Tuesday, June 29, 2010

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.

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