Friday, March 2, 2007

Mount Rainier Journal: Hike on Chinook Creek/Ohanapecosh River, August 2005

Here at home, snow, rain, snow, rain, rain, rain. As the plants begin to sprout I start thinking about summer vacation and new or old places to explore. My family has visited and camped at Mt Rainier National Park since before my folks were married. When we woke up in the morning at home near Seattle, we'd look out the window to see if "the Mountain" was out--whether or not you could see it was all you needed for a weather forecast. A few years ago my sis and I and our families went to camp at Ohanapecosh, on the south side of Mt Rainier. One day we asked the ranger to show us a trail no one used, that would end up back at camp. He showed us this trail, that starts at a pullout along highway 123, and follows water back to camp. He was right, we saw no one, not even footprints, until the Grove of the Patriarchs. So here we go...


(Hike, Deer Creek to Ohanapecosh River/CG--about 6 miles to the Grove of the Patriarchs, then 2 miles to Ohanapecosh Campground, gradual downhill, mileage is a guesstimate. )

Right from the roadside trailhead, I am swallowed up by the forest as I make a steep descent into the canyon to the confluence of Deer Creek, Needle Creek and Chinook Creek, and continuing along Cedar Creek. Falling water chases itself down canyon around and over and through a gully of tumbled granite boulders. The water is so clear I can see the fish, the fish see me and flick away. The air above is thick with the green of hemlock, cedar and fir. Rattlesnake plantain is blooming, its tiny pale ½” blooms perfect miniatures of tropical orchids. The trail through the forest is softened by the duff of fallen needles and squirrel middens of dissected fir cones are left in the trail undisturbed--not many feet pass here. Large granite boulders lie submerged in the hillside. Red and blue huckleberries are everywhere, perfectly ripe.

If I pay attention well enough, I can find small side paths or deer trails that lead to pools or waterfalls that I would never see or know were there if I kept to the main trail. I could spend all day following this river with my camera. One path leads to a clear deep pool under a waterfall, with pebble shallows as the river flows on. I wish I could swim like a fish, circling the pool, breathing that beautiful water. Looking up from the pool I can see what lies beneath the forest floor in the cliff wall around me, cedar trees wrap their roots round cracking granite, forcing the fingers into the rock, prying it apart.

The trail crosses many tributary creeks, each one unique in its beauty, speed and music. I come to the confluence of the Ohanapecosh River and Cedar Creek, a loud crash of water shooting over big boulders. The bridge is just scary enough over the river--one handrail is missing, with a 30 foot drop to the river below. It’s a great spot for lunch, dangling the feet over the wild torrent that thunders by at tons per second in an extravagance of clear water.

As I keep on, the trees are getting taller, wider. I’m getting thirstier and the huckleberries are just right, popping with a rush to match the river. The trees are now giants. Their wide trunks bend and reflect sound, concealing and revealing the roar and rumble of the river. The trees are so big and old and full of experience they somehow express a being-ness, an individual life lived in this forest left alone in peace.

The trail angles up the hillside away from the river. Water sounds fade away as the river flattens out and slows in the widening valley floor. I hear more birds, sparrow calls, an unfamiliar song. I hear my own footsteps, my heart beat. Wood sorrel, vanilla leaf, pipsissewa, wintermint, coltsfoot, devil’s club, Oregon grape, salal--all old friends. I run my fingers through the licorice-stalked deer ferns. Bunchberries glow with their late summer crown of six neon orange berries. The afternoon wind stirs in the treetops, high and fine through the billions of needles on the huge firs and feathery cedars.

The river sounds return as I round an outcrop of granite with a surprise of a long vista to the far hills. The trail drops down through a tangle of vine maples and alders and the smells of wet and decay and nettles. I’m back on the river flowing wide and slow over a cobbled beach. A suspension bridge sways overhead. The Grove of the Patriarchs waits on the other side, and I'm back in the tourist realm.

(I have more river pix to post tomorrow--Good Night!)

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