LOSE IT! 10 Items to Leave Behind on Your Next Hiking Trip

posted in: Hiking 101 | 6

Ask 10 people what essentials you should pack on your extended hiking trip and you’ll probably get 20 different answers. We don’t want to haul around a bunch of stuff we’re highly unlikely to use or need. But we also don’t want to leave behind that “oh, geez. I should’ve packed…” item.

Here’s a quick list of 10 items you do NOT need to pack on your next long hike:

1. Cotton clothing.

In hiking circles, the phrase is “cotton kills.” Wear synthetic fabrics instead. Sweat-wicking and quick-dry are key.

2. Jeans.

Lose the stiff jeans. They don’t breathe well or let you move much. Jeans can even be dangerous if they get wet, since they have a tendency to hold on to moisture rather than wick it away from your body. Can you say, “Hypothermia”?

Raise your right hand and repeat after me: “I shall not wear denim when hiking. I shall not wear denim when hiking. I shall not…”

Stay on the trail! At Berkeley Park, Mount Rainier National Park.

3. Make Up.

Ladies, if leaving Mary Kay or Maybelline at home sends you into a fainting spell or a temporary coma, I’ll let you in on a secret: when it comes to make-up and trail time, nobody cares.  Far as I know, cosmetic-lessness isn’t a leading cause of death. When it comes to the Great Outdoors, au naturelle is in.

 4. Jewelry

You do not want to risk losing great-grandma’s heirloom pendant or getting something snagged on a rock, tree or, um, bear. You don’t get extra points for style and there’s no need to impress when you’re hiking. So leave the jewelry at home.

Pixabay

5. Anything white

Wearing white anything – pants, shirt, shoes, jacket, etc. – on a hike is like donning a “Mud Shoot Here” target. Go for colors or neutral tones!

 6. A ton of cooking gear.

Unless you’re planning on rivaling Wolfgang Puck, there’s no real need to haul a bunch of fancy cooking gear around in your pack. All you really need is a stove, a pot, a spoon, fuel and a few accessories like a pocket knife and a lighter.

Public domain

7. Books.

Altho it pains a bibliophile like me to tell you this, you don’t need a lot of books on a hiking trip. They add weight, and fast. If you need reading material for a few days, try one lightweight paperback.

Bringing a trail guide and maps are great. But you can cut weight and bulk considerably by copying the pages you actually need and bringing just those. Or using a hiking app.

Also consider bringing a Kindle. Way lighter and more portable than the hardback version of War and Peace.

All good reading choices. Just not for lugging around in your backpack!

8. Spare shoes

One pair of sturdy, waterproof boots should do. Make sure they’re comfortable so you can wear them on the trail and around camp without wearing out your feet.

9. Extra Clothes & Gear

You’re packing to hike, not lounge around on the French Riviera sipping a fine Merlot. (Or even a mediocre one.) So take essentials. Not “well, maybe….”

For example, pack enough clothes so you’ll have adequate clean attire to change into. Be prepared for abrupt weather changes – a rainproof jacket and a change of dry, warmer clothes so you can change if necessary. But don’t pile all that “just in case” stuff into your pack that you’ll probably never use. That second sweater or mittens during the middle of summer? Nah. Likewise, you can likely leave the swimsuit behind if you’re tackling the trails in January.

Public domain

Additionally, consider the season and weather when packing for a hiking trip. Unless you’re tackling an Alaskan glacier or the South Pole, a heavy-duty winter sleeping bag is overkill if you’re hiking in July.

10. Fancy Camera Gear

That Nikon D850 and tripod? It takes awesome pictures. But you don’t really need it. No, really. You don’t.

That gear is not only bulky and hard to cart around, it’s also expensive to replace if it gets lost or broken. It’s also heavy. Unless you’re a professional photographer or your last name is Crawford, a phone will suffice for photos just fine.

Public domain

 What else can you do without on your next hiking trip?

For further reading:

The 10 Essentials of Hiking – American Hiking Society

 

Why Does Cotton Kill? – Section Hiker

Walupt, Yogi & Me: When Discretion Is The Better Part of Valor

posted in: Trail Tales, Washington | 0

“Wait,” I whispered. “Did you see that?”

Pulled up short on the soggy trail, I pointed to some prints in the soft mud.

Husband Chris and I were chugging along a lake shore trail in the middle of Nowheresville, western Washington. (Aka: The Walupt Creek Trail. It skirts Walupt Lake, the deepest and second biggest lake in Lewis County.)

It was a beautiful, albeit damp September day. That’s pretty much par for the course in western Washington, where mildew sprouts overnight on anything that doesn’t move in 10 minutes or less.

There on the trail, about a foot in front of me, was an animal print. The trail was a bit muddy from a morning shower. So the imprint was flawless.

The print was flat-footed, with five toes. The largest toe was on the outside of the round, robust print. It also had five perfect claw marks. Really, really big claw marks.

Chris crouched down to the ground for a closer look. “Bear” he muttered, confirming my suspicions. “And not long ago, either. This mud is fresh. So are these prints.”

Oh, joy.

There are a few words I could really do without on a trail in the middle of nowhere. Or even somewhere: Avalanche! Swamp crossing! Mosquito farm! 4×4! And bear. Especially bear.

“When did it stop raining?” Chris inquired.

I checked my watch. “About an hour ago,” I replied.

Tucked into the verdant green folds of Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest, the Walupt Creek Trail was quiet and tranquil. Shafts of anemic sun played hide-and-seek through alder, Douglas fir and hemlock trees. A crisp breeze danced a tango along Walupt Lake, kicking up white caps and rustling ferns.

We heard a lot about this trail. Drove past it several times en route north to Mount Rainier National Park. It was a new trail for us in an area that we’ve just about hiked out. So we were looking forward to a new adventure. Just not one that potentially included a bear.

Heads on a swivel, we looked around. Listened. Did not stick around for pictures.

Sorely tempted to continue our trek, we decided that discretion is the better part of valor. Did an about-face. And set a new land-speed record heading back to the trailhead.

Walupt Lake is the deepest and second largest lake in Lewis County, WA.

The good news: We weren’t ten minutes back inside the truck when the clouds opened and it started pouring. We’re talking Major Monsoon here. The kind of rain that cascades down the windshield in sheets. Wipers can’t keep up, even on uber high.

So maybe Yogi was doing us a favor? I mean, we could’ve drowned out there without his “re-direction,” right?

Meanwhile, does anyone know how to get mildew off a cook stove?

7 Simple Ways to Spend More Time Outside

posted in: Just for Fun, Random | 2

Whether you’re an avid outdoor lover or you just like to get some fresh air now and then, chances are you’re pretty busy. Your plate is full. Your calendar’s crammed. So spending time outside can be a real challenge.  But you still want to enjoy The Great Outdoors.

Here are ten simple ways to spend more time outside:

1)    Keep it Simple

No time for a month-long backpacking trip or that epic outdoor adventure in Alaska? No problem. Just throttle back. Keep it simple:

Go for a nature walk. Visit an arboretum. Splash in the rain. Take a longer walk with your dog. Stroll on a beach. Star gaze. Plant a garden. Watch a sunset. Fly a kite. Picnic.

Don’t wait for a Godzilla-sized window of opportunity. Carve out some outdoor time in smaller chunks that are more manageable and hopefully, more frequent.

Lake Quinault.

2)    Use a Calendar and Plan Ahead

Taking off on a spur-of-the-moment adventure may sound foot loose and fancy-free. But it’s not something most people can easily fit in to their busy lives. Additionally, many outdoor sites like national parks require reservations, often months in advance.

So grab a pad of paper or your favorite electronic device. Jot down a list of outdoors sites you’d like to visit in 2020.

Want to explore a new state park? Surf at a new beach? Hike the back country of a national park? Discover a new campground or fishing hole?

Semiahmoo Marina. Blaine, WA.

Make a list. Check it twice. Then start planning. Factor in weather. Distance. Activities. Costs. Lodging or campground availability. Vacation time you’ll need to calendar. And so on.

More time outdoors won’t just fall out of the sky with wishful thinking. Get pro-active. Plan in advance. Or it probably won’t happen.

3) Consult a map or app

When we decided to visit Whatcom County in northern Washington last spring, one of our first stops was Google. Our time was limited. We didn’t want to waste it driving around aimlessly. So we checked into outdoor opportunities in advance.

Lake Whatcom!

We scouted state and county parks like Larrabee State Park and Birch Bay State Park, Whatcom Falls State Park and Whatcom Lake. Also:

Trails at the Hovander Homestead Park in Ferndale, and the North Lake Whatcom Park. The Stimpson Nature Reserve in Sudden Valley. The Semiahmoo Spit Trail and Peace Arch State Park in Blaine.

Reconnoitering and prioritizing helped us cover a lot of outdoor ground quickly within a limited time frame.

Peace Arch in Blaine, WA.

Besides Google, hiking apps and the like, the front desk at your local inn or hotel can also provide a wide variety of information related to outdoor recreational opportunities in the vicinity.

4) Make it a Family Affair

Involve the kids in the planning. They’ll have more invested in your outdoor time if they feel like they’re part of planning it.

5) Plan and prep your meals in advance.

Once you have your destinations and dates calendared for your next camping adventure, sit down and write out a menu. Grocery shop. And instead of cooking at the campsite, for example, we do all our cooking at home.

That way our outside time is for The Outside, not chores that we could easily do in advance at home. For more, see my post on Camp Cooking Made Easy.

6) Throttle Back (see #1, above)

When lengthy, distant outdoor adventures aren’t doable, plan shorter, more frequent adventures closer to home:

Day hike. Fish a nearby lake or stream. No time for a three-day drive to a favorite national park? Check out state, county, or municipal parks instead.

Mount Baker from some random road in Whatcom County, WA.

If you don’t know where to start, check online or the local Chamber of Commerce/Visitor’s Center, or your outdoorsy neighbor. An afternoon picnic at the beach, lake, or park can re-charge the ‘ole nature-loving batteries, too.

7) Unpack Like a Boss

Dumping your outdoor gear on the garage or basement floor and leaving it to sort out “later” can be tempting after you return from your latest outdoor adventure. You’re tired. You just want to kickback. You’ll clean and stow your gear later, right?

Not.

Do it now. Before your next outdoor adventure.

There’s nothing like trying to remember where you dropped your trekking poles last month when you’re trying to get out the door in five minutes. Or finding out you need a new rain fly after you’ve arrived at your camp site and a storm is brewing.

Check all year outdoor gear as soon as you come home. Repair, replace, or re-condition and/or clean whatever is necessary. Then put it away. So it’s ready and waiting for your next adventure. This will make it easier to get ready next time.

Someone once said:

“Time is like a penny. You can spend it any way you want. But you can only spend it once.”

Expending some time and energy in advance to plan your next outdoor adventure in advance can mean more time outside. Since that’s the name of the game, let’s get goin’!

What would you add?

Remembering Murphy: 10 Things I Learned When My IG App Crashed

posted in: Just for Fun | 10

Remember Murphy’s Law? Murph is a close relative. In fact, if you look up “Murphy’s Law” in the dictionary, you might find my picture. Right next to Murph’s.

At least it felt that way when my Instagram app crashed a couple weeks ago. As in, kaput. Big D. Toes up. Down for the count. Dead in the water. Flat-lining.

Every time I tried to log in, I got:

“Unfortunately, Instagram has stopped working.”

And then it closed me out.

This also occurred just after I opened a brand, spanking new writing-related IG account, Writers.Of.Rohan. Writing hard for the LORD of the kings. (Holler if you get that.)

Anyway, did I mention that Macbeth’s three “Boil and bubble, toil and trouble” witches are also close relatives?

Well. I tried every fix I could think of or find. Clearing the cache, data, doing a forced stop. Updating. Closing and re-opening the app. Logging out and logging back in. Turning my device off. Then back on. Trying to log in again. Rebooting our Wi-Fi connection. Trying another connection. No dice.

I tried uninstalling and re-installing my IG app. Over and over. Blah, blah, blah. Kept getting the same, “Unfortunately, Instagram has stopped working” message.

Like that’s news?

Duh.
Public domain

I did some Googling. Found out that around September 9, IG apps were crashing on Android users like hail in a hurricane.

Have you met my cousin Murphy?

Anyway, all this went down the day before we left for a week-long hiking trip in the Cascades. You know, choice photo time? Best photo opps on the planet time? I am going to seriously maim whoever invented this stupid device time?

Yeah.

So for the last two weeks, I’ve had to jerry-rig Instagram access via my Kindle Fire. It was a bit clunky. But it worked. Trouble was, I spent the last two weeks running between two and sometimes three devices, depending on what photos were where – my Android tablet, my Kindle, and/or my husband’s phone.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

And they’re not kidding!

For the last two weeks I’ve tried re-installing my IG app on my Android every day or so. That “Unfortunately” message? Talk about getting old. Then this morning, on a lark, I figured, “What the heck? I’ll give it another go.”

And whaddya know! Success! Well, I’ll be ‘et fer a tater.

Here are 10 Lessons Learned from my IG App Crash:

  1. Nobody died while my app was down on my primary device. Not me. Not any of my peeps. (Well, no one I know of, anyway). So it’s all good.
  2. The Google app store is a lot easier to navigate than Amazon.
  3. Keep things in perspective. Everyone needs a break now and then. Down time can be a good thing. Enjoy.
  4. Don’t sweat the small stuff. (See #1, above.)
  5. Threatening an inanimate object with grave bodily harm if it doesn’t get its act together, pronto, doesn’t work.
  6. Instagram is supposed to be fun. Not a chore. Not an addiction. If it starts becoming any of the latter, it’s time to step away.
  7. My Kindle came through in the clutch! I use my Kindle mostly for reading – 164 books this summer! But it worked in a pinch for social media, too.
  8. Good things do indeed come to those that wait. But you may want to order pizza in the interim. Just sayin’.
  9. Breathe. It’s free. It’s also easier than holding your breath until you turn blue, which incidentally doesn’t solve anything and looks pretty silly.
  10. Your IG app crashing isn’t the end of the world. There’s more to life than Instagramming! Trust me on this one. So if your app crashes, smile anyway and make it a great day. You’ll live. Trust me on this one, too.

Wait. Did I say ten? Okay, I fibbed. Here’s lesson learned #11 – throwin’ this in for free: Make sure you have a back-up device ready and waiting for app access if/when your primary devices kicks the bucket.

Murph may be a close relative. But I’d rather not run into him again any time soon. Just sayin’ again.

Has your Instagram app crashed recently?

How NOT to be a Trail Jerk in 8 Easy Steps

Most hikers are good folks. Patient. Considerate. Magnanimous. But every once in a while you run into some real lulus. Like the herd of marauding yahoos we ran into on the Van Trump Trail at Mount Rainier recently. They broke just about every trail rule there is.

At Berkeley Park, Mount Rainier National Park.

This quartet of twenty-something females hiked abreast, hogging the entire width of the trail. They refused to step aside for uphill hikers. They brought their music with them. Kept up a steady stream of yakkety-yakking. At nose bleed volume. I mean, they Would. Not. Shut. Up. (No, I don’t care about last night’s drama with Ian. Or Zach. Or whatever his name was. Chances are, no one else does either. So why does the entire zip code have to hear about it?)

Loud. Disruptive. Rude. Thoughtless. If being a trail jerk was an Olympic sport, they would’ve brought home the gold.

We finally peeled off at Comet Falls and let the Yakkety-Yaks go by.

Ugh.

The good news: You don’t have to follow suit. Here’s my micro-short Mom version of How NOT To Be a Trail Jerk in 8 Easy Steps. Based on 50+ years of hiking:

1. Pack It In. Pack It Out.

No real brain strain here. If you bring plastic water bottles, granola bars, tissue or anything else with you on the trail, make sure you bring back all the attendant residue and wrappers. Don’t dump anything out on the trail.

Really?

2. Don’t Bring Fido on Trails Where He’s Not Allowed

We were hiking the Waterfall Trail at Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park last week. A coupla girls were chugging up the trail with a Siberian husky in tow. That is strictly verboten. Did they not see the signs or decide to ignore them?

There are plenty of places were you can hike with your dog. Most national parks aren’t among them.

3. DO NOT BE A MEADOW STOMPER/Stay On The Trail

Every summer the world-famous flowers fields at Paradise burst into a riotous romp of Renoir pastels. The park also averages over 2M visitors annually, with Paradise its most popular destination. Imagine the devastation 2M pairs of boots could wreak on these fragile alpine meadows – or anyone else in the park. DON’T be a meadow stomper. Stay. On. The Trail.

4. Related to the above, Don’t Cut the Switchbacks

Sure, you’ll lop off a few uphill feet by cutting the switchbacks. But you’ll also encourage erosion and destroy vegetation and drainage. It’s not worth the few extra steps you might save. So stay on the trail. That’s what it’s there for.

Please.

5. Uphill Hikers Have the Right of Way

If you’ve been hiking for any length of time – say, 20 minutes or so – you know that hiking uphill works best if you get into a rhythm. Disrupt that rhythm, and you’ll probably have to start all over again at ground zero. It’s annoying, unnecessary, and inefficient. And while an uphill hiker may stop for a breather and let a downhill hiker go by, it’s still the uphill hiker’s call.

Uphill hikers have the right of way.

Additionally, if you’re about to pass a hiker from behind, call out a greeting to let them know you’re coming.

Also remember to hike in single file. If you’re hiking solo and meet a group of hikers, it’s usually easier for a single hiker to stand aside.

Right of way goes to the uphill hiker.

So if you meet someone on the trail and you’re on the downhill, yield. Stand aside. Let the uphiller go by. It’s the polite thing to do.

6. Rest OFF the Trail

If you’re taking a breather or a water break, make sure to do so well off the trail so other hikers don’t have to go around you. Additionally, when answering the call of nature, make sure you do so well off the trail.

Leave stuff alone. Including wildflowers.

7. Leave No Trace

This is a lot like Pack It In, Pack It Out, with a twist: Don’t break, mangle, fold, spindle or mutilate stuff just because you can.

I’ve seen parents let their kids throw pine cones or kick up every mushroom they find along the trail. Really? Do you think hikers want to risk life and limb via an oncoming pine projectile? Or those coming behind you want to pick their way through mashed mushrooms? Oh, and by the way, thanks for killing all those cool fungi.

Leave stuff alone. Like this deadly Panther Amonita.

Leave stuff alone. Like, On. The. Ground. In its natural state. And alive.

8. Lose the loud music.

While hiking in Olympic National Park last summer, we passed some dude who was toting an industrial sized boom box down the trail, blasting away into the wild blue yonder. This thing was almost the size of a tropical island. Probably cost about as much too. How could that guy hear himself – or anyone else – think?

Newsflash: If you can’t go two minutes without electronic whatever screaming in your ear, either get ear buds or go back to your car. Nobody wants to listen to Thunderstruck out on the trail. Some of us hike to get away from that and enjoy the peace and quiet.  So while you’re out on the trail, kindly lose the tunes.

Stay on the trail! At Berkeley Park, Mount Rainier National Park.

When it comes to hiking etiquette, a little thoughtfulness and common sense can go a long way. Just treat the trail and other hikers with the same kind of respect with which you want to be treated. Then you’ll never have to worry about being a hiking jerk.

What would you add?

2-Fer! Mount Rainier’s Comet Falls & Van Trump Park Offer TWICE the Awesome!

posted in: Mount Rainier, National Parks | 0

“How about Comet Falls?” I chirp as Old Iron Knees and I completed Day 2 of a week-long hiking trip in western-ish Washington state.

We already racked up some hefty trail miles exploring waterfalls, lakes, and more dirt roads than you can shake a lug nut at in Lewis County. We then turned our Camelbaks on our fall staple: Mount Rainier National Park. We try to plan a hiking trip at the park every September.

“When did we last hike Comet Falls?” Iron Knees asks. We had just crested the final ridge out of Berkeley Park Wilderness Camp on the NE side of Mount Rainier National Park. (More on that later.)

“Oh, I dunno,” I huff, digging in with my Black Diamond Trail Backs as we navigated the rocky, barren “moon scape” above Berkeley Park, elevation roughly 7,000 feet. “Maybe five, six years ago?”

“Isn’t Comet Falls to Van Trump Park that steep hike just past Longmire? With that Lilliputian parking lot that fills up by nine a.m.? The one we about killed ourselves on last time?”

Comet Falls is one of the most popular trails at Mount Rainier National Park.


”The very same!”

Iron Knees wrinkles his nose, looking less than thrilled.

“Aw, come on,” I nudge. “It’ll be fun!”

And that’s how we wound up nabbing the verrrrry last parking spot at the trailhead for Comet Falls and its alpine meadow counterpart, Van Trump Park.

Pouring over a rocky lip like Chenin Blanc out of a Venetian glass, Comet Falls cascades 320 feet to its base above Longmire. It’s one of the highest falls in the park. Many considerate it the most spectacular.

The trail climbs steadily for the first 1.9 miles. You’re nearing the falls when you cross a foot bridge over a creek. Just over your shoulder and up the canyon is tri-tiered Van Trump Falls.

When you hit Van Trump (aka: Bloucher) Falls, you’re getting close.
Van Trump Falls on the return. It was about 80 degrees out on the trail.

Cross the foot bridge. You’ll see a sign that says – duh – “Comet Falls 200 feet.” Scramble up the dirt bank. Catch your first Wow! moment and clear view of the falls through a thick forest. Keep going for an in-your-face view.

Comet Falls dead ahead!

The trail is steep and stair-steppy in places. If your idea of “exercise” is 12-oz curls of Bud, you may want to think twice about this one. Or work up to it.

One of the highest falls in Mount Rainier National Park, Comet Falls thunders 320 feet to its base.
“Howdy from Comet Falls!”

But wait. There’s more.

Stopping to catch our breath – and grab some quick photos near Van Trump Park.

If your legs are up for it, continue climbing for about another .8 of a mile up a hamstring-hollerin’ series of switchbacks to Van Trump Park. The trail isn’t for wusses or whiners. It’s steep, especially as you near the End of Maintained Trail sign. Think mountain goat.

“Looks like we Made It…!”
Cue Barry Manilow in 3, 2, 1…

Just past the sign, the trail opens out into the sweetest little alpine meadow you ever saw. We stopped here to stuff our lungs back into our chests and drink in 360 degrees of awesome with eye-popping views of the Nisqually Valley, Mount Saint Helens and Mount Adams to the southeast.

You can’t get this view sitting in your car! You have to get out and HIKE!
The small dome in the distance is Mount St. Helens.

You’re gonna work hard on this “dual-purpose” trail.

“Are we getting close?” one hat-less, pack-less, water-less sandal-footed woman huffed during our afternoon descent back to the trailhead. She mopped her brow with a hankie. Rivers of sweat ran down her arms.

Another – somewhat higher – view from Van Trump Park.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her she wasn’t even at the halfway mark yet.

“Not really,” I replied, mustering what I hoped was an encouraging smile. “You’ve still got a ways to go. The steep, rocky part is ahead.”

Her face fell like an over-baked quiche. “The falls are worth the effort,” I tried to buck up Sandal Lady’s spirits. “They’re spectacular.”

Yeah, baby!

She looked at me like I just flew in from Planet Krypton. “Well, at least the trail isn’t crowded,” I offered. “And it’s mostly downhill on the way back.”

Sandal Lady put her head down and continued the uphill trudge.

Late-season Mountain Bog Genetians dot the trail to Van Trump Park.

I’m not sure what happened to Sandal Lady and her hiking buddy. Next time, however, I hope they’re better equipped. And prepared.

Coming off the trail into the parking lot, Old Iron Knees and I smacked trekking poles. It’s kind of “hand shake” thing between victorious hikers who Made It!

“I can’t believe we were dumb enough to do that hike again” he groaned. Divesting himself of Camelbak, trekking poles and a camel’s load worth of other trail essentials, Iron Knees slowly folded himself into the driver’s seat.

“Yeah,” I observed, following suit. “Is this place great or what?”

A fine curtain of mist at the base of Comet Falls kicks up a rainbow!

The hike to Comet Falls is just under two miles. But it’s uphill, sometimes steeply, through a couple of rocky avalanche chutes and several switchbacks. The second half, to Van Trump Park, is even steeper. But the rewards are worth the effort.

The trek up to Van Trump Park includes eye-popping vistas of the Nisqually Valley.
Old Iron Knees steppin’ lively on the downhill from Van Trump Park.
“On a clear day…” Near Van Trump Park, above Comet Falls.

Comet Falls/Van Trump Park

Rating: Moderately Difficult/Difficult

Distance: 3.8 miles RT to Comet Falls/6.0 miles RT to Van Trump Park viewpoint

Elevation gain: 1,600 feet/2,200 feet

High point: 5,200 feet/5,850 feet

Pro Tip: Don’t even think about trying this trail without some sturdy trekking poles. Your knees will thank you, especially on the descent.

Enjoying the fall finery shrouding Longmire and our Mountain while resting our tired tootsies at National Park Inn, post-hike.

Getting there:

The Comet Falls trailhead is located four miles east of Longmire on the road toward Paradise. Parking space is limited and fills early. There’s no additional parking nearby. Resist the temptation to park on the road’s shoulder unless you want to become citation bait. Either arrive early or have an Option B.

Wedding Cake White & Rumpelstilskin

Wedding-cake white and looming large over her Cascade brethren, Mount Rainier seems to sprout solo from sea level at the western edge of the Cascade Range, stretching her glistening crown nearly three miles into the sky. Her beauty is so bold and feral, she draws visitors by the truckload eager to hike, camp, and explore her ample acres. One of the most heavily visited areas of the park are its world-famous flowers fields of Paradise, elev. 5,400 feet.

Most people who spend a day at Paradise focus on the clogged, paved paths through the wildflower meadows. We usually do the same. But not on this June morning. No siree, Sir Edmund Hillary! Today’s stroke of genius: forget fighting crowds and congestion on the road.

I mean, why drive up the Longmire-Paradise Road on the Mountain’s snow-sleeked western flank when we can trudge through the frozen tundra like twin polar bears instead? Yes, friends. The Fearless Lowders will hike cross-country from Narada Falls to Paradise today. In hip-deep snow.

“Wedding cake white”: Mount Rainier from Paradise

Be still my heart.

Aside from the fact that anyone tackling this trek today should be equal parts Inuit and mountain goat, the “trail” is buried under six feet of snow.  Lilliputian trail traces can be detected here and there, buried under rivers of white.

“Rivers of white.” There’s a trail under there…. somewhere.

 The idea gives me cause for pause, but not Chris, my husband of thirty-five plus years (Aka: Snuggle Bunny). Snugs can’t wait to get lost amid the frozen tundra. Get a lifetime dose of frostbite… tumble into a crevasse… get eaten by a yeti…

So we scurry uphill like a couple of turtles, slogging up saw-toothed canyons cobwebbed by waterfalls and shushing with snow melt. Keeping the Paradise River to our left, Snugs is blazing a trail “where no one has gone before.” No, really. Not even Captain Kirk would tackle this puppy in these conditions. 

Next stop: Paradise!

“Hey, why take the easy way when we can do the scenic route?” Snugs opines. He stops suddenly. Bends over. Adjusts his glasses and peers at the snow under his feet. Points out a set of paw prints. “Look, sweetheart” he crows. “Fresh cougar tracks! Stay close, kids. There are major predators nearby.”

Nothing like a little sheer terror to thaw the blood and kick start your heart. We continue on. Briskly.

Is this place great, or what?

Unable to detect the remotest shred of a verifiable “trail” after half of forever, I hesitate. “Uh, um, do you know where we are?”

“Of course!” Snugs declares, flinging an arm due north. “Paradise is straight ahead.”

“Is that bear scratching?” Snugs asks a few minutes later as I lean against a Douglas fir for a water break. The bark has been ripped apart with the delicacy of a back hoe. On steroids.

“Well, I don’t know where we’re goin’, but there’s no use bein’ late.”

This just keeps getting better and better.

 “We best keep going. Paradise is this way” observes Snuggle Bunny with the confidence of Roald Amundsen.

“This way” is an endless expanse of Siberian tundra shot through with frozen fir trees. Along an ice-crusted river galloping hard toward Puget Sounds. Scouring breezes sting our ears and noses like flung gravel. As far as the eye can see, every rock, tree, and chipmunk is wedding cake white and buried under snow. Lots and lots of snow.

Near Narada Falls with the crew.

“I can’t feel my toes” I offer.

“Don’t worry, hon.”

A few minutes later: “I can’t feel my feet.”

Snuggle Bunny assures me such minor discomforts are “all part of the adventure.” Besides, he’s neck-deep into Daniel Boone mode, off and running up the next hill that’d give Sasquatch cause for pause. I scramble to keep up. Doubtless the Cumberland Gap is just over the next iceberg.

Made it to Paradise! Tatoosh Mountains in the background.

Gulping in huge chunks of conifer-crisped air, we emerge from the frozen tundra ninety minutes later, less than fifty feet from the entrance to the Paradise Visitor’s Center.

Look closely. “Old JVC” (Jackson Visitor’s Center, behind) at Paradise is no more. It was torn down and replaced with a “new and improved” – and thoroughly boring – version in 2008.

Not bad for navigation by “dead reckoning” and “lucky guesses” (emphasis on “dead”). 

Snugs struggles to suppress a smug smile:  “See.  I told you I knew where I was going!” 

Right.  And my name is Rumpelstilskin. 

Getting there:

Located along the eighteen-mile Longmire to Paradise Road on the west side of Washington state’s Mount Rainier National Park, Narada Falls is a popular attraction and favorite photo spot. The waterfall drops 188 feet in two tiers of 168 feet and 20 feet.

From the Nisqually Entrance to Mount Rainier National Park, follow the road 14 miles to a signed viewpoint and parking lot. It’s on your right. You can’t miss the falls.

8 Quick Tips to Help You Enjoy Your Mount Rainier Visit

posted in: Mount Rainier, National Parks | 0

Wedding-cake white and big beyond adjectives, Mount Rainier dominates Washington state like Buckingham Palace towers over a sand castle. Indeed, the Mountain soars almost a mile and a half above the Puget Sound basin, resting upon and covering approximately one hundred square miles of the Cascade Range. She’s a magnet for summer crowds and anyone who loves the Great Outdoors, especially the bold feral beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

Mount Rainier from Reflection Lakes, the most photographed spot in the park.

But visiting Mount Rainier National Park can be a headache and a hassle if you’re not prepared.

Here are eight quick tips to help you enjoy your visit to Mount Rainier:

Tip #1: Unless you have a penchant for crowds and rubbing elbows with zillions of other people at every turn, never, EVER plan on visiting Mount Rainier National Park during peak season (mid-July thru Labor Day) or on sunny summer weekends if you can avoid it. At popular park attractions like Paradise, Reflection Lakes or Grove of the Patriarchs, you can spend half the day trolling for a parking spot.

Paradise in July (before the lot filled up).

If you prefer solitude and serenity and can swing it, plan your trip for the off-season or week days.

For example, we hiked to Owyhigh Lakes on the NE side of the park in mid-August. It was a Tuesday. I can count on one hand the number of people we met on the trail.

Owyhigh Lakes is just over the next knoll!

Tip #2: Obey speed limit and other signage. That “15 mph” sign just before the next hairpin turn heading to Paradise from Longmire? They MEAN it. “Fifteen” means 15, not 30 or 40 – unless you have a death wish.

Tip #3: None of the campgrounds have showers or hot running water.  Flush toilets and sinks are available at Cougar Rock and Ohanapecosh.  If you want hot water for washing or doing dishes, be prepared to haul it and heat it yourself. Gift shops are available in Longmire and Paradise. A smaller selection of items can be found at the Ohanapecosh Visitor’s Center.

Tip #4: DO NOT FEED the animals! That chipmunk, fox, Stellar’s jay or red squirrel may look cute munching part of your lunch. They aren’t nearly as charming when they try to break into your tent at two o’clock in the morning looking for a hand-out.

Human food can also make the animals sick and dependent on people for a free lunch. If that doesn’t deter you, consider that feeding animals inside the park is illegal and may result in a hefty fine.

Tip #5: To prevent unwelcome animal visits, stow all food and scented items (toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, hand lotion, etc.) in your vehicle/trunk, NOT IN YOUR TENT. (See #4, above.)

Tip #6: Gasoline is not available inside the park. Fill up at Packwood or Ashford.

Tip #7: Mount Rainier National Park is rustic. Much of the park is a designated wilderness area. You won’t find any Denny’s or Golden Arches here. Bring your own food. A limited supply of sundry and grocery items can be found at the general store in Longmire, but do your main shopping before your arrival.

Tip #8: If you’re looking for a nice place to eat inside the park or a cozy setting to mark a special occasion, consider National Park Inn in the historic Longmire District. The menu is limited, but the ambience is homey, the food good, and the scenery one-of-a-kind.

Chillin’ on the back veranda of National Park Inn, Longmire.

Choose a window seat and enjoy a look at the Mountain as you eat. Hint: Try the Oven-Baked Salmon and the Mountain Blackberry Cobbler. Mouth-watering!

Do you have a “top tip”? What would you add?

To Catch a Thief

posted in: Announcement, Random | 4

Lurking in the shadows and dark alleys, the rapacious thief is poised to pounce on unsuspecting prey. Is it stalking you?

I always thought the Silent Thief of Sight only prowled “old people.” I thought:

“I’m not hitting the oldster off-ramp for another 20, 30 years. After all, I’m not even 60! Besides, my vision’s just fine. I’m good, right?”

Wrong.

I was recently diagnosed with “narrow angle glaucoma,” a serious condition occurring in about 10-15% of all glaucoma patients. I was at High Risk for an “acute angle closure,” which can result in partial or total blindness. At age 59.

.

Glaucoma is a major cause of blindness in the U.S. It’s the second leading cause of blindness worldwide.

It’s called “The Silent Thief of Sight” because there are no early symptoms until it’s too late. In fact, half of the 3M Americans with glaucoma don’t even know they have it. I didn’t. My optometrist caught it during a routine eye exam.

Continued