Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Three hikes, Mount Rainier National Park, June 1, 2009

Carter and Madcap Falls, Trail of the Shadows, Kautz Creek Overlook (June 1, 2009)

Our first stop was the Kautz Creek overlook – overlooking where the Kautz Creek used to flow before it changed its course during the floods of 2006. Today, the “old” bed doesn’t even resemble a creek-bed – it’s more of a gash in the landscape, littered with broken timber, root balls and eroding banks. A trickle of reddish water still stands at the bottom of the gash, colored reddish from minerals released during the flooding.

The trail has been rerouted – yes, you can still hike the Kautz Creek trail and the first 2-3 miles of the trail are free of snow. Last year we almost made it to Indian Henry’s – what foiled us then was not the character of the trail but too late a start.

The floods destroyed the footbridges across Kautz Creek – new bridges are in place. It’s probably half a mile from the trailhead to the bridges, very little elevation gain. A boardwalk with interpretive signs leads to the overlook giving visitors a “look” at the natural cataclysms that rearrange the landscape as casually as a child dumping buckets of sand.

The next stop was the trail to Carter Falls – we thought we’d give it a try despite being advised against it at the Nisqually Entrance of the park. The ranger on duty said he couldn’t recommend the trail but we figured he said that because we are old. Well, we are old but we are also seasoned hikers.

The trail starts a couple miles past Longmire National Park Inn on the Nisqually-Paradise Road and is well signed. Cougar Rock Campground is a little beyond.

Getting across the Nisqually River involves crossing it on a footbridge with one railing. It’s safe enough but could spook a tourist who has never crossed on such a bridge. The bridge crossing was in the sun and there’s a good view of Mount Rainier as well. You could say it’s a Kodak “moment” on a sunny day.

The trail then climbs a bit before turning again toward Mount Rainier, heading upstream. From this point the trail is mostly in old-growth forest and parallels the Paradise River. There are occasional views of Eagle Peak through the trees and on such a hot day, the forest was welcome. As we gained elevation the trail paralleled a wooden water pipe used to bring water to an old hydro generator on the Paradise River.

About 1/8 of a mile below Carter Falls we began to hit snow on the trail; my partner, Silverback was post-holing so he took a break while I continued to Carter Falls. I could see where other hikers had post-holed as well but I managed to get to the waterfall without breaking through the snow. The view was disappointing – the waterfall was indeed full of “sound and fury” but a photograph wasn’t possible. It was, at best, a white blur through dark evergreens.

Though the trail from this point was mostly under snow I was able to follow tracks to an overlook of Madcap Falls. Here, the view was better but the light ghastly for photography.

It will still take a couple of weeks for the snow to melt near Madcap Falls.

The trail to Carter Falls is about 2.2 miles round trip with 600 feet or so of gain. Madcap Falls is just a bit beyond.

Our last hike was “Trail of the Shadows”. The trail was soothing – it was quiet, there was no one else on the trail, the mineral springs bubbled, the birds called, the trees were huge, the deer shy, the shadows cool.

The hike is a ¾ mile loop that begins across from the Longmire National Inn. The trail loops around mineral springs and seeps, the log cabin built by Longmire (still standing) and rounds a large meadow through a boulevard of old-growth trees. There is also a link from the loop to the Rampart Ridge trail – we saved that for another day. We took our time, stopping at the springs and the cabin. “Iron Mike” is an active spring in a setting of mossy mineral-stained stones. Interpretive signs tell the story of Longmire and the mineral springs.

These trails are all accessible from the Nisqually entrance of Mount Rainier National Park. You’ll probably need to pay a fee to enter the park unless you are “old” enough to have the “Golden Age Passport”.

Our preferred way to get there (from Seattle) is to head south on I-5, get off at the SR 7 exit in Tacoma, follow signs to Mount Rainier National Park on SR 7. Allow about 2.5 hours drive-time one-way.

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