“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Mount Rainier National Park – Mowich Lake Spray Park Loop
Distance: 17 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,273 feet
Date: September 5 – 7, 2014
Hikers: Groucho & Harpo + Kate & Doug
Duration: 3 days, 2 nights
Harpo Sez: Thank you thank you thank you mother nature for providing so much unimaginable beauty. Last weekend we enjoyed the absolute privilege of tagging along on a 2 night trip with Groucho’s sister and bro-in-law who had secured a permit to backpack in the Mount Rainier National Park. These buddies are the best. They not only did all the trip planning, they also are a kick to hang out with. We love them a lot. The itinerary was a 17 mile loop over 2 nights. We began at the Mowich Lake Trailhead Friday afternoon and headed south, just 2 miles, to camp at Eagle’s Roost for the first night. We got to camp mid-afternoon which provided us the leisure setting up, then taking a short afternoon side-trail (about 1/2 mile roundtrip) to Spray Falls – a gorgeous waterfall ending in a rapid river. We cooled our feet in the glacial water and told jokes in the sunshine. After dinner at camp, we hiked back toward the trail head about 10 minutes, to a viewpoint of Rainier that we had passed on our way in. In the surreal dwindling sun, the mountain looked like a postcard backdrop. Her power is epic and her magic so obvious when you are so close. Right before dark, the moon began to rise, seemingly right out of the mountain’s tip-top.
Saturday we woke to tackle the 5 mile journey to our next campsite, through the celebrated Spray Park and Seattle Park. We began with a short but hefty climb 1600 feet or so, but once at the top, we were rewarded with relatively flat terrain, very well maintained trails, consistent and ever-beautiful views of Rainier, and the joys of the flowers, meadows, rock morraines, snow fields, bugs and cool streams that make up the Spray Park trail. At Seattle Park we were graced with a far-distant view of mountain goats, and some nice big rocks to take a lengthy snack break.
On our descent to Cataract Valley (our next camp) we began passing prolific huckleberry bushes which we collected for later use in Groucho’s new alpine purple drink concoction (recipe coming soon.) At Cataract Valley Campsite we set up our tents next to a Talus field populated with adorable and noisy pikas. When alarmed, pikas make a call that sounds like a high pitched “beep”. They are alarmed a lot. Groucho decided that he wanted to go trail running, and set off to knock off another 7 miles or so. I climbed up the talus field to hang out with my new pika friends and knock out a few chapters of Star Trek Unification. Kate, Doug and I enjoyed some lengthy social camp time – hanging out, chatting, eating huckleberries – a luxury that I only recently realized I so rarely provide myself in our thru-hiking-style backpacking. Groucho returned at dusk and we ate our cold-hydrated ramen, watching the pikas scurry around gathering greens and berries for their dinners. We went to sleep with pikas still sounding their little beeps into the night.
The next day was our biggest trek of the trip – 10 miles back to the parking lot… first dropping 1500 feet down to Carbon River for 2 miles where we said farewell to Kate and Doug (they had planned to stay at the Mowich Lake Campsite this last night, whereas we had to get back to the city.) After the initial descent, we traversed several flat miles along the river passing scores of Sunday morning trail-runners. Then we turned up the mountain to face a rigorous 3.6 miles to Ipsut pass gaining several thousand feet of elevation. Though difficult, the climb was pretty – traveling through wet, green forests with questionable mushrooms and berries everywhere. Eventually we popped out of the trees and spent another half hour switching back and forth up the mountain side to the pass. For the second day in a row, I was grateful for our umbrellas as sun protection… it was too hot to keep sunscreen on! The last mile down from the pass to Ipsut Lake was cool and shaded. When we got to the lake we found a short path to the lake shore where we took a refreshing dip (30 seconds tops) and then hiked the last 5 minutes back to the car. Gorgeous weekend, gorgeous views, gorgeous people. Thank you Doug and Kate for planning this trip and inviting us along. I completely recommend this itinerary for anyone who is interested in a leisurely, beautiful, 2-night backpacking trip. The 3.6 mile climb to Ipsut on the last day is the hardest part, but it’s all about the big finish, right!? While it’s tough, I do think it is manageable if you take plenty of breaks and pace yourself. The other days are fairly easy with grand rewards. (For athletes or thru-hiking types – the round-trip 17 miler would be a great challenge for a day hike – but if you have the time to spare, you might as well get a permit and say out a night. You can see from this map that the Ipsut Campsite and Carbon River Campsite are both adjacent to other trails where you can get in a few more miles if you just aren’t tuckered out enough when you get to camp.)
Some of the sights from our recent peregrination around the Rainier National Forest…
Returning from the AT last winter, the idea of signing a lease, or even making a ‘permanent’ home seemed impossible. Having work obligations around Seattle, we found a grand solution – house sitting. I love it – it’s like getting to see a portrait of people’s lives, the way the envision themselves – expressed through funky or nostalgic tchotchkes, beautiful and/or totally inappropriate furniture, wild book collections, pleasing artistic arrangements and collections, and most interesting of all – beloved pets.
Since January we have house sat for over 14 residences. Here are (just a few) of the cats I have loved:
Sprouting is one of the easiest ways to get fresh food on trail without worrying about the water weight and fragility of fruit, or the rapid decay of greens. Harpo & I sprouted all along the AT and have continued the practice on our more recent trip to the Olympics. Trail sprouting is really effective on trips longer than 2 nights – it takes an overnight soak and 2-3 days rinsing twice per day (using about 1/4 cup of treated water) to get the seeds to an edible state – right about the time you’re craving some fresh, non-dehydrated food. We repackage sprouts ordered from Sprout House into 2oz increments, and use a hemp sprouting bag from Outdoor Herbivore on trail.
Sprouts combine well with oats, or can be thrown in with ramen. One of our favorite AT trail recipies was a flour tortilla filled with instant hummus and sprouts…
– Uncle Bud’s deep fried garlic peanuts
– dehydrated okra & green beans
– raw cashews
– tamari almonds
– roasted & salted soy nuts
– spicy roasted pepitas
The Uncle Bud’s are the winner here… Harpo and I have been buying them down at Uwajimaya for a minute. You can get the rest of the ingredients at any well stocked store with a bulk department. The key is offsetting the expense of the raw cashews with other cheap ingredients like the spicy pepitas, or sesame seeds if you prefer. Basically, Groucy Mix is salty & mouthy, with some crisp moments and a creamy finish. Them little chipmunks, with their bandit mascara, love it… positive reviews all around.
Harpo & I ventured out to Rainier National Park for a quick weekend with the fam, checking out a quick loop in the northwest quadrant of the park, including the Spray Park trail. The snow travel and views of the Big Lady were dazzling, of course, but there was a lot of detail in the forested sections along the banks of the Carbon River… namely, lots of fungi of all shapes and sizes. Here are a few lil dudes…
There’s a lot of strong words in the debate between hiking in boots, light hiking shoes and trail runners. There’s no real debate for me – running shoes are lighter, and dry more quickly than traditional hiking boots. And, having shattered my calcaneous in 2007, and ending up with 27 pins and 2 titanium plates permanently anchored in my heel, I’m interested in a shoe that is lightweight yet offers substantial support. The New Balance ‘Leadville’ 1210 hasn’t let me down yet…
New Balance makes shoes in America (and in the UK for the European market) – an anathema considering most shoe makers manufacture anywhere overseas everywhere form China, Israel, Jordan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, to Turkey and Vietnam. NB’s are as also as close to vegan as I can find (through a series of emails, they will not fully divulge the glues used in specific show models, while admitting that specific factories use plant based glue, while others use animal glue).
Named after the famed Colorado ultra-marathon the Leadville 100 (which, coincidentally, NB has hosted since 2008), the NB shoe is designed with ultra-runners in mind featuring N2 cushioning, REVlite midsole, Vibram® outsole and an effective debris-free construction. The Leadville weighs in a 10.3 oz per pair, making them light AND structured.
I starting the hike with a pair of NB Minimus 10v2 shoes – I liked the mesh construction and the feel on trail was great – but after about 100 miles in Washington and only 280 miles in Maine they were done, with the mesh completely destroyed, and the soles separating from the shoes. I re-upped with the 1210s in New Hampshire and haven’t looked back. I ended up wearing out 2 pairs of these on my AT – I wore my first pair for 800 miles and the second pair for almost 1000 miles. Admittedly, I now replace shoes after 600-700 miles or when the foam becomes visibly compressed – but the point being the shoes will wear you out, not the other way around. I’m now happily on my fourth pair…
Harpo and I followed Ray Jardine’s model and started hiking with umbrellas before we walked the AT last year – it made sense, living in the Northwest it rains every time you step outside. Or at least it could…
We started with free collapsible umbrellas, but the cheap metal hardware would rust and/or fall apart… Jardine modified his umbrellas to remove extra parts, and fitted them with mylar panels functioning as solar shields attached with dental rubber bands. In the era of cottage industry ultralight backpacking gear, we saved the effort by purchasing GoLite’s Chrome Dome trekking umbrellas. Weighing in at 8oz, with a 45″ canopy and offering 50SPF sun protection, the Chrome Dome offers substantial coverage as a rain and sun shield. I don’t think there’s any going back.. .
On the AT we forfeited conventional rain gear, favoring lightweight wind-breakers and wind-pants – 8oz total + the 8oz brolly, rather than a 11oz or heavier rain jacket and 11oz pants – offering a lighter overall solution for the long haul. Not to mention the umbrella is faster to deploy in sudden showers, and keeps it breezy, meaning better ventilation. Recently on the PCT and in alpine areas of the Olympic mountains, we’ve been happy using the Chrome Dome as a sun shield, allowing us to skip the sunscreen.
Of course, the umbrella fails in some conditions – dense, low forest like some in southern Maine snags the canopy, and it was impossible to use in the high winds atop Mt. Washington and in Goat Rocks. Outside of these extreme circumstances, the umbrella works great – the polyester canopy has never collapsed and resists tears, and the fiberglass spokes seem indestructible… we have hiked over 3500 miles with our original Chrome Domes, and are only now considering buying new ones.
Overall, this is one of my favorite pieces of gear to own. Every time I open it, it’s something in between Marry Poppins and a clown show – and it’s definitely the most commented on accessory I own, bar none. Harpo & I enjoy the umbrella hiking experience so much we formed our own umbrella gang – the Brolly Bunch.