Saturday, July 11, 2009

Berkeley Park via Sunrise, July 10, 2009

Sunrise to Berkeley Camp (Mount Rainier National Park)

This is an upside-down hike. Other than a gentle ascent along the Sourdough Ridge trail out of Sunrise the rest of the hike is downhill. The trail is hard on the knees but easy on the soul.

We enjoyed the drive from Enumclaw to the White River entrance of the park, stopping at Sunrise Point for views of Mount Adams (south), Mount Stuart and Glacier Peak to the north plus Cowlitz Chimneys and other prominent features of the park. Between Sunrise Point and Sunrise the road was bordered with lupine, Indian paintbrush and buttercups.

It being a weekday there was plenty of room for parking; soon we were on the trail. We headed up to Sourdough Ridge, turning left (west). A few minor snow patches remained on the trail; all easily negotiated. We puzzled over the “start” of the Huckleberry Creek trail (it looked more like a scramble than trail) and stopped several times for photos on our way to the 5-way junction at Frozen Lake.

Just past Frozen Lake snow patches cover the trail in places; some of them pink. If you have never encountered watermelon-colored snow before, it is a natural phenomenon caused by algae, rest assured you are not hallucinating. The route is wanded across larger snow patches but the snow is melting quickly.

At higher elevations the plants are small; small versions of lupine and Indian paintbrush hug the earth. Trees that look “young” are actually ancient; it takes them a long time to grow in this harsh environment. The white and pink heather may look tough but is extremely fragile. A single boot-print can kill it - it takes years to grow a small pot of heather in a similar environment.

As the trail loses elevation the tundra-like barrens of Sunrise are replaced by glowing meadows. More flowers appear; magenta paintbrush, Jacobs ladder, lupine and buttercups appear. Western pasqueflower is prevalent at most elevations.

The meadows are especially lush near Lodi Creek in Berkeley Park; glacier lilies carpet the meadows like fallen stars. The moss-bordered creek is an exquisite shade of blue-green; the moss varying shades of green ranging from hunter green to lime. Clumps of monkey flowers, not yet in bloom, sit atop small islands in the stream. Marmots run about the meadows; on marmot-errands. It is always a joy to see or hear them. When I hear the first marmot whistle of summer I feel that all is right with the world.

As we approached Berkeley Camp avalanche lilies predominated; it’s best just to sit and experience such exquisite beauty. Neither words nor cameras can do them justice; both fail to capture the sweetness of Lodi creek and surrounding meadows. Perhaps such places cannot be captured because getting to them is part of the experience. You cannot take them home with you.

Past Berkeley Camp significant snow patches covered the trail; we turned around shortly thereafter, retracing our route back to Sunrise.

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