Thursday, August 6, 2009

Lakes Trail, Paradise

Lakes Trail, Paradise (August 5, 2009)

Wow! What a tangle of trails at Paradise! A first-time hiker may find the trail signs more confusing than helpful, especially when you have an older map that doesn’t correspond to the trail system depicted on hand-outs, trail maps from the Visitor Center. Guess you can choose between following your nose, following one of the maps or following the signs. That’s all OK as long as the weather is clear. If you’re not sure where you are, don’t be afraid to ask or get counsel from one of the knowledgeable volunteers at the Visitor Center.

Our goal was to hike the Lakes Trail starting at Paradise, stop at Reflection Lakes, head up to Mazama Ridge then hike back down to Paradise on the lower Skyline Trail, about a 5-6 mile jaunt.

We got off to a bad start. Perhaps I should rephrase that to say that I got off to a bad start. My friend, Lola, was well equipped for this hike. As for me, I didn’t notice until we got to the trailhead that I’d packed Silverback’s boots rather than my own. Silverback is a big fellow and no way could I wear his boots.

Fortunately, Lola had an extra pair of trail runners so I was able to get into those. Still not an ideal situation as I have a tendency to sprain my ankles without mountaineering boots, even on easy trails.

We started out adventure on the Paradise River trail (signed Lakes Trail, Narada Falls). The last time I was on this trail (only weeks ago) there was snow and snow glacier lilies and avalanche lilies were competing for open space. Today the trail was lined with asters, pearly everlasting, rosy spirea and lupine. We quickly dropped down to the first junction – turning left toward Reflection Lakes (it’s hard to go the wrong way at this junction).

The Lakes trail crossed the Paradise Valley road a couple of times before coming out near another trailhead (accessible by car). Here we paused at the lakes, aptly named – though the Mountain was hazy the reflection cast by the peak into the lakes was bold and sharp, the lakes framed by a fringe of fireweed. Later in the season the lakes will be framed with the bold colors of fall.

We hiked along the road a short way, picking up the trail again as it climbs toward Faraway Rock. Ordinarily, I would have thought nothing of climbing to Faraway Rock but without my sturdy boots I was tense on the steep dirt with its covering of ball-bearing shaped rocks. We then came to a broken bridge across a dry creek in a small but deep gorge. The bridge was broken right in the middle and V-shaped. No railing. Here, I elected to pass up the opportunity to fall off the bridge and scrambled down into the streambed, only to fall down anyway and bruise my hip. Lola gingerly worked her way down on the bridge and made it without falling. Jeepers, I hope that bridge can be repaired.

Faraway Rock is a great place to stop for a break or photos; we did. From here you can look down into the lakes below, glittering in the bright afternoon sun. Above the lakes are ridges, peaks and high points – bring a Green Trails map to identify the peaks you are not familiar with.

There are several small tarns all along the Lakes trail, especially between Faraway Rock and the Skyline Trail, all framed by sub-alpine trees and some with views of Mount Rainier above the trees. The meadows were a blue haze of lupine with occasional splashes of magenta paintbrush and golden arnica.

We never did come across a trail sign for “Mazama Ridge” – and while I have been there several times over the years I’ve climbed to the ridge on snowshoes and snow-camped. I didn’t want to encourage off-trail use so we followed the Skyline Trail toward Paradise. Before heading back to the car we hiked some of the “little” trails near the Visitor Center, including the Water Fall trail and a trail with a new name “Avalanche Lily trail”. We wanted to get to Nisqually Vista but the return “loop” back to the car was closed and by that time we were ready to take our boots off and head home.

The flowers are nearing the end of their peak but should be good for another week or two. The meadows are now predominated with bistort, valerian, lupine, arnica and paintbrush. We saw a few sere avalanche lilies near the tarns at higher elevations but they will soon be gone. Anemones have gone to seed and barely resemble the way they appear when they first bloom.

The views from all the trails we hiked were magnificent – views not only of Mount Rainier but peaks of the Tatoosh, the sparkling tarns and lakes; last but not least, the glory of the flowers.

Stats: We hiked a little over 6 miles with about 1,350 feet of elevation gain.

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