“Oh Why High” Lakes

Owyhigh Lakes, Mount Rainier

There is rain in the forecast for the weekend. Isn’t that always how it goes ? All the more reason to get out early this morning I told myself. A hot cup of coffee, smoothie, a banana and I’m off. 

I’ve been listening to All The Light We Cannot See. If there was ever a marvelous storyteller, it is Anthony Doerr. Every nuance of this story, these characters, is in gorgeous detail. As I slide into the driver’s seat this morning, my app tells me I’m about 3/5 of the way through. I know already I won’t want it to end. It’s almost intimidating how good this writing seems. I don’t know that there is anything I’ve read that is comparable to this dialogue. 

By the end of the weekend I will finish it. There are three new audio books right behind it, although I’ve allowed a “skip” on two of them. I drive a lot during the summer and this will be my first year with the Libby app for books. 

I’ve done better lately not watching or listening to much news. It takes too much bandwidth to stay calm in the face of such grave unkindness and uncertainty. I resolve to check in twice a day. I know it’s important to stay on top of things but divisiveness and vitriol have no place in matters of the heart. (My health and family and friends are matters of my heart.)  

The drive leaves me in another world as I arrive at the trailhead. I grab my pack and size up my add-ons for the day. Extra water. Sunhat. Sunscreen. Buff and mask. Check. I’m hiking to Owyhigh Lakes. WTA lists it as 7 miles roundtrip with about 1650 feet of elevation gain. Seems very doable. It’s a trailhead I’ve driven by dozens of times, never stopping. It was one that my friend Diana told me about last year, insisting that I should let it surge to the top of my list. 

The snow is melting quickly now. Patches of ice, replaced by puddles. White, frosted fields giving way to wildflowers ; pasque flowers, avalanche lilies, even a trillium tucked away off the trail …Diana claimed the meadows here were even better than at Summerland, another favorite of mine. And so here I am, ready to be wowed !  

This hike is less crowded than others at MRNP. There are no Rainier views and the trailhead is not prominently marked. My 7:30 start seems perfect. I’m the 9th car in a lot that holds 10-12. Starting up through the wood it’s the birds you notice first. I hear the woodpeckers and see the Clark’s Nutcracker as he decides on a branch. Always I hear the sparrows. They’re joyfully noisy as they announce they have made it through another night. It occurs to me how grateful I am for that, too. 

There’s a chill in the air and light is filtering in through the trees. Tiny webs fall from branches and pine needles catch and twirl in the morning beams. The trail climbs gently through old growth forest. It’s easy to find perspective here. A smallness of self against these towering giants in the sky. 

There will be wild berries here in the weeks ahead. A lot of them. As the trail continues to switchback through the forest, I’m breaking a sweat. Douglas fir, hemlock and cedar all trail off in the sky as I look toward the softening blue. The trail is filled with a scattering of small cones, seven or eight in one of my handfuls. 

Up here there is little time between the thaw of winter and the bracing for it again. It isn’t a doorway to summer but rather a window between these shortened mountain seasons. I’m writing this post as I go in a tiny notebook. It adds a layer of interest to my day and helps to ensure I don’t forget to say some tiny bit of my Friday I meant to share. 

I take my time these days. I take photos, ramble along the edges, look for the little things I might miss if I were in a hurry. In just over an hour, I leave behind the sound of rushing water and switch back deeper into the woods. At 80 minutes I see the first dots of yellow flowers.

At 90 minutes, SNOW. 

I had read that there were a few crossings. I would characterize them as tricky, rather than dangerous. I need my poles but leave my spikes in the bag. There are faint outlines of bootprints to follow but it’s not always clear where the trail is. I forge ahead and get beyond the snow to the last foot bridge. I count this as number 8 on this trail. 

About a quarter mile past the bridge, the trail opens up, the sky is like a flood of blue and then I see it: Governor’s Ridge ! Owyhigh Lakes sit in the basin of this jagged, snow-covered ridge. The lake water looks like rich chocolate swirled with deep forest green. The meadow here explodes with pasque flowers and bright yellow avalanche lilies. They look as if they have been quilted into the sea of green grasses. There are tiny white flowers too, about to explode like stars. 

The sky is cornflower blue and the dark jagged edges of Governor’s Ridge are tipped in snow and it takes your breath away to see it. My phone won’t do it justice. I find a sit-spot for the day and take it all in. For 30 minutes I’ve got it all to myself. 

It’s hard to leave. The peaceful nature of this place covers you like a fine mist. But I hear people and I’m grateful for the solitude I had. Coming down, I feel a sharp pain rip across my kneecap on my “replacement” knee. It stops me in my tracks. I walk it out and it seems fine but I need to remember that this “new” knee is nearly 7 now and I ask a lot of it. I slow down and enjoy the gentle grade of this trail as it nears the noon hour. It isn’t the usual jarring on the knees and hips. In fact, it’s like a dance. A forest dance with shadow and light. 

Could it be any better ? 

Maybe a third of the hikers wore masks. Everyone, mask or not, was friendly and all were willing to step aside if I hadn’t first. Wearing a mask or face cover is such a simple thing. I really don’t understand those who outright refuse. I feel sad for them.

There is a huge heart on the path. Oddly, I don’t feel the least bit alone. I’m telling you, there’s magic here ☆

( I want to also mention that I am not a hat person. If it weren’t for a bit of a sunburn on my last mountain hike, I might still be “not a hat person”. Today before I left I grabbed the oldest hat I own. It was one I got over 30 years ago I’m guessing, designed by Fred Babb. If I’m going to wear a hat, it will be by Fred. He was one of my first artist crushes. I love this guy. )

9 Comments on ““Oh Why High” Lakes

  1. Hi there,

    Just found this after looking for Fred Babb hats on google images. It brought me here!

    I own one just like this, it’s my most precious possession. I haven’t been able to find anyone else with the same hat, and the hat isn’t even on the Fred Babb Museum website!

    My hat is a whole lot more worn and now looking worse for the wear. (I’m a hat person so it gets a lot of use) However, what a joy to see it in it’s prime condition! I never knew the dot on top was red!!! Great pics. My mother got the hat in Cambria, CA 30 years ago! Cheers

    • Oh, I love this Jackie! Thank you so much for writing. I had no idea it was so rare until I started looking into it myself, wondering “whatever happened to Fred Babb”. ( He rested in his work rather than laboring to bring something to fruition. As a result, he was extremely prolific. Fred Babb died May, 2006.) Mine was from Rehoboth Beach at a pretty significant time in my life. So glad you stopped by. I will wear it on my next adventure in your honor!

  2. Pingback: THRIVE – In Search of the Very

  3. I was there the day before you, what a spectacular hike it was! I too had passed the trail head so many times. It was indeed hard to leave.

    • That snow was tricky ! I wonder if you thought, as I did, how I would have to come back in a week or so to see what else would be blooming ! Beautiful. Like Summerland’s little sister 😊

  4. I remember that hat… *
    Love the sense of place your descriptions provide, the almost dizzying pictorial kaleidoscope, the visual rush. Glad to see your ‘field notes” really are FIELD NOTES 🧐

    • Rehoboth ! Thanks, Mare*
      I love the ‘field notes’ notebook. It has had double duty: dream journal and today my hike. Perfect size. It was a beautiful morning for sure ♡

  5. Thank you.
    I hear they expect Sunrise to be open by next weekend. There are two Owyhigh trailheads. The one off 123 passes Deer Creek Falls and is a steep trail downhill (gorgeous) but more snow that way I think. The one I did is off of Sunrise Park Road. Trailhead is the parking area before you get to Summerland. This is a beautiful hike, mostly in the woods. I imagine you would love the meadow. Flowers are about to explode. And that book ! Sigh. So, so good. 

  6. You got there! It seems like I’ve seen more than one sign to Owyhigh, and I’m not even sure where you started. Does it start downhill from the road? Or maybe it just looks like it does from the road. I guess you did the 123 access, since Sunrise isn’t open? Just saw your trip log: White River Campground.

    9 cars at 7:30? Backpackers, you think?

    My Libby app quit working two adventures ago. And I rejected the disk book I finally got from the biblio. I drove in silence the last 1.5 trips.

    All the Light is probably my all time favorite book.

    I have been completely uninspired writing wise on recent adventures. Your trip logs are gorgeous.

    Next week maybe.

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