Monday, June 28, 2010

Narada Falls to Reflection Lake

On June 28, after seeing the great views of Rainier, I left for my first hike of the day, starting at Narada Falls. My goal was to hike the Wonderland Trail to Reflection Lake. At that point, if the snow seemed OK, I was thinking of hiking up to Pinnacle Saddle. This hike would be an out and back: 1.5 miles and 500 feet to Reflection Lake, another 1.75 miles and 1,100 feet to Pinnacle Saddle, then a repeat back to the start. Once again, deep snow interfered with my plans. But although the hike didn't go as planned, I still enjoyed amazing scenery - and I met three very interesting ladies.

The hike started at a popular spot - the Narada Falls overlook. The upper falls on the Paradise River thundered over a sheer cliff, dropping 168 feet nearly straight down:
A short but steep hike led to an overlook of the upper falls, but the spray was so intense that I walked quickly past it and took this photo at a less advantageous spot:
From here, there was a shorter (20 foot) lower falls, then I started hiking on the Wonderland Trail, heading for Reflection Lake.

As I gained elevation, I ran into more and more deep snow patches that had to be crossed. I kept going, but after a mile or so, the snow was just continuous, and I could not figure out where the trail to Reflection Lake went. I stumbled around several different directions trying to pick it up. There were deep ravines around with streams running through them, and everywhere I looked, there was snow.

I knew that the road was just a couple hundred feet to my left, so ultimately I decided to give up on the trail and hike to the lake along the road. I headed left, scramble up a steep, snowy slope, and slid into the road. The views were amazing, including this view of The Pinnacle.
When I got the lake, I found it totally frozen over. Mount Rainier, looming behind it, was magnicent.

No one else had walked there, but there were a number of people driving in for the views, and I asked them to take a photo of me with the volcano as backdrop.
I found the trailhead to Pinnacle Saddle, decided it would be folly to try to hike up there in this much snow, and started walking back along the road.
I knew from my maps that there was a trail cutoff from the road that would get me back to the falls parking lot that would keep my walk to maybe 3.5 miles. So I planned on taking that. Along the way, there was more stunning scenery.

I ran into three ladies hiking down a side road. We stopped to chat. They hike here every Monday together, but one of them had hip replacement surgery 8 months ago and so they were taking it easy. The shortest of them, at least mid-70's, is the oldest woman (or person, I forget) to climb to Rainier's summit and down all in the same day - a 19 hour trip. The day before, she hiked up to Camp Muir - a climb of 5 miles each way with an elevation gain of 4,600 feet! "You should rent ski poles and do it!" she said. Not likely, thought I. I found their spirit and friendship inspirational.
I reached the cutoff trail, near this point. It was covered with deep packed snow, and very steep. I decided to keep walking another 1.5 miles or so along the winding road. It seemed safer.
Along the way, I saw other waterfalls: and a black-tailed mule deer.
I ate a snack at the car, and got out my guidebook and map to plan the next hike of the day. One thing I decided - it would be below snow level.

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