Archive for the ‘bear’ Tag

Adventuring Mt. Rainier: Hiker’s Heaven   8 comments

This is the same face of Rainier that residents of Seattle see every clear day. Much better up close!

The first time I saw Mount Rainier up close I was completely blown away.  I was 19 and had been in the Pacific NW for less than a year.  The Cascade Mountains seemed like the Himalayas to my East Coast eyes.  And Rainier is the biggest and baddest of the entire range.  When I got that first good look I was impressed the way only a young man with far too much energy can be.

Since that first good look at it, Mt. Rainier and its national park have always been a special place of mine.  I’ve spent quite a lot of time rambling the steep trails, climbing it twice.  I even worked for NPS one summer doing wildlife surveys.  So let’s leave the desert for now and continue this Adventuring series with an adventure in Washington’s oldest (and the nation’s 5th) national park:  Mount Rainier.

By the way, I wrote a number of illustrated posts on Rainier that are more travel-guide/documentary in nature than this one.  Check those out if you’re thinking of a visit for pictures or hiking.

Trailside waterfall, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Just below Indian Henry’s, the park’s Wonderland Trail crosses a high suspension bridge over Tacoma Creek.

Camping Where the Bears Are

Rainier hosts the most extensive, and I think finest, subalpine flower meadows in the Cascade Range.  When I was in my 20s I backpacked with a friend to one of Rainier’s best:  a place on the southwest side called Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground (see image below).  It’s named for a Tahoma native called So-to-Lick who lived in a cabin there before there was a park.  He straddled the two worlds, guiding the likes of John Muir and assorted climbers up the mountain.  But he never summited himself, holding it sacred like his tribe and thus staying off the glaciated upper reaches.

I tended then, as now, to eschew trail-side camping in popular areas.  So we camped overlooking the meadows, atop a broad peak called Mt. Ararat (had to look that one up it’s been so long).  Toward dusk I took a walk from camp to get a view.  I hadn’t been there long when, from a rocky outcrop facing north, I saw movement on the grassy slope just below.  To my amazement a large bear stepped from behind the nearest trees and slowly foraged across the slope not more than 100 yards away.  It was a cinnamon-colored black bear, and still the largest of that species I’ve ever seen.

As with nearly all my bear encounters over the years, this one mostly ignored me.  But I couldn’t leave well enough alone.  I had a cheap little film camera.  So like a young fool I determined to get closer for a picture.  I waited for him to move a little further away and then climbed down off the rocks.  I slowly stalked after him, keeping the small but dense groups of subalpine firs between us.  I kept moving downslope even though I wasn’t catching glimpses of him anymore.  I thought he’d gone.  Then peering around a shrub, I froze.

This is NOT the bear in the story. This one is much smaller, but also lives on Mt. Rainier.

He was now less than 50 feet away, staring at me hard.  He chuffed once.  There have been other occasions like this in my life, but I believe that was the first.  Despite the differences they all feel the same.  The adrenaline floods in first, immediately followed by the realization of how foolish you’ve been.  You force yourself to breathe, and above all try not to do anything stupid.  Like run.  Those moments stretch time.

Of course the big boy just ended up doing that funny double-take I’ve seen a number of times since then.  Where the animal shifts its attention back to what it was doing, but abruptly turns back and seems to reconsider, and sometimes repeats.  Then finally turns away, apparently deciding you’re not worth it.  And the tension of the moment drops like a stone.  I watched him drift away down the mountain-slope through the tall grass, realizing I had forgotten that picture I wanted.

Thanks for reading and have a wonderful weekend!

Just before dusk, Mount Rainier soars above the flowery meadows of Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground.


%d bloggers like this: