It never fails that I forget my camera to digitally record my experiences with nature in the photo form. They say a picture is worth a thousand words so I guess I'll have to paint a picture of the mountain in my own words but don't expect a thousand of them, I'm not that long winded. Yesterday, December 2, 2009, I decided to go for a hike up at Longmire. My decision was to hike up to Carter Falls which is a 7 mile fairly easy round trip hike. The day was one of the most beautiful days we have had here at Mount Rainier since early November. The sky was a clear, not a cloud in the sky, robin's egg blue. My first sighting of the mountain as I drove to my destination was at Kautz Creek. Described by my mind's eye as a stunning, large, stark white mass with hints of purple rock beneath against the painted blue backdrop. This mind picture was framed with dense evergreens and a small creek flowing gently below. A digital picture couldn't really capture the beauty and largeness of it.
I stopped by the tiny historical museum at Longmire to get some trail info from the rangers. I was soon disappointed to find the the half log bridge that provides passage across the Nisqually River has been washed out in one of our first snow storms making the trail to Carter Falls inaccessible. Undaunted, I requested info about Rampart Ridge and Eagle's Peak. The look that crossed the rangers face instantly told me that Eagle's Peak was not the safest route but I think I will explore that next week. Rampart Ridge it was I decided. A 5 mile loop with an elevation gain of 1420 ft. I slowly started my ascent, taking my time to look at the azure sky through the tall trees, listen to the birds chirp, breath in the crisp air. About three-quarters of the way up I sat on a moss covered rock to rest, take a sip of clean water, strip off a layer of clothing. I stared into the forest not focusing on anything really when I discovered I was staring at the brown rump of a thin legged animal. It blended in so well that I wasn't really sure it wasn't a tree stump until it moved disappearing behind a thick tree. Silently, I repositioned myself to see three deer slowly idling through the trees with their heads down, nibbling flora off the forest floor, between patches of snow. Delightful sight!
As they disappeared I thought to myself how lucky I am to be working in a national park. This thought continued as I rounded the next switchback to hear a small woodpecker working for his tasty bug meal. The rest of the hike was uneventful in that I saw no more animals but did continue to hear the birds chirp and the trees creak. I was very glad I chose not to pack my snowshoes for the top of the ridge. There was probably about 2 feet of snow at the top but very hard packed by the tread of other hikers. I was smart to bring my little boot ice cleats because the hard packed snow was super slippery. Just a little ways around the bend from the top of the ridge, the forest opens to a brief cliff side and you get a stunning view of the mountain. My plan was to stop, drink some hot tea and marvel at it's vastness but the wind was wicked, forcing me to continue forward into the forest for shelter. I found a little clearing, protected by grand Douglas firs, where I drank tea and did some yoga stretches on the hard packed snow. What a geek I am. My last nature discovery of my hike was at the corner of Rampart Ridge and the Wonderland Trail as your heading to Indian Henry's. I stopped at the junction to drink more tea and rest a little. Again, staring blindly through the trees there appeared to be an empty space behind the trees. Leaving the trail by about 100 feet I discovered a small meadow, about the size of a baseball diamond, just beyond the trees adjacent to the trail. I chose not to step onto this snow covered meadow because I was not convinced it is a meadow at all. Based on a 10 ft circular indentation in the middle of the snow I thought may be a small wetland area which I did not want to mess with but made the discovery no less of a delight. This small discovery gave me an adventure to look forward to next July after the snow melts.
All throughout my hike was the reinforcing thought that I am lucky to work in a place that I also get to play in and hoping that my friends and family take a moment to experience whatever access they have to nature. Do you hear a bird sing? Do you feel the wind on your cheek? Do you see grass growing in a sidewalk crack? I did actually hug a tree during my hike while I was watching the woodpecker. I can't help it. I felt compelled to share the experience and I am surrounded by trees that experience the delight of nature every moment of their life cycle. I felt we (me and the tree) were comrades in nature. Did you hug a tree today?