Monday, November 1, 2010

A paved road to Mother Nature

"If you don't like the road you're walking, start paving another one." -- Dolly Parton

The goal of this hike was to chalk up close to the same mileage but not have to exert extra energy with a body that had not yet recovered from previous abuse on the trail and at the gym. To add to the equation was the fact that a lot of hiking areas have recently been inundated with snow and can’t be accessed. My answer was to start at Carbon River Road in Mount Rainier National Park and end at Green Lake.

The first three miles were flat and easy since it was walking rather than hiking on the road, which has been closed to vehicles since it washed out in 2006. In short, that means what once would have been a 4-mile trip turned into a 10-mile trip, not including the detours I inevitably convince myself to take. Thousands of volunteers have spent countless hours repairing portions of the trail (paving another one) but there's still a lot of work to be done before it can be opened back up to cars.

The road follows Carbon Creek through an old growth forest and I took the first trailhead, which immediately sloped upward. It dawned on me almost immediately that all 1,200 feet of elevation gain I would be making would happen in less than a mile. I initially kept my mind off the ache in ankle and counted the hand-crafted stairs I was climbing but it wasn’t long before I was riveted by the natural beauty of the moss-covered trees and dense underbrush.

After a mile of climbing, I could hear the roar of Ranger Falls and took a side path down to a small patch of dirt near the base of the falls. It was quite an impressive cascade, tumbling hundreds of feet over jagged rocks to crash below, where several couples had carved out declarations of love on the wooden guardrail. The water’s splash may have been refreshing on a normal day but I hadn’t worked up much of a sweat and it was 41 degrees outside so I quickly continued up the trail to the next stop.

In another half mile, a patchwork of melting snow could be seen on the ground among the brush and covering fallen tree limbs. Although there wasn’t enough to make snowballs (not that I was thinking about it…), the ranger had reported four inches on the higher elevation trails.

At the end of my journey was Green Lake, a stunningly gorgeous body of clear water tucked between two mountains. Snow-covered trees provided a wintery backdrop and wisps of lingering mist shrouded the lake in intrigue. It was a huge payoff for the little effort I’d put into that day’s hike.