Friday, June 24, 2016

Owyhigh Lakes, Mt. Rainier National Park

 Owyhigh Lakes, Mt. Rainier National Park

Our most recent hike was to Owyhigh Lakes in Mt. Rainier National Park.  This turned out to be a little more of an exciting adventure than we anticipated.  Bob checked the weather and trail reports before we left home and everything looked clear, no closures, cool, cloudy but possible sun, a perfect day for walking in the woods.  The elevation at the trailhead is 3750 ft (1143 m).

An ominous (to me) sign warning that we were in bear country greeted us in the parking area.  Bob laughed.  Mountain goats and marmots can also be found in the park.  We heard marmot whistles but didn't see any or any goats this time.  About halfway up to the lakes we saw an eagle soaring below us. 

It is a 7 mile (11.2 km) round trip with an elevation gain of 1570 feet (479 meters) and would be a test to see how well I could do on a longer hike with more upward gain.  Everything was going along smoothly.  The trail has a nice surface of needle-strewn dirt.  It is fairly wide and has almost no roots or rocks. There are six switchbacks spaced far apart so although the trail keeps going steadily up the grade is never as steep as some of the trails we have been on.  

 Pink Coralroot (wild orchid)

 Twayblade (another orchid)



Right away we started seeing wildflowers and hearing lots of birdsong.  This is an old growth forest that has never been logged and has not experienced a fire for at least 300 or 400 years, perhaps 500 years.  That is a guesstimate based on the huge size of the trees and the lack of any fire evidence like blackened stumps or trunks. 

View point looking at Governor's Ridge

This trail is less popular than others in the park that have views of Mt. Rainier.  The little lakes are tucked in between to other two mountains, Tamanos and Governor’s Ridge.   Once we reached a viewpoint we could see plenty of snow on Governor’s Ridge.  We met one man coming down and asked him about snow on the trail.  He told us that there were some patches of snow near the lakes but nothing that should cause any trouble.  Okay.  We continued forward and upward.  Several downed logs had been cut and the trail cleared.  We crossed some nice wooden bridges over streams.  The trail got a little narrower.  

Pretty little streams and small waterfalls were found along the trail

 There were nice sturdy bridges across the streams

Lots of rivulets coming down the hillsides

Bob sitting on cut log from downed trees

The first hazards were encountered in the form of downed trees that had not been cut.  We climbed over some.  Then came a large downed tree that had to be climbed around, and another and another.  A couple more people had passed us going up and some came down.  

We started seeing small patches of snow off to the side of the trail. 

We asked people coming down about the snow.  “Oh, just a little here and there,” was the response.   Around a corner the trail disappeared into a snow patch.  There were a lot of dark needles in the snow and it was hard to guess where the trail went.  We headed off in a straight line, noticed water running under the snow and turned back to see if there was another way.  Bob post-holed (breaking through the surface of the snow that had been hollowed out by the water underneath); his boot touched the water, snow all the way up one leg.  His other knee hit the snow bank.  Fortunately he wasn’t hurt and was able to get his leg out of the hole.  We looked around, back tracked to where the snow looked thicker and found what seemed like boot tracks crossing the snow.  Using the trekking pole to test the snow we proceeded cautiously across and located the trail free of snow.  A bit further on, crossing some more snow, we came to fast running Tamanos Creek with a damaged one-log bridge. 

There was a large snow bank on the other side of the stream and we couldn’t see the trail at all.  It was time for lunch and there was a log just off the trail by the bridge so we decided to eat something and think about options.  We didn’t know how much snow was ahead; we estimated that we were pretty close to the campground and the lakes.  While we were eating a man came across the snowfield on the other side and instead of crossing on the bridge forded the stream using two trekking poles.  We asked him about fording the stream because the bridge didn’t look too safe and also about the snow.  He assured us that once we crossed the stream we would see tracks in the snow and we could find the trail.  He didn’t think the bridge looked safe enough to cross so he had opted to take the water route.  He also told us that there were glacier lilies and anemone by the hundreds in the meadow by the lakes.  We had hoped to see both.  Common sense was telling us to turn back but we were lured by the carrot so to speak and decided to go forward. 

While we were talking with him a couple of people came up and crossed the bridge.  A young German man we had met going up came down and crossed the bridge.  He asked us to take his picture on the bridge and walked back forth on it while Bob took photos of him.  I told Bob I was pretty sure if I crossed in the stream I would slip and fall in so I was willing to try the bridge.  Bob went first, reached out and I only had to go a few steps before grabbing hold of his hand.  Then he went to the next rail post and pulled the cable handrail taut so I had something to hang onto.  We got across and now had the snow to deal with.   

The snow was more prevalent than we had been led to believe.  The first person we talked with at the beginning of the trail had micro-spikes for walking on snow and I was sure wishing I had some by this point.  The temperature was warming up and the snow was very slippery and slushy.  However, we did keep on and were richly rewarded with the beautiful meadow filled with flowers, gorgeous mountains, warm sun, a nice rock to sit on and lots of photos to take.  It was a truly awesome and spectacular high mountain basin at 5300 ft (1610 m).  

 Pink Heather

 Yellow Glacier Lilies

 There were thousands of these delicate, beautiful lilies all over the meadow

 Blue Violets

 Yellow Violets

 One of the first flowers to come up after the snow melts, Anemone (aka Mop Head)

 Anemone just beginning to bloom

Anemone bloom fully open.  These were scattered all throughout the meadow.

 Heart leaf Springbeauty with pink stripes

 Single Delight, Waxy Wintergreen

 Underside of the Single Delight

This is just a small sample of the many growing in large groups, the most Coralroot we have ever seen

The trip up took 3 ½ hours with an additional ½ hour lunch break.  The trip down was 2 hours.  Without the downed trees and snow hazards it would not have taken quite so long.  We did not see any bears.

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