Too hot to Hike?
It’s hot. Recording setting hot in Yakima, Washington, this week (August 2022); 105-110 degrees. Tired after a day’s work and still fighting a cold, I headed up the Chinook Pass Scenic Byway, hoping to find cooler air for a hike. I’m not optimistic. Even though Chinook pass, at 5430 feet elevation, is in the Cascade Mountain Range on the way to Mount Rainier, whose peak is at 14,411 feet, it’s been hot up here, too.
As I twist and turn up State Route 410, I watch my car’s thermometer slowly drop from 105 degrees. At the Pass, it’s 93 degrees at 5:30 pm. There’s a nice breeze, and it doesn’t feel like 93 (it’s that dry heat!). So, I geared up to hike the Naches Peak Loop Trail.
Finding the Trail
I generally avoid hikes with the word “peak” in their name. I couldn’t find much information about this hike except that it’s rated moderate and “good for families and kids.” After stopping at Chinook Pass to look back down the valley where I’d come from and photograph some hummingbirds in the wild (as opposed to at my feeders) feeding on penstemon, I round the bend to this stunning sight. Sudden and breathtaking, Mount Rainier towers on the horizon.
Of course, I stopped at this pullout, too. The next sign along the road says Naches Peak Loop with an arrow. I parked and started out but quickly detoured to a small lake surrounded by swaths of glacier/avalanche lilies.
I walked a few yards back to the trail, and the next sign had arrows to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and Dewey Lake Trail, yet the path also continued straight ahead. Hmmm. Left looks to be the right direction. There’s snow on the trail. In the 90-degree heat. I returned to the car to get my hiking stick and put on my hiking shoes. I clipped my bear spray to my waist belt and returned to the trail.
There are colorful wildflowers everywhere, so it’s slow going as I take it all in. Before long, I encounter a group of red-faced, sweaty hikers. They confirmed that I was on the Naches Peak Loop Trail and asked how much further to the end. “Almost there!” They looked ready to be done.
Mount Rainier looms over the conifer forest. Jagged peaks dotted with snow surround me in every direction.
Fields of bear grass, clusters of paintbrush, occasional lupine, and pasque flowers decorate the mountainsides.
The dramatic views of Mount Rainier are endless. Mount Adams makes a surprise appearance in the distant haze. Mount Saint Helens is part of this alpine trio, but I wasn’t able to spot her on this trip.
I arc around a mountain pond where a bear was seen cooling off in its waters a few days prior.
On the back side of the mountain, Dewey Lake sparkles far below. A ground squirrel wonders what I’m photographing.
I encounter a family; one of them cautions me that there’s a lot of snow on the north side if I’m going to hike all the way around. I should’ve asked them where they were from. A lot of snow to a Californian is quite different than a lot of snow to a Montanan.
There’s a fork in the trail; PCT left, Dewey Lake Trail right. Heading down to the lake is not a good idea, so I veered left. I’m in the shade now. Waterfalls come tumbling down the mountain and crossing the path. Snow cornices decorate the trail.
If I stop too long, the mosquitoes find me. Lilies are dense on the trailside. Only one of the snow crossings traverses a long, steep slope. The snow is deep; a slip and fall will result in a very long slide. Without my walking stick, I would’ve crossed with shaky knees. As it was, I planted my heels hard and used my stick for balance.
Into the trees, the slope becomes steeper, and lakes dot the landscape below me again.
After two and three-quarter miles, I can see the Chinook scenic byway. Sweet relief! I will end up back where I started! I follow the PCT over the highway and switch back down through towering trees to Tipsoo Lake. Some small waterfalls at the edge of the lake carry mountain runoff into the basin. Frogs unexpectedly dot the edge of the lake. Amphibians aren’t often seen in subalpine environments.
I encounter some pasque flowers backlit back by the setting sun at the parking lot where my car is. They’re reminiscent of Dr. Suess characters.
And I have a drop of water to spare.
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