DAY THREE –MORNING Wednesday, July 28 Lodgepole Campground, Wenatchee National Forest to Cougar Rock Campground, Mt. Rainier National Park
Lodgepole Campground is a pleasant un-crowded stop on a weekday night, but I can see from all the reserved signs out that it will be pretty well full on weekends. In fact this one of only a couple nights that we will stay in a campground without having reserved a site, an unfortunate byproduct of taking a mid-summer vacation to popular national parks. But you do what you have to do in today’s over-scheduled over-crowded world.
There’s a few wildflowers blooming on the forest floor, including this Bunchberry Dogwood.
After a great breakfast of scrambled eggs and tortillas we load up and get ready for a day hike on the Cascade Crest Trial on the eastern boundary of Mt. Rainier National Park. For some reason I’m mumbling one of Bill Burke’s mantras from his 4WD class, “A running truck is a happy truck” as I start up the Sporty. But I find that that’s not entirely true as I attempt to put the van in gear and drive out of the campsite. Sometime during the night, someone, probably the yellow labradog, has bumped the shifters and disengaged the rear wheels.
I hand the pilot’s seat over to Mrs. Ed and go out to attempt to physically push the rig into gear. No luck pushing on the rear, it’s uphill in that direction. No luck pushing from the front either, which appears to be uphill in that direction too. Somehow, I have parked in a campsite that’s a shallow U-shaped depression, and the rig can’t roll downhill to get into gear. This could be a problem. Mrs. Ed keeps the transmission in neutral while attempting to engage the rear stick while I end up physically shaking the van back and forth holding onto the front Aluminess bumper. Ker-clunk! Into gear it goes. I knew these Aluminess bumpers were good for something!
We drive up the last steep miles on the road to the Cascade Crest. This extremely scenic road is called the Stephen Mather Memorial Parkway, in honor of the first director of the National Park Service. Mather was an amazingly energetic park director, setting up the agency and many parks from scratch in the early 20th century, but was cursed with what was possibly bipolar mental illness for much of his adult life. After accomplishing incredible feats of setting up several national parks, he would fall into a deep depression thinking that much of his work was worthless. History shows that he accomplished much more than he ever gave himself credit for.
I pull over in the trailhead parking lot, which still has deep snow banks piled along the sides. Here’s a view looking eastward (downhill) on the Mather Parkway from the trailhead.
Going uphill on the trail:
The Cascade Crest Trail northbound cuts across a steep slope on the way up to Sheep Lake in the Norse Peak Wilderness. We will have to keep the labradogs on a short leash on this stretch to prevent them from falling off the steep east side of the trail. I can tell immediately that we have hit it big for wildflowers, with dozens of species blooming along the avalanche paths the trail crosses.
There’s stalks of Beargrass blooming:
One of the several species of Indian Paintbrush:
And a patch of Alpine Heather in bloom as we reach Sheep Lake:
Mrs. Ed, the expedition photographer, wanders around the lake taking pictures while I try to identify the flowers and keep the labradogs from crushing the photographic subjects. On this short six-mile-long hike, we have hit the trifecta of wild lilies.
The common Glacier Lily, which we have in Montana:
The rare Tiger Lily:
And the spectacular Avalanche Lily:
After lunch and a rest at the lake, we head back downhill, and see this beautiful Red Columbine:
It has gotten much hotter this afternoon, even up here in the alpine country, and I hike ahead of the expedition photographer through the bright sun and heat and rest the labradogs in the rare patch of shade on the open slope. We come across and older guy laboring up the trail that jumps aside and shouts “Don’t let them touch me!” as I quickly pass by with the labradogs still on a short leash. The yellow dog looks at him and snorts and the panting blackdog pays him no mind. Later as Mrs. Ed passes him he complains loudly of the labradogs poor behavior.
I run into his type occasionally on the trails, people that are completely terrified of dogs no matter how well behaved they are. He is lucky that the labradogs didn’t slobber on him!
Finally back at the trailhead, the black labradog is suffering badly from the heat, and we get him to lay down in a snowbank and cover him with handfuls of snow, which seems to help. Older dogs can get heat exhaustion at any temps above 70 degrees according to the vets I know.
While we are resting the black labradog, a park service ranger comes over to introduce himself and ask us how we like our Sportsmobile. Herb the ranger has a 2WD sporty from the Huntington Indiana plant. “I would be using it a lot more if I could ever retire” he says. I know that feeling!
I ask Herb about the wildflowers and he says that spring in the high country is at least two weeks late, and the peak of the wildflower bloom will probably come in mid-August rather than late July, due to the incredible amounts of snow and rain they received in May and June. I realize that we started this year in early spring viewing the wildflowers in Anza Borrego Desert State Park and we are still in early spring up here on the boundary of Mt. Rainier National Park, five months later. What an amazing year with crazy weather.
Herb also mentions that the east side of the park frequently has better wildflower displays than the south side of the mountain at Paradise where we are headed next. I had tried to book another campsite on the east side at Sunrise, but the campground was closed for construction, so that will have to wait for another time.
We load up the now chilled labradogs and drive a few yards past the official park entrance to Tipso Lake and the first view of Mt. Rainier.
Yeah, the long hot drive out west has been worth it! But there’s a few more miles to do in the hot afternoon on the winding, narrow Stevens Canyon Road up to paradise and down to our reserved campsite at Cougar Rock. We stop for a few pics of rushing streams:
And nearing Paradise, more views of the mountain:
Around 5PM we reach Cougar Rock on the southwest side of the peak and settle into our reserved campsite surrounded by huge old growth timber. What a great day!