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. 

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