Friday, September 7, 2012

Day 139: Mt. Rainier National Park to Big Crow Basin

A pink dawn glow lit the ridge across the canyon. Just beyond the Mount Rainier National Park sign next to our camp I could see the massive mountain through the trees, its glaciers and snowfields also glowing pink in the dawn. We watched the sun rise over the eastern ridge as we packed up.

A small herd of elk suddenly bolted down the hillside, disappearing into a cloud of dust. Later, as we hiked, we heard the bugle of the bull elks' call. And we saw their tracks, pressed into the soft, loose dirt of the trail.

Hiking down the trail, Mount Rainier immediately came into view, its glaciers and snowfields now lit with the soft golden glow of the first rays of sun. We traversed several steep, grassy, lupine covered hillsides. Mt. Rainier briefly disappeared as we traversed around the east side of a tall ridge, then reappeared when we climbed back over to the west side.

We passed Anderson Lake, then Dewey Lake. Both were set in lush meadows filled with wildflowers and ringed with trees. The trail then climbed steeply to a beautiful grassy ridge carpeted with wildflowers in all colors, shapes, and sizes. Purple lupine, red paintbrush, daisies, larkspur, pink and yellow monkey flowers, and the wooly seed heads of the pasqueflowers, among many others. The ridge was popular with day hikers, and we could not believe the crowds swarming the trail.

We stopped at the Chinook Pass trailhead (5,432 ft) to have lunch with my parents. We also met a trail angel who was passing out shiny "bling" for hikers to attach to their packs to ward off hunters.

We traversed grassy hillsides and ridgelines, the outline of Mount Rainier just barely visible to the west over the harsh glare of the afternoon sun. Stopping for a short break, I heard a steady thunk, thunk, thunk nearby. I looked up as bits of sappy tree bark and pine cone fragments began raining down on my head. A woodpecker steadily chipped away at the tree, continuing to send bits of bark and pinecones my way. When an entire pinecone hit the ground next to me with a loud THUNK, only narrowly missing my head, I decided to move on.

We found camp in the trees near Big Crow Basin Spring (6,290 ft).  Piia, a Washington section hiker from Finland, joined us. Just as we settled into our sleeping bags the piercing bugle of a bull elk shattered the nighttime calm. Again and again he called, sometimes making a plaintive cry, sometimes barking like a seal. I listened to the elk song until it became more distant, then finally fell asleep.

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