Friday, June 19, 2009

Mount Rainier Mini-hikes, June 17, 2009

Since my friend Lola and I are co-leading a Mountaineer hike to Ranger Peak in the South Cascades we made the Ranger Creek trail our first stop. The trailhead is not well-signed or easily spotted from the road but is located between milepost 54 and the Buck Creek Recreation Area on SR 410 heading east from Enumclaw (trail is on the left). This trailhead also provides access to the White River trail and the Deep Creek trail further east (the main trailhead for Deep Creek begins just off the Corral Pass Road about a mile from SR 410). However, after stopping at the White River ranger station in Enumclaw we learned (and saw the photographs) that much of the Deep Creek trail has been destroyed and not a high priority on their list of trails needing repair.

A short path leads uphill to a signed junction to the White River Trail where the hike to Ranger Peak begins. In about 1/4 mile the Ranger Peak trail takes off to the left - the White River trail continues straight, crosses Ranger Creek and continues to the junction for the Deep Creek trail where the trail ends (Corral Pass Road). We hiked about 1.5 miles of the Ranger Creek trail - and the trail is in good condition. A local descending the trail said the trail was fine ahead - no major problems as far as he got before he turned around at the snowline.

From there we drove to Chinook Pass to see how Tipsoo Lake was faring. It is still mostly frozen over and foggy enough we could barely see the lake. We didn't linger.

Back on 410 we turned around, turning off at Cayuse Pass onto Highway 123 for a hike to Silver Falls. Rather than drive to Ohanepecosh campground (another access to the trail) we stopped short of it and parked at an unobtrusive trailhead (a wide area beside the highway) . The trail is well signed with other connections including Laughingwater Creek and the East Side Trail. We followed the signs to Silver Falls.

It had been a while since my last visit - I knew that the trail had been damaged from previous storms but there is a bridge over the falls (the trail was closed at one point). I wish I could provide more information on previous damage but I'd rather not err so will leave that to readers to ferret out if so inclined.

The view of Silver Falls is dramatic but nearly impossible to photograph. There's a good reason I'm not showing photos of the waterfall. In fact, I have decided to abandon waterfall photography altogether until I develop the patience to work with a tripod. Even with a tripod, it is difficult to photograph such waterfalls - waterfalls such as Silver Falls often plunge through dark, narrow gorges and so you have the problem with light. Black rocks, a blur of white water. Still, it is enough just to sit, gaze and listen to the thunder of water.

We continued past the waterfall - there are side trails that lead to other overlooks (please be cautious), then hiked to Grove of the Patriarchs (the junction is well signed). The grove is about 0.9 miles from Silver Falls.

You can also get to the "official" trailhead (and facilities) for Trail of the Patriarchs by driving a little further on Highway 123 to the Stevens Canyon entrance to the park - continue 0.2 miles to where the road is gated. Be sure you don't block the road as the road is undergoing repairs. The Stevens Canyon road is closed will be open later this summer.

The Grove of the Patriarchs is a popular trail - go mid-week if you can or get an early start. What is spectacular about this trail is not only the magnificence of the old-growth cedars and Douglas firs but the silence of the forest. Regardless of your religious background it feels sacrilegious to speak above a whisper. Right now the leaves of the vine maple trees are young and green, a sweet contrast to the aged, furrowed bark of these conifer giants.

After a short stretch beside the Ohanapecosh River on the trail cross the river on a suspension bridge - a sign recommends crossing one at a time. We hope that visitors will heed this sign. While the bridge is not high above the river, a tumble into the river wouldn't be fun as the river is swift. After the river crossing you can make a loop on a boardwalk that winds through the ancient grove. Benches are provided at intervals where one can just sit and ponder the meaning of Time. These trees were here hundreds of years before us and they will be there hundreds of years after us but for natural processes - yet even these trees will eventually be toppled by Time.

We retraced our steps back to the car then drove a short distance to Ohanapecosh Campground (open), Interpretive Center (open) and Ranger Station. We hiked the Hot Springs Nature Trail, site of Ohanapecosh Hot Springs and long-gone cabins from its heyday as a resort; back in the early to mid-1900s visitors journeyed there for the curative waters of the springs. Today the springs are just a seep and though signs warn you not to drink the water, after taking a look at the seeps, you surely wouldn't want to. The Nature Trail is signed and begins from the Interpretive Center.

Reluctantly we retraced our route back to Seattle. Though we toyed with the idea of making a long loop with the car via US 12 and SR 7, it would have been a very long drive.

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