Category Archives: landscape

A trip to see the mystical lady – Mount Rainier

Pika is Harpo's Spirit Animal

Pika is Harpo’s Spirit Animal

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.

From our campsite at Eagle's Roost it was only a 5 minute walk to this side trail to the majestic Spray Falls.  - photo by Doug Cox

From our campsite at Eagle’s Roost it was only a 5 minute walk to this side trail to the majestic Spray Falls. – photo by Doug Cox

Glasses selfie

Sun glasses selfie taken while soaking our feet

Big Lady

Big Lady in waning sun

Lovely people

Gorgeous people

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.

Spray Park - photo by Doug Cox

Spray Park – photo by Doug Cox

Super beautiful meadows full of flowers (and mosquitos) - Photo by Doug Cox

Super beautiful meadows full of flowers (and mosquitos) – Photo by Doug Cox

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Kate leads the way through the snow field

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Umbrellas = sun cover? or clown show?

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.

Our relatively secluded camp at Cataract Valley had ample room for our tents, plus! a pretty view of a talus field. Pikas provided entertainment all evening but they were too quick to photograph. - photo by Doug Cox

Our secluded site at Cataract Valley Camp had ample room for our tents with seating for lounging and social time. – photo by Doug Cox

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.)

Trekking between Spray Park and Seattle Park we encountered a few short snow fields. (Groucho and Harpo sport their sunbrellas.) - photo by Doug Cox

Trekking between Spray Park and Seattle Park we encountered a few short snow fields. (Groucho and Harpo sport their sun-brellas.) – photo by Doug Cox

View more of Groucho’s flicks from the trip including the moon rising out of the mountain

Awesome almost full moon rising in a clear sky above the Big Lady

Awesome almost full moon rising in a clear sky above the Big Lady


Some of the sights from our recent peregrination around the Rainier National Forest…

North west end of Mother Mountain, with views to the north across the Cascades

North west end of Mother Mountain, with views to the north across the Cascades

Suspension bridge across the Carbon River

Suspension bridge across the Carbon River

A small tongue of the Carbon River in early light

A small tongue of the Carbon River in early light

Rainier National Park is superbly maintained, and all the bridges are, while quaint, super well built. And the streams they spread are dreamy...

Rainier National Park is superbly maintained, and all the bridges are, while quaint, super well built. And the streams they spread are dreamy…

Mowich Lake - so nice for a quick dip after a hot (though short) 10 mile day...

Mowich Lake – so nice for a quick dip after a hot (though short) 10 mile day…

Shrooms of Rainier National Forest

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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…

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Landscapes of the Olympic Mountains

Just south of Constance Pass

Just south of Constance Pass

Anderson mountain

Anderson peak and West peak sporting their ever shrinking glaciers

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Just before O’neil pass, a view over the Duckabush river valley, and looking back at the range we just climbed thru

Home Lake

Home Lake’s clear waters and Constance Pass in the distance

Dose Forks

The sapphire blue Dosewallips river from the Dose Forks campground

5 days, 7 passes and 3 hungry rodents

Home (away from home) Lake

Home (away from home) Lake

Olympic National Park – entering from Marmot Pass – loop around White Mountain

Distance: 65+ miles
Elevation Gain: thousands
Date: August 24 – 28, 2014
Hikers: Groucho & Harpo
Duration: 4-5 days

Harpo Sez:

Day 1 – Sunday

Groucho and I start out on Sunday evening at 5:00 p.m. It’s only 4.5 miles up to Mystery Camp where we will start our 5-ish-day trek around the SE Olympic National Park. Surprisingly crowded for a non-holiday, non-weekend, we find a spot next to the stream and quickly set up camp in the nippy mountain breeze. Sadly, for the first time ever, our bear hang falls in the middle of the night and later we discover why… A mouse or chipmunk has tampered with my food sack, chewing a hole in the bag, and then through a ziplock in order to eat my fresh peach and all my dried fruit!! Little devil.
Day 2 – Monday 
Marmot Pass

Marmot Pass

We wake early to begin an 18 mile day. Groucho jets up hills like a billy goat (he just finished a 10-day PCT section)… while I struggle, having typed more, and hiked less, as evidenced by my soft urban feet. I put on my good mood and try to keep up. Starting with a nice easy jaunt up Marmot Pass (6,000 feet), dipping down 4ish miles to Home Lake for brunch – an hour of savory oats, blister care, and a frigid lake swim. By noon we’re heading up Constance Pass (5,800 feet),  continue up another mile to 6,500 feet, near the summit of Mount Constance. The views are 360 degrees, the weather clear and gorgeous.
We catch our breath and begin the knee buckling trek down down down down down 6 miles to the Dosewallips riverside trail. Along the way we pass a little pond with hundreds (maybe thousands?!) of tadpoles. Charming, charming little fellows.
Reaching the river we trek another 5 flat miles until my blisters start to burn. Diamond Meadows, a huge camp among the old old cedars next to the Dosewallips river, is empty. We set up camp, Groucho leads hiker yoga, we eat cold hydrated ramen and enjoy a sweet, little fire. A dreamy end to a grueling day.
Day 3 – Tuesday
O'Neil Pass

O’Neil Pass

Breaking camp early, we hike further up river to Honeymoon Meadows. Fording a small river, we meet Steve, a 67 year old gentleman who really has his it together. I appreciate his approach – using Honeymoon Meadows as a base camp for a bunch of short hikes over 5 days.  While we’re only carrying 9 lbs base weight, with 1.2 lbs of food per person per day, the 15 lbs total was starting to weigh me down. Starting up to Anderson Pass (4,450 feet), we continue counterclockwise around White Mountain, leap-froging with our new friend a few times.
The fun really begins with a long late morning walk on a high, flat path at 4,500 feet around the south end of the range. In and out of the trees, the views of nearby glaciers, lowland forest, and  river valley are epic. Finding a creek Groucho sets up a glacier-cold foot soak to help with my increasingly painful blisters. After a short break, we continue 7 miles through subalpine meadows dripping with huckleberries – we devour pints, and our hands stained with blueberry bruises. We hear – and then SEE elk – crossing our path, scattering through the woods, hooves pounding headed straight down the steep slopes. At 6:00 p.m. we cross O’Neil Pass (5,000 feet) -the rocky path makes for sore feet, but it’s all downhill for the rest of the day.
Passing Marmot Lake, we share the trail with a doe and two precious fawns. I’m reminded of my mom taking me to Bambi as a little girl. We descend to the Duckabush River and find a place to make camp as the dark settles in – the softest cedar forest beneath us we sleep, minds full of the wonders of the wild.
Day 4 – Wednesday
campsite at Dose Forks
We’ve been anticipating the climb up to Lacrosse Pass (5,566 feet), which one hiker relayed, up or down, was “hell either way.” It’s difficult, but nothing out of the ordinary for the Northwest. Abundant huckleberries, my personal power pellets, appear in blue, blue-black, hot pink, and regal purple. Taking our time we reach the pass at noon, running into our new buddy Steve. We have a fantastic conversation about gear, snacks, photography, mediation, and public service.
We climb down to Honeymoon Lake again, and begin the long trek toward the river. Arriving at Dose Forks we score a secluded site by a rushing, aquamarine Dosewallips river, finishing a 17 mile day with a quiet fire. Somehow, even using a park-provided bear wire, a mouse sneaks in my food sack as I sleep, and I lose the rest of my Grouchy Mix. I am too tired to be hungry, or mad.
Day 5 – Thursday
Constance Pass

Constance Pass

Labor Day looms, and the park grows crowded. We get up early, hoping to knock out the rigorous 6-mile climb to Constance Pass before we fully wake up. Marching straight uphill 4500 feet it is, as they say, challenging.
We continue without much rest until Home Lake, where we take a lovely late lunch. It’s hard to believe we have 10 miles left. Fortunately with the last of our food gone our packs are light both up to Marmot Pass, and down the remaining 5.4 miles to the trailhead, arriving by 6:30 p.m.
We open the trunk and find – to our disbelief – that a mouse (or some dark eyed bandito) has crept in to the closed trunk of my car (?!) and again eaten my resupply of Grouchy Mix!!!!
The trail mouse is my spirit animal for the journey. Fin.