Submitted by Susanne Bacon.
September and October are the best months to go hiking in the mountains, I think. The weather gets milder, the colors in Nature change from greens to flaming shades of red, orange, and yellow. It’s a feast for the eyes. And Western Washington’s Cascades are no different.
Only recently, my husband and I set out for Sunrise, one of Mount Rainier’s neighboring areas inside the National Park. It was the last day the road was open before winter closure, and the lodge was already closed and shuttered. Mount Rainier’s majestic summit was gleaming in the sunshine, almost close enough to touch. The hiking paths in the area are well-kempt, and we chose the wide path uphill that leads to a junction splitting into narrower paths towards different destinations. Our first one was Frozen Lake.
All along the path we had stunning vistas of the surrounding mountains. If it hadn’t been for the smoky haze, we could probably have even spotted the Olympic Mountains or Mt. Baker. As it was, the shades of blue were like a lesson in art. Also, lots of curious chipmunks entertained us with their cunning little poses for the camera. Alas, no food for the little posers! At one point, I heard the distinctive calls of a pika. I know by now what kind of abodes they prefer, and it didn’t take me long to spot an entire little group of these Mickey Mouse models up in a scree, scuttling for safety.
Frozen Lake’s water levels were very low due to the season and the past three months’ drought. But its colors were gorgeous, ranging from light blue and turquoise to a deep teal. Frozen Lake was also the point where our hiking plans fell apart. A huge black bear was grazing in a berry patch close to the path we had intended to take. Instead, we watched this furry creature for an hour, along with a crowd of other people. I had hoped to “see bear” on our hike, since we had done so before in the Sunrise area. But we had never been this close!
To be safe, we turned uphill at the four-way junction. The narrow path would lead us steeply to the Burroughs. The landscape had been treeless already, and the mountain meadows had been scant. Now it became rockier and rockier. The view was only rock on one side, the foothills on the other, and the clear blue sky above. So, it was a breathtaking moment when we reached the high plateau of the first Burrough. Starkness of landscape received a new meaning. Mount Rainiers glaciers appeared like coal black tongues licking at the valleys below or as frozen avalanches glistening in bluish whites. Where we stood, just across, the colors were corn yellow, light gray, and burned reds. Also, it was incredibly quiet. A soft breeze made the heat of the bright sunshine bearable. This high plateau seemed as close to Heaven as you could possibly get.
The way down on the Burroughs Loop rewarded us with more stunning views. That of the two neighboring, even higher Burroughs, of glistening ribbons running from the glaciers to meet the White River whose roar filled the air as we descended, of teal-colored lakes and flaming berrying grounds, of a seemingly abruptly cut-off path where it just vanished around the next bend. We walked across wooden bridges and passed by swampy meadows. The air was filled with the song of insects and the fragrance of evergreens.
I like to think that the quiet up there and the solitude belongs all to Nature alone again, now that the road is closed. It’s a paradise that rekindles energy and sets one’s mind at peace.