The night before my hike, I go through it all in my mind: It’s going to be hot, though the mountain forecast is a manageable 75 degrees. It’s 3,000 plus feet of gain and I still haven’t made that ortho appointment for my troublesome knee, but I have my brace and I can go slow. It’s a long drive. At least 2.5 hours from home, but it’s a snow-free mountain hike and another week before Sunrise Road at Mount Rainier will open for the season.
I sleep pretty well, and although I wrestled with where my day would take me, I choose my original plan and go on faith. Mount Townsend it is. I’ve been here before and I know what to expect. There is really no reasonable objection that I can’t overcome so I head out just after 5:00 AM.
I know some people must think it’s crazy to leave home before sunrise, drive one and a half hours to a forest road, then another hour on a pot-holed dusty backroad to a trailhead in the woods. But to me it is pure bliss.
It’s narrow on the forest road and the last mile is deep “swallow-you-up” kind of potholes. I’m just the second car at the trailhead and I watch someone go up ahead of me. Then someone else pulls in and I wait and let him go up ahead of me too.
There is a pit toilet at the trailhead stocked with TP but bring your own sanitizer. The parking area holds maybe 15 cars but another dozen will likely squeeze in off the side of the road.
This trail is 8 miles roundtrip and more if you explore along the alpine summit. It climbs relentlessly from the start with switchbacks through old growth forest and an understory of rhododendrons. The rhodies are in various states of growth from deep magenta buds to pink flowers in full bloom dotting the lower the trail.
The sun is filtering through the trees and dancing across the path. There’s a nice breeze as you enter the Buckhorn Wilderness. I have a cooling towel, a hat and a “heat gear” shirt to shield both bugs and sun. But it’s still hot. I’m packing lots of water and my camera. It will be a slow ascent day. My favorite kind.
At about 2 miles the wildflowers burst. Columbine, phlox, paintbrush, violets, lupine and more. I hear the birds more than see them, but I get glimpses of Canada jays, black-eyed juncos, robins and a playful yellow-rumped warbler.
It’s not until the last push that you reach full sun exposure. There are shaded spots along the trail (and I might have stopped to enjoy each one). The weekend will be sweltering, I’m grateful for the chance to do this today.
Walking up, there are outcroppings of krummholz as you eye the summit above. I love these trees, bent and stunted by continuous exposure to fierce winds. I’ve never explored this area in snow and I imagine it to be a whole different kind of beautiful.
I find a nice sit spot with views along the back side of the mountain after exploring a bit further along the summit. Lots of outcroppings, all exposed, and one with a marker. Again, I’m here and don’t wander all the way to the very end. My body thanks me for the reprieve.
My knees are not fans of this hike. While I seem to manage well going up, coming down is when I really feel the twinge in my right knee. I endure, knowing it is likely more chronic than acute pain. At 8 miles it is a perfect distance. While the 3,050 feet of elevation gain is quite relentless, it is a satisfying climb with beautiful, distracting views.
On my return trip driving down the mountain I take a wrong turn. A left when I should have stayed right. I made it back to 101 (eventually) but the forest road portion was longer and bumpier than the way up. Without GPS I might still be weaving my way through the narrow roads of the National Forest.
Good thing I washed my car before this trip …
My babies are happy I’m home this morning. They tell me I’ve been away too long and it’s time to hunker down for the record-breaking heat wave about to hit us. I agree, my little ones. I agree. Grateful for the perfect 71 at home. Ahhh … more bliss ♡