Inspired by canyonwren:
Hiking Log: Mowich Lake to Spray Park (and back again) Mileage: around 6 miles Elevation Gain: around 2200 feet (I probably turned around early. Call it 2000 feet.)
I woke up late this morning - my eyes connected with the clock around 7:30, and I had been hoping to get on the road by 7:00. I finished packing, scrounged up my random essentials, and got on the road by 8:30. Not bad, but I had been hoping to hit the end of Spray Park and start heading down by noonish.
As I was throwing things into the backpack, I realized my "great idea" from the night before didn't pay off. I had two bottles of water that I wanted to be seriously chilled, so I had thrown them in the freezer. They were pretty much solid by the time I got around to sticking them in the pack, so instead, I stuck them in a cooler, and filled other bottles from the tap. If you can't have good ideas, at least you can have extra water bottles.
I punched in my destination into the dashboard GPS unit toy that I still haven't got enough of, and it led me as far as a sign directing me to Mowich Lake. Now, let me back up a bit. I'm out of shape, lazy, and don't get onto trails as much as I like, but even still, I have acquired a certain amount of hiking snobbery to disdain Rainier a bit. Not enough disdain to keep me from going there a couple times a year, though. I don't know how many trips to The Mountain I've made, but it's somewhere in the "dozens" realm, not quite to the "hundreds" realm. So, I know parts of the area pretty well. I remember that my favorite campsite at Cougar Rock when I was a kid was B25. I remember the Paradise visitor's center before the enclosed porch areas. But I guess that I haven't been to Mowich Lake before. And it was my hope that not a lot of other people would be going there today.
I pretty much got my wish. I drove unfamiliar roads, and the last several miles of the road was unpaved and skull-knockingly uneven. Which was good. How popular could this place be if it was this out of the way? I was a little crestfallen when I finally got to the parking lot at the trailhead - quite a few other vehicles were already there.
I got into my boots (the boots I got something like 7 years ago when I was in town for keelamonster's X-Files birthday party), strapped on the pack, and I was on my way. The stiffness of the boots, the cinched chest strap, felt familiar but almost from a different life.
Once I hit the trail itself, the hiking part of my brain woke up. It startled me how it felt like a part of me was coming to the surface that doesn't get enough attention. (Ever see the Kids in the Hall sketch where Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald are those mental patients that call eachother (everyone?) "Jerry", and Kevin visits Dave and Dave's been on the medication, so he's completely coherent and normal-seeming... until Kevin convinces him to revert back to his former self? It's a little bit like that. Less dementia, one would hope.)
I got a ways down the trail before my body reminded me to take it easy. I sat down and had a bit of lunch by a creek and reminded myself that hiking on a trail in the neighborhood of 5000 feet with a pack is a different activity than walking on a treadmill in the spare bedroom. I need to do both more, but still. Take it easy.
About two miles in, the trail met Grant Creek and proceeded to get serious. I huffed and puffed up any number of switchbacks, every now and then checking the altimeter in a desperate "Are we there yet?" hope. I was pretty certain that I wouldn't get to the upper reaches of Spray Park by 2:00, so I resolved to turn around at 2 or at 5800 feet, whichever came first.
Around 1:30, the switchbacks relented, the trees opened up, and I saw the meadow I was expecting. A few wildflowers here and there, a couple nice views of nearby peaks, and sunlight unfiltered by big trees. I continued on the trail, more casually now, since I had at least made it to Spray Park. I took a couple of pictures, wondering how they'd come out considering my hands weren't super steady after all that exertion. And then back down.
Down was easier.
The sinister thing about this hike, and Sunrise point is that at the end of the hike, the trail goes back up again. I knew this, but it hit me about a half mile from the trail head that once again I needed to slow down.
And then I saw a dome tent peek over a ridge before me, and I knew that I was in sight of the campground. Yay - this enjoyable torture is coming to a close.
I strolled back to my car by way of the lake, took more pictures, and found that the water bottles had thawed enough to be somewhat drinkable. Ice cold water, with real ice. Very welcome.
Slowly stripped off the various pieces of gear, and climbed gingerly into the driver's seat. The drive back over the washboard dirt road wore on my already tired body. I asked the navigator gizmo on the dash to take me to my favorite little restaurant near Rainier - it was only 13 miles away, how long could that take?
If I were still in New England, some Down Easter would say "Yah Can't Get Theyah From Heyah". Same idea. Turns out, at least according to the map in my gizmo, the shortest route from Mowich Lake to Longmire takes you through Puyallup (I'm not sure how far the drive would have been, but Puyallup to Longmire crosses some weird mental category I have - Puyallup is part of civilization, while Longmire is not. No point driving into The Big City of Puyallup just to turn around and head out into the wilderness again). It was hard to believe that this might have been the shortest route, but I wasn't in the mood to explore. I gave up on the nice dinner and headed home.
I'm now home (obviously?), cleaned off the layer of dust and sweat, and hauled the majority of the equipment out of the car.
Lessons Learned: I don't do this enough. I should have brought insect repellant. And sunblock. I would have enjoyed having that extra 2 or so hours on the trail. I need to hike more. I'm probably in better shape today than a year ago or so when I was at Sunrise Point. I can imagine being in much better shape still, and that future self might have enjoyed this trip more, because he wouldn't be so spent. But maybe not - I'm enjoying the various sore muscles testifying to the fact that I've pushed myself.
Thoughts for the next hike: I don't know whether to make this a day hike or not, but it's been years since I've been up to Lower Lena on the Olympic Peninsula. Perhaps if I stayed with my folks, I could get an earlier start on the hike. Maybe even pick up a companion or two for the trip.
Ok, that's all the ramble you're going to get for tonight. These old bones are tired.