injured) Cascades Fox (Red Fox ssp.) on the side of the road[vi]. Trying as best I could not to excite or scare the already limping animal, I got a couple quick shots in. Of all the wildlife we had seen, this was one of the species I had been most anticipating, due to both its rarity and, well, foxes are awesome. I watched him for a little while, until he clambered into the brush, and then set back out on my way.

Cascade Fox (Red Fox
ssp.)Cascade Fox (Red Fox
Cascades Fox, Cascades Fox (II)

Even though I was running short on time, it’s really really hard to pass by amazing scenery without getting a few shots in, so I hurriedly sprinted from the car to get a some equally hurried shots of the sunlight pouring over the ridges into the Nisqually River Valley, and the cool blue morning shadows at lower Christine Falls[vii].
Nisqually River Morning

Nisqually River Morning, Christine Falls

By the time I got back, Kate had had a chance to sleep in, get ready, and have a leisurely breakfast. We stretched our legs with a short hike in a meadow directly across from the inn. The Trail of Shadows meanders through the low lying old growth forest of the Longmire area. While it doesn’t have the spectacular vistas of other areas, it has some interesting history ( its hot springs were a draw to early visitors, and some of the old architecture and stonework still exists) and it was a pleasant hike early in the morning.  

Old Rainier Tour Vehicle
Hot Spring
(B&W)Iron Mike mineral
Creepy Cabin, Trail of
Old Rainier Tour Vehicle, Hot Spring, “Iron Mike” Mineral Spring, Creepy Cabin, Old Wood

Our last hurrah for the trip was a hike in the direction of our way out of the park. On the previous recommendation of a ranger we drove in on a bouncy dirt road for several miles to hike the Tahoma Creek Trail, including part of the Wonderland Trail that circum navigates the park. As we drove in we passed a large wall of boulders embedded in the ridge on the side of the trail. A familiar high squeaky toy sound emananted from somewhere in the rocks, and we stopped abruptly. For most of the trip we had been on the lookout for the American Pika. We had scoured the subalpine trails and high areas for this hilarious-sounding little lagomorph, without much luck, much to my wife’s disappointment[viii]. After a moment, the little fellow popped up on the rocks squeaking away. Of all the places we’d looked where he was supposed to be (high altitudes, rock fields, etc) we ended up finding not one but two of them in a place they had no business being in.

The hike itself was more strenuous than I had planned, with a ton of really steep inclines and seemingly endless switchbacks. We hiked along and through the massive boulder fields of the creek bed, and in and out of forests. Time was a bit of a factor so we had to push hard. The payoff of this section of hike was supposed to be a large suspension bridge out over the creek at high elevation. We got almost all the way there, and I was bout done, being a little warm and dehydrated. Kate went on ahead, and made it to the bridge while I chilled on a nice nursery log in the forest. We booked back along our trail in the rising heat of the day. I dipped my hat in the icy creek water, and it kept my head cool most of the way back down.

PikaTwinflower (Linnaea
(B&W)Harebell (Campanula
Wash on the Emerald
Ridge trail
Pika!, Twinflower (Linnaea borealis), Lodestone (B&W), Harebell (Campanula rotundiflora), Was on the Emerald Ridge/Tahoma Creek Trail.

We were running close on time, so we left the park and made our way to the airport. Even for a brief trip, we got in some great hikes, and saw an impressive amount of wildlife[ix]. The wildflowers were impressive even though they weren’t peak, and the weather couldn’t have been better. This trip will be bookended by another combo trip at the end of this month when we head out to Asheville for Kate’s brother’s wedding, and swing by the Great Smokey Mountains on the way back.


[i] With some parks, I’m pretty sure I’ll need to come back at some point in my life. While I enjoyed Rainier a lot, I think I’ve seen a lot of what it has to offer, and I don’t think I need to come back (though I certainly wouldn’t turn a trip down.)
[ii] If I had made it in time, the light would have been amazing in the evening. But morning worked out pretty well too.
[iii] In the shadow of mountains, light breaks on the mountaintops long before it’s of sufficient angle to reach into the valleys.
[iv] Kate feels more comfortable driving tan riding in the passenger seat when the roads are full of turns, so I had missed out all week on some great driving. Even taking care to stay in the correct speed limits for wildlife, it was nice to get out
[v] Pine Siskin and Varied Thrush
[vi] Sadly, these foxes are learning to associate humans with food because morons feed them from cars and at some of the popular sites. This is leading to a host of accidents and casualties among the foxes.
[vii] I always feel a little like I’m cheating when I take a shot of something that’s just iconic. It doesn’t take much thought or skill (thankfully for me…) to stand where everyeone else stands, and take the short everyone else takes. But then again, there is a reason these views are iconic. The trick is to add as much as you can to a standard view to make it unique, or to find the right time of day to really capture the light. I didn’t really do much of either on these, but I was fairly happy with the long exposure (note the smooth, flowing water) on Christine Falls. Especially since getting this shot involves leaning an unfortunately costly gear setup out over an equally unfortunately high precipice while one holds on to trees for all one is worth and leans and holds one’s breath and clicks away like a madman. “Mommy, why is that man pretending he’s a monkey?” “Shush dear, he’s a photographer…just look away, it’s very sad.”
[viii] Kate doesn’t usually share my ongoing and admittedly child-like fascination with wildlife, but she loves her some Pika. We had encountered one previously on another Washington trip, so I wasn’t quite as excited by another as I was by the fox I found
[ix] For those keeping track, I noted at least 9 mammal species, many of which were new to me: Douglas Squirrel (not new), Golden-mantled ground squirrel, Pika(not new), Hoary Marmot, Eastern and potentially Western Grey Squirrels (not new), Elk, Cascades Fox, Townsend’s and/or Yellow Pine Chipmunks, and Black-tailed Deer (Mule Deer ssp.).  There were also about 5 or 6 new bird species for me, which is pretty impressive given that I wasn’t actively birding: Vaux’s Swift, Anna’s Hummingbird, Violet-green Swallow, Band-tailed Pigeon, Pine Siskin, and Varied Thrush. Not to mention all of the flora, with about 40 new species of wildflower. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Seattle and Mount Rainier National Park Trip, Day 5 - Paradise Found.

Skyline Trail landscape
Skyline Trail Vista at Paradise Area

Tuesday, July 24
The next morning broke clear and sunny, promising better luck at Paradise. We got going early after breakfast and some hurried boot repair. I knew going into this trip that my hiking boots, which had seen a storied life of national parks and foreign climes[i], were about to give up the ghost. I figured they had one more good trip in them and I was right; the previous day I stumbled on a rock in a snow field, and the seam of my right boot tore out. Well, this is why we carry duct tape and ranger cord. A quick makeshift repair later, we set out.

Field Repair - Ranger
Cord!Dew on
Field Repair – Ranger Cord!, Dew on Fungi

Our drive back to Paradise was remarkably different in the early morning light and clear skies than it had been the day before. Rainier was stark against a clear blue sky, giving a completely different perspective to the terrain. What had seemed like towering ridges and vast spaces were dwarfed by Rainier’s bulk. When we got up to Paradise, it was already getting a little crowded so we set out hiking immediately. Mountaineering parties were already assembling with all their gear in the parking lot, and a lot of people were already on the trails. The area at Paradise is known for its vast fields of wildflowers on subalpine slopes[ii], and its dramatic views of Rainier and the surrounding landscape. Late July is usually the start of peak wildflower season, but this year things were running a little behind. Still there was a pretty dazzling array of wildflower species represented, and if they bored you, there was always the massively epic landscape laid out before you. You know, just as a backup. We took the Skyline Trail up, hiking through patches where snow drifts still covered the trail. It was warm but the breezes were cool, and even with the sun beating down[iii], it felt fantastic.

Rainier Landscape
Rainier from Skyline
Mountain Daisy (Erigeron
peregrinus)Broadleaf Lupine
(Lupinus latifolius)
Avalanche Lily
(Erythronium montanum)Rainier from
Rainier Landscape (B&W), Rainier from Skyline Trail, Mountain Daisy (Erigeron peregrinus), Broadleaf Lupine (Lupinus latifolius), Avalanche Lily (Erythronium montanum), Rainier from Paradise.

One of my great laments about my time hiking in the west, especially in Yosemite, was in failing to find a marmot. Marmots, for those of you unfamiliar, are like large subalpine woodchucks. Or, in a more current vein, they’re like honey badgers who just started caring a whole lot. These fat little balls of fur are alpine/subalpine creatures, but I had never been able to find one previously. As we were hiking up the first section of Skyline, we finally saw our first marmot further downslope. We watched it for about 15 minutes, during which time this supposedly elusive beast got so close he literally almost tripped over my shoes as he passed me. Apparently they’re a bit more common and acclimated at Rainier. We let the fellow go on his way, and had lunch a little further on, on a ridge overlooking Rainier, across one of its glaciers. Here again, our sense of perspective was challenged. What looked like a narrow ridge of gravel in the foreground, already dwarfed by Rainier, became a massive ridgeline when we noticed two tiny human forms on it (see picture with inset at the bottom of this set of pictures).

Skyline Trail
Rainier from Paradise
Rainier scale
Rockscape, Skyline Trail Landscape, Hoary Marmot!, Hoary Marmot posing, Rainier from Skyline Trail, Inset of previous photo to show scale.
The trail started to cut across the breadth of the slope, and the full view to the horizon opened up to us. The wildflowers weren’t peak, but the effect of massive meadowed slopes full of color was still pretty intence. Further on up the trail, having hacked through snow fields and rockfalls, we made it to the high point, which had practically 360 degree views of the surrounding area. It really was astounding. The day was clear enough that we could make out Mt. St. Helens in the distance.

Skyline Trail landscape
Rainier from Skyline
Trail (pano)
Skyline Trail vista
Kate on the Skyline
Trail (pano)Unidentified Chipmunk-
Townsends or Yellow Pine?
Skyline Trail vista
(pano, B&W)
Pink Mountain Heather
(Phyllodoce empetriformis)Magenta Paintbrush and
lupine sp.
Spreading Phlox (Pholx
Skyline Trail Landscape (panoramic), Skyline Vista, Rainier from Skyline Trail, Skyline Vista (panoramic), Kate on the Skyline Trail, Unidentified Chipmunk species (Townsends or Yellow Pine), Skyline Trail Vista, Pink Mountain Heather, Magenta Paintbrush and Lupine, Spreading Phlox, Davidson’s Penstemon.

The trail back down took us past glacial melt streams and around somewhat more precarious stretches of trail, including a rather nerve-racking short jaunt across a narrow path under a very large, very melty snow pack. The trail narrowed in places to almost a goatpath on severly angled slopes, and on one section disappeared almost entirely under a giant field of snow. The lower we got, the more casual hikers started to appear. When we told them what lay behind us, we could see them look at our boots, then to their flip flops, and silently reconsider. At the bottom of the eastern arm of the trail we ran into Myrtle Falls and were suddenly surrounded by a massive throng of tourists who had made the short, paved hike up to the falls. After the relative isolation of the higher altitudes, it was odd to get to what to us was the furthest reach of our trek, and suddenly be surrounded by people. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much time to take pictures of the iconic Myrtle Falls because of the crowd of photographers waiting to take a picture through a narrow break in the trees.

Glacial melt stream
(pano)Rock striations
Golden mantled Ground
Squirrel ContemplatesWall of Snow
Skyline Trail vista
(pano)Field of Avalanche Lily
(Erythronium montanum)
Glacial Melt Stream, Rock Striations, Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel Contemplates, Wall of Snow Pack, Skyline Trail Vista, Field of Avalanche Lily, Myrtle Falls.

We reluctantly made our way back down to the parking lot and set out toward our evening lodging. On the way we stopped at Narada Falls for a very short hike.

Narada FallsNarada Falls
Kate at Narada
FallsUpper Narada
Narada Falls, Narada Falls Rainbow, Wildflower Path, Kate at Narada Falls, Upper Narada Falls.

Our flight out was later the next day so we planned to spend our evening on the western edge of the park, at the historic Longmire area’s National Park Inn. We got checked in and enjoyed a view of the last light of the day on Rainier from a chair on the long front porch of the Inn, while swallows and swifts[iv] swooped around overhead. After a couple days of trail food, we made reservations at the Inn’s restaurant. While it was no comparison to Yosemite’s fine dining choices[v], it was certainly better than my camp food. I had a buffalo stew with some pretty amazing blackberry cobbler for dessert. The local Rainier beer, however, left a lot to be desired.

End of the Day, National
Park InnLast Light on
National Park
Last Light on Rainier
End of the Day at the National Park Inn, Last Light on Rainier, National Park Inn by Night, Last Light on Rainier (panoramic).

I took a short walk outside afterwards, but it was too late to drive anywhere for evening light, so I got to sleep early[vi] in anticipation of a photo jaunt at dawn the next day…


[i] Sadly, they missed out on our Iceland hike. I had prepared all my gear, meticulously, for weeks in advance of that trip. Everything was laid out, checked and re-checked, down to the last detail. On the day we departed, I was ready in advance, and wasn’t even in a hurry when I packed the car…..completely missing that I had left my boot sitting on the floor while I loaded EVERYTHING ELSE AROUND THEM. The lack of boot didn’t deter me, I just felt oddly sad that for all the places these old boots had been, Iceland (arguably the most rugged and challenging hiking trip they could  have faced) would not be among them.
[ii] Think “Sound of Music” with 100% less singing nuns.
[iii] Yet again, a twinge of regret at hiking through amazing scenery in the flat, hot light of midday.
[iv] Without even trying, I added two new “life” species just sitting here for five minutes.
[v] As much as I griped about the “tame” nature of Yosemite’s main public area, they had one hell of a fine dining restaurant (The Mountain Room…apparently the Awahanee Lodge also has a nice place.)
[vi] After a quick boot repair. I had made a field adjustment during our Paradise hike, and this time decided to add some toe support to my elaborate cord structure holding my boot together. Boot Mark III was an overwhelming success.