Sunday, August 26, 2012

Mowich Lake Area & Mount Rainier

After visiting John and Cassie Emily and I headed out of society into the Northwest side of Mt. Rainier National Park to stay overnight and do some hikes.  It took us a while to get into the woods as we had to stop for some food and drinks and get gas.  We made it to the Mowich lake area at around 4pm after a 12+ mile drive down a dirt road which surprised me because it was a National Park.  We actually ended up paying the entrance fee in an envelope because there was no entry station into the area.  

Our first hike was an easy 6 mile there-and-back hike up Tolmie Peak.  This hike was highly rated for views and because it was so short I thought it would make a great sunset hike with a return to the car with headlamps.  It was a beautiful day and we quickly made it up to a beautiful alpine lake just below the cliffs of the Tolmie Peak ridgeline.  The water must have been a good temperature as there were people swimming in it.  That is when we noticed the mosquitos!  Yup, a whole lot of them and we had forgotten to bring bug spray, a big mistake.  I had hoped to have a breeze in the late afternoon but even when we got to the to the top it was calm and they were all over us.  

Heading up the switchbacking trail to the top we had beautiful views of the moon rising over the shoulder of Mt. Rainier which was super clear without any haze from all the fires in the Northwest.  It was a spectacular view over the lake below to the massive volcano in the distance.  A perfect place for photography but we wanted to make it to the top to hopefully get out of the bugs.  We quickly made it to the firetower on top where, to our surprise, we saw a group of hikers around our age inside the tower.  Upon asking they told us that they had a friend in the forest service that had hooked them up for the night.  The tower had a stove, beds, everything.  What a great place to spend the night.  Lucky them!

A few other people came up to the summit just behind us for the sunset and I wasted no time asking them for any spare bug spray.  The first couple were super nice but they had some organic stuff which smelled great but didn’t do any good at all.  The next couple had the same camera as me and some serious bug spray that finally did the job but by then Emily had been eaten up.  We got to watch an ok sunset as there were no clouds to really reflect some good alpenglow before we headed back down the mountain in the dark with our headlamps.  When we got to the base we headed up the road a bit and parked for the night in the trailhead for the Spray Park Trail we would do the next day.  I ate a salad we had bought from Safeway before heading to bed around 10pm.

In the morning we ate some food and hit the trail around 9:30 in the morning.  We headed off down the Spray Park trail with hopes we would have views like we would have last night from Tolmie Peak.  It felt like we were heading through the woods for a long time before I saw a side trail for Spray Falls.  We first encountered a small stream with a log bridge over it that I thought may have been the falls but another couple came by and told us not to waste our time there and to keep walking for the real deal.  Man, were they right.  The waterfall we came around a corner to see was one of the most spectacular I have seen anywhere.  It was massive and would dwarf most of the falls in Silver Falls State Park.  Emily headed up the trail to literally stand right under it while I crossed the stream to get some photos of it with her under it farther away from the spray.  We hung out there for a while as we were not in a rush on this 8 mile hike, truly appreciating how amazing the waterfall was!

We then continued up the trail towards the Spray Park plateau where we began to encounter some beautiful wildflowers along the trail.  I’m always amazed that the wildflowers can be just as abundant in the alpine areas of the northwest in August as they are in the spring time at lower elevations.  We also encountered a few curious Gray Jays (Camp Robbers) like we had seen on Thielsen earlier in the year.  I put some twigs in my palm and tricked one of them to land on my hand thinking it was food.  It gave me a few looks (of anger?) before flying off and telling it’s buddies to not bother.  

When we made it up to the Spray Park area we were blown away at the abundance of wildflowers still in bloom high up on the side of Rainier.  There were fields and fields of them and the view of Mt. Rainier over all the color was amazing.  Unfortunately, there were still a few mosquitos even up at that elevation so we kept moving along.  We continued up the trail towards Carbon Glacier until it started to go downhill.  Our guidebook said this would be a good spot to turn around but we heard from a couple that if we kept going and climbed a ridge we would see the Carbon Glacier below.  Seeing that the glacier was one of the ones I studied for my Masters and is the lowest in the U.S. I thought we’d go take a look.  I should have checked my GPS because when we got to the crest of the ridge I was looking at we realized it was another whole ridge away so we decided to turn around.

On our trek back we saw a few people headed directly uphill on the slope of Rainier obviously heading up to a good viewpoint another mile up.  We decided we didn’t need to see it and kept going but one of the hikers told us we should try going back through Knapsack pass to Mowich Lake.  This sounded interesting to us as we much prefer loop hikes over out and back hikes but it wasn’t a trail listed on the Park Map and we didn’t want to find ourselves over our head in terrain.  I decided to give it a go and followed his directions to a very narrow heard path leading towards a pass in the jagged Mother Mountain Range.  Thankfully, we passed a couple park rangers on the way who told us we had definitely made the right decision as long as we were ok traversing a big snow field.

It was really awesome heading over to Knapsack Pass.  We did indeed have to traverse a pretty big snow field to get up to the pass but it provided different scenery and an amazing view back towards Mt. Rainier.  It didn’t take us long to find our way up over the steep pass and if we had continued without stopping we would have made it back to Mowich Lake, directly under the pass, a lot faster than our way in but we encountered what seemed to be a small town of hoary marmots along the way.  Emily and I spent about 20 minutes just watching them and taking photos of the mother marmot harvesting grass for their nest and then feeding the baby marmots that were also scampering around the area.  We also got a few good glimpses of some very fat pikas that were scurrying about the boulder field as well. 

We then made our way back down and around the beautiful Mowich lake to our car.  The hike, as most of the hikes rated 10 in the guidebook are, turned out to be amazingly beautiful and our extra distance and elevation gain back over the pass afforded us amazing views of Mt. Rainier and a bunch of really cool animal encounters along the way.  The drive back to Ridgefield took about 3 hours from the north side of Rainier which wasn’t bad.  We will definitely have to keep exploring the mountains of Washington now that we live so close.

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