(I wanted to title this post Oktoberfest -Rainier Style but it feels too much like a celebratory nod to Germany right now, and I’m just not feeling it. More on that later.)
One of my favorite things about Autumn hiking is the fact that I can leave my house after 5 AM and arrive at Sunrise in time to enjoy civil twilight. I know I often write about “sunrise at Sunrise” but my real love is all about the twilight. I might have to do some research, but it seems that in October, nautical twilight is deeper and darker, while civil twilight is more, well … exuberant. Heart be still.
It occurs to me this morning that my books of late have been pretty heavy (Dying Well, Future Corpses, Invisible Kingdom). It feels like time to step away from the more intellectual and lean into the more imaginative. I’ve had a good book tucked away for just such a time: Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy. I made a good dent in it on my drive today and I am quite happily in another world. It’s a wonderful novel and I’m a sucker for the title.
Sunrise is slated to close on October 11th and the signs of the coming winter are everywhere. The visitor center is boarded up, a few informational signs taken down. There is a naked flag pole and the rods that measure snow and identify road boundaries are up.
I’m headed back to Huckleberry Creek trail this morning for the fourth time since 2018. I was here a few weeks ago and strolled down to the meadow knowing I’d be back later for Forest Lake at the bottom of the basin. There is a lake camp at the edge of the forest, nestled in old growth trees. The first time I was here in 2018 I made it almost to the lake, but turned around before I reached it. This trail is lovely and lonely. My favorite kind. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen another soul on my hikes here. I’m not sure why it’s not on the maps, but I’m always happy for the solitude.
The signage off of Sourdough Ridge says it is just 1.9 miles to the camp but it feels longer. In 2018 I turned back, thinking I missed the spur. This time I know better. It is all downhill so I make it to the lake in good time. It’s gorgeous!
There are several campsites surround this forest green lake. No mountain views here but the reflection of trees and sky are stunning. There is a bear pole in camp and a sign pointing to a toilet up and away from the campsites. It sounds much more appealing than squatting in the woods.
Just as I begin my crouch, there is an odd noise and a commotion in the woods. I see movement but I have no idea what it is. I grab my pack and make my way quickly back to the lake. What was it? An owl? A critter? I unlock my bear spray and cautiously head back the way I came.
The huckleberry bushes here are in full technicolor. While the trail passes through a avalanche area (a little tricky to navigate) and rock chutes, there are plenty of pines and mountain heather and huckleberry bushes. The Western Pasque flowers are nearing their old man stage and there is something beautiful about this falling away.
I forget about whatever ruffled me by the lake and start the uphill walk back to Sourdough Ridge. As I come out of the woods and approach the first rock chute, right in the middle of the path I see this …
What is that? It’s a large pile, so not marmots or pikas. And it’s fresh (not there on my way in, that I can remember). Bear scat? I don’t know. Next time I bring my “Scat and Tracks” guide. “Just in case”. (Though it’s probably best I don’t know…)
One elusive pika and lots of chipmunks today, but not a marmot to be found. I’m surprised, but never disappointed. No bad days at the mountain. It’s a couple hours before I reach Sourdough Ridge. I consider heading towards Fremont, but there are people now, the first I’ve seen all morning. And my knees are aching. I decide to walk the Nature Trail back to “the bench” and then head down from there. I meet a couple from Wisconsin who are coming toward me and they alert me that there is a mountain goat lounging up ahead.
Could it be my goat from last week?
It is! We watch each other for awhile and I snap a picture or two. Another perfect day at the mountain and a surprise guest on my way down.
This hike will mark my 125th trip report on WTA. Another great summer on the trails and I’m not finished yet! Gotta get the winter stuff out of storage and prepare for the icy mornings at Paradise.
I stop by White River Campground on my way out of the park. I’m reminded that I let another summer slip by without car camping or even setting up my tent. I never know what awaits in the year ahead, but I’ll be hopeful that next summer will include a few nights under the stars 🌟
I am hoping for one more visit to Sunrise before the road closes, but Wednesday is a trip to Paradise, so I’ll let my body decide if I have a third one in me this week. A year ago to the day I was at Paradise and saw these three marmot characters. 💚 I wonder who will be waiting for me tomorrow?