Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Grove of the Patriarchs

My last Rainier hike had the biggest trees - Western red cedars, Western hemlocks, and Douglas firs - that I have ever seen, outside of the redwoods at Muir Woods. The Grove of the Patriarchs nature trail wanders along the Ohanapecosh River, crossed the river on a cool “one person at a time” suspension bridge, circles through a small grove of giants, and returns the way it came. The trees are too large to get the full scope of them with a typical camera. The trail a mile and a half round trip and gains less than 100 feet in elevation. It was fairly crowded due to the jaw-dropping trees, the short length, and the easy trail conditions.

It is amazing to think that hundreds of years ago, this type of old growth forest would have covered thousands of square miles of this part of the world. Some of these trees are estimated to be 1,000 years old. They were gigantic when the Declaration of Independence was being signed.

In this case, pictures will do better than my words in describing the area, so here are a series of photos of the walk in, the river, the suspension bridge, and the Grove of the Patriarchs. After this point, I gave my emergency matches to someone, repacked my stuff, got out clean clothes to change into for the flight home, and started driving to the Seattle area. It was a great 2.5 days of hiking here, and of seeing Nature’s beauty in a new place.

Ohanapecosh Hot Springs and Silver Falls

Following my hike into Martha Falls, I started driving east again. I passed by yesterday’s Box Canyon trailhead and kept going. All along the way were scenic views of waterfalls, flowers, and mountains:
I passed the trailhead to the Grove of the Patriarchs, which would be my last hike of this trip, and headed south towards the very pleasant looking Ohanapecosh Campground. There, by a beautiful greenish river of the same name, was the start of the three mile loop trail to the Ohanapecosh Hot Springs and Silver Falls.
The hot springs used to be used commercially, but have since been restored to their natural state. They are a clear reminder of the area’s volcanic origins, and continuing volcanic activity. Their vivid colors reminded me a bit of the hot springs in Yellowstone which I saw in 2005.
From here, the trail continued on along the river at times and always through the forest towards magnificent Silver Falls. Most of the time, I could hear the river even when it was not visible. The trees were large and the path easy, with about 500 feet of climbing over a mile and a half, according to my GPS. Unlike some of my other hikes, there were lots of people walking to and from the falls.
I asked a few people if the falls were nice and they said they were beautiful. It was no exaggeration. My pictures cannot do them justice.

The Ohanapecosh shot through a lovely gorge just after Silver Falls. It was quite picturesque!

At this point, the trail continued for almost a mile along the river to connect with the Grove of the Patriarchs nature trail. I was so tempted to keep on hiking, but my late start and other hikes meant that I had barely enough time to finish this hike, drive to the Patriarchs trail, hike it quickly, and start heading for the car return facility near the Seattle airport. I had calculated needing to leave by 5:30 at the absolute latest to have a margin of error to get to the airport in time. So I reluctantly headed back along the return loop to the south, rather than the connector trail to the north. Oh, for just one more hour to hike here! I know from the guide description that it would have been beautiful! My return along the forested trail was in solitude. I encountered no one, and no wildlife, on the hike through the lovely forest.
Here is a topo map showing this hike (southern track) and my next and last Rainier hike, the Grove of the Patriarchs (northern track).

Martha Falls

After leaving Bench Lake, my intention was to drive to the southeastern corner of the park and do a long circuit hike that linked three separate hikes together. But as I drove, I stopped at a couple of roadside pull-offs to admire the scenery and flowers. The road had doubled back on the opposite side of a very steep and scenic canyon. I had lost a lot of elevation driving and there was no longer any snow anywhere nearby.
At one such stop, I suddenly spotted a gorgeous waterfall on the opposite side of the canyon and far below.I consulted my maps and hiking book, and found that it was Martha Falls, and that there was a very short and steep section of the Wonderland Trail that led right to the falls. It looked to be about a half mile hike each way, and maybe a loss of 500 feet elevation in that half mile. I had to see such a pretty spot close up, and so I turned the car around and drove back whence I came looking for the trail junction. When I found it, I put on my pack and headed down the trail.
The trail was steep, as indicated on my topo map, but I reached Martha Falls in no time. It thundered over the lip of its chute with a very pretty display.
There was a half-log bridge – so popular in this park – to cross the stream. The old, “permanent” bridge had been washed out and some of its remains was a big pile of rubble that was up on a bank high over the stream. I snapped photos from several vantage points,
chatted with a couple of guys who had hiked up to the falls the long way from near the Box Canyon, and then started the trudge uphill back to my car. The hike back up was more arduous than my hike down, as one would expect. But it was short and through scenic woods and with some occasional views, and passed quickly.
I am glad I made the unplanned detour into beautiful Martha Falls. It was well worth it.

Here is a 3-D Topo representation of the Martha Falls track (green) and my previous hike to Bench Lake (red).

Snowy Trail to Bench Lake

I got up reasonably early on my final morning in Mount Rainier National Park, and stepped outside after eating breakfast. It was foggy and quite cool, almost cold. I decided to relax for a while, and read in a comfortable chair in the common area of the Paradise Lodge while enjoying a mug of hot tea. About 10:30, I packed up all my stuff, checked out, and headed out in my rental car through the fog.

The fog was too thick right now for much scenery, but I did pass by a fairly friendly marmot and could not resist capturing his image.

My first hike was going to be an out and back to Bench Lake. I knew it would be snowy, but it was only a mile each way and it looked like I would come across some nice scenery. I found the trailhead, and started hiking, passing avalanche lilies in bloom next to snowy areas.
It was cold enough that I started out hiking in two long sleeve shirts and a pair of gloves, although I took the gloves off after about 20 minutes or so. I didn't see any wildlife, but clearly elk have been coming through this area:
As the trail gained elevation, there was more and more snow covered areas and less and less bare trail. A few times, I was confused which way the trail went in the snow, but I was always able to figure it out and pick the trail back up again as it moved through “The Bench,” a scenic flat area surrounded by mountains.
The fog and clouds would continually change the way the mountains looked, and I tried to get different views of them, including the interesting peak called “The Unicorn.” I came to a shear drop off overlooking a tiny pond at the lower end of Bench Lake. There were great views from the overlook and I snapped a number of photos and sent a SPOT check in, while watching my footing. It was a long way down to a very hard landing.

Then I continued hiking the short remaining way to Bench Lake and bushwhacked through the snow down near its steep shore. The lake was open water, and in a pretty setting.
I was tempted to continue hiking to Snow Lake, but I knew that would be even heavier snow and more difficult to reach. So with a little reluctance knowing how short my remaining time here was, I hiked back the way I had come and reached my car to drive to another destination for a hike.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Box Canyon and Nichol Creek Camp

Later in the day, it was time for another short hike along a different section of the Wonderland Trail, this one to the Nichol Creek Campsite after seeing a bit of the unique Box Canyon. There was a half mile nature trail around part of the box canyon and I followed it for a couple tenths of a mile to look at the unique features of the canyon. At some points, it was only about a dozen feet wide and, and it was about 100 feet deep. It was like nothing I remember seeing since something similar in Waterton National Park in Alberta. There was also some very beautiful scenery and pretty flowers in the vacinity,
as well as an artistically constructed stone bridge over the canyon.
I backtracked a bit and picked up the Wonderland Trail,
climbing steadily about 400-500 feet to get to a campsite at Nichol Creek in about a mile. This would be a perfect spot to backpack with a young child, because you feel like you are in wilderness but are only a mile from one’s car. The forest was beautiful along the way, and Nichol Creek was a lovely creek that was crossed on a split log bridge.
It was a nice way to end a day of hiking and amazing scenery. I’d hoped to see more wildlife in such a remote area, but just saw scenery. By the time I got back to my car, I had hiked more than 9 miles and had walked some more looking at scenery from the road that morning. What an amazing place this is!