Being a fan of hiking and the national trails scene, I knew I couldn't skip trekking some of the Pacific Crest Trail as we headed west. Luckily for me, the trail meandered through Mount Rainier National Park, just a scenic hour-long drive from where we stayed.
Back in the Badger State, we are frequent visitors to the Ice Age Trail. With diversity in the landscapes offered and route difficulties, each trip offers up a new adventure. When we visited the Great Smokies, we made sure to hit up the Appalachian Trail. The segment we traveled was pretty rocky and treacherous, but quite memorable. Now that we knew we were within sixty minutes of the Pacific Crest Trail, there was no turning back, though our hike did not go as planned.
Trail signage is always an issue. I must admit that the area of trail near my hometown is well-taken care of by a group of volunteers known as the Blazin' Babes, so I am probably a bit of a signage snob. My wife and I like to compare the signage of different trails and parks we visit, and honestly, it can get frustrating at times. This was definitely one of those times. Luckily, just off the parking area, there was a small sign labeled PCNST, for Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. From my research, we would start on the PCNST, embark off on a scenic loop trail known as Naches Peak, before returning to the PCNST to complete the journey. Through poor signage, inattentiveness, or a combination of both, it didn't take long before we found ourselves a bit lost. Not terribly lost, but lost nonetheless. The once wide trail had become quite narrow and unmarked.
The path was most certainly trailblazed by previous adventurers as it was by no means the easy to moderate trek promised by the trail information sheet a ranger and provided us.
Getting lost can bring out anger, annoyed feelings, and tension. However, the "Positive Peter" nickname once coined to me was able to squeeze some much needed lemonade out of a seemingly sour lemon. I kept a smile on my face, remembering that sometimes getting lost just provides an opportunity to find yourself.
We found a few other things as well, including another pair of mountain goats. We enjoyed watching them from afar and checking their progress throughout our unintended excursion. I also found a stunning yellow flower all alone in a field of rocks and roots.
Eventually, we decided to retrace our steps and see if we could find where we originally aimed to explore. It wasn't long before we found our initial error and regained the path to the promised land, or at least the PCNST.
I am sure glad we did. While the Naches Peak loop was very uphill and our already tiring legs had hiked a bit more than we had planned for, the sea of green and magnificent mountain views eased the aches and pains coursing through my legs.
Eventually, the endless climb came to a flattening out and we were greeted by a number of other hikers and a sign. We had made it back to the Pacific Crest Trail. Though connected to the previous trail, this trail felt different. The air was fresher. The rocks were prettier. And oddly enough, the terrain was ridiculously easier. It felt flat. It felt more open. It felt more comfortable.
We took in the sights, sounds, and smells of the area on this hazy and cloudy afternoon. Though the original route was altered by factors in and out of our control, the end result made all the missteps that much more worth it. I enjoyed my short stay on The PCNST. I'll be back again.
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The road to Mount Rainier provided many spectacular views. The snow-capped peak of Mount Rainier reminded visitors of the chilly temperatures and snow-packed glaciers that go along with being in the high elevation. Even on a relatively pleasant autumn day, climbing up the side of a mountain increased the heart rate, but because of the physical exertion and the breathtaking beauty.
Winter is coming. The frosty mornings and constant haze were sure signs. So too were the actual signs reminding park visitors that tire chains were required once the calendar hit November 1st. Though we arrived before this time, we noticed that the park was gearing up as many roads and are restaurants and lodging options were closed for the season. The restaurant and lodging option known as Paradise Inn was already closed, but the interconnected trails adjacent to it were wide open. It was time to hike!
Before we even hit the trailhead, we saw a number of beautiful birds, many of which didn't stay long enough to identify or photograph. We did get quite close to a grouse of some kind and snapped a Steller's Jay searching for a snack.
The trail system around Paradise Inn was labyrinth-like. With many trails combining at times, intersections rampant throughout, and crisscrossing a regularity, these trails all did have a few things in common. They were paved and they were a slow, uphill battle. What goes up must come down, but there's nothing like taking winding paths to agonizingly ascend a mountain. Though you're continually climbing, you rarely seem to get any higher.
Along the way, we encountered a variety of fellow hikers. Solo hikers. Young couples. Apparent campers. Families. The mountains bring everyone out. One gentlemen from Utah who we encountered was very excited to share his knowledge of the geology of the area and was kind enough to point our Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens in the distance.
A John Muir quote at the start and eventual finish of our adventure said it all. This is "the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings." Now I by no means have the same bank of experiences as Mr. Muir had, but in this case, I'll take his word for it. It was a long day of hiking and while it tired the body, it rejuvenated the soul.
The warning signs were provided in the Mount Rainier National Park paperwork. Avalanche. Volcanic activity. Bears. Cougars. Rock slides. Tree hazards. I especially like the advice of "fighting aggressively and aiming for the eyes" when learning how to fight off an attacking cougar. Though reading the park map and scouting out our hike was serious business, my wife and I couldn't help but chuckle at the thought of all of these issues combining to wreak havoc on our nature time. We also reminded ourselves that we didn't have to be faster than the bear, just faster than someone else.
Final inspection of the hiking options for the day plus a little insight from a park ranger led us to Comet Falls. We were certainly not disappointed, though our quadriceps and ankles might tell you differently. The park ranger did mention parts of the trail were moderate to strenuous. Next time I take a trip to the mountains, remind me that moderate on a mountain trail is different than moderate on a Wisconsin trail.
My wife and I began our trek on the rocky terrain, avoiding a rainbow of rocks and spiderwebs of thick, gnarly roots on our gradual and meandering ascent to the falls. As my wife mentioned, "climbing is worse than walking." Still, besides the exhausting exercise, our hearts were pounding because of the amazing views and a few unexpected treats
Now your definition of treats and my definition of treats may differ. You may think chocolate or adult beverage. My wife and I think animal encounter. Well, at least when we are hiking. Don't worry, it wasn't the predatory kind. As we approached a few other stalled hikers, we noticed why they were taking a break. Across from the ridge was a sole mountain goat. He seemed quite content on his ledge, which this picture gives little justice. One slip and bye bye goat. Did I mention those hikers were also from the Badger state? This is our second trip to a national park in the mountains. Both times our first hike took us to a waterfall. Both times we met fellow Wisconsinites on the hike.
Before we left for the hike, we were given a tip from the ranger. She mentioned that on the Comet Falls trail, there was a misleading sign that led to many missing out on a wonderful waterfall. There was a sign that read Comet Falls with an arrow and the words 200 feet. Interestingly enough, the arrow pointed right to a log bridge. On that log bridge, I snapped the first picture below. Nice waterfall, right? It was a nice waterfall, but it wasn't Comet Falls. Not even close! The ranger noted that many people interpret this sign as pointing to the falls when in fact it points to the bridge, which is supposed to take you across to the connecting trail. The trail that takes you to Comet Falls. When she said it was misleading, she wasn't joking. We crossed the bridge and noticed the trail seemed to vanish. It seemed most people took those falls as THE Comet Falls and turned around from there. Luckily, I was listening. As my wife and I used our trail eyes to find the real falls, we were blown away by the much more magnificent view shown in the second picture below. The ranger stated these falls fell nearly 360 feet from the ledge above.
The trip to Comet Falls was an amazing and at times painful introduction to Mount Rainier National Park.
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I pulled double duty this autumn day, planning and leading three separate hikes. The morning Tyke hike would be followed by two afternoon school hikes. Knowing the unpredictability of Wisconsin's weather, this triple-hike experiment could have been a wonderful or devastating decision. Luckily, though there was a rather frustrating bump in the road, the weather was brilliant and the hikes were fantastic.
At the Tyke Hike, 50 hikers and a four-legged friend joined me on my trek down the newest section of Lapham Peak's Ice Age trail, thanks to a Mobile Skills Crew project in late August. The school hikes also brought in around 50 people each. Though the route of each hike was identical, the discoveries the participants of each hike made each journey unique and different.
We departed from the tower and headed gradually down hill until we came to one of my favorite spots that used to be right along the trial, but is now a short distance away because of the reroute. At this spot, a hollowed out tree makes for a perfect family photo. We stopped to snap some photos and discussed blazes and their purpose on the trail.
Then it was furtehr down the path until we stopped at a short 30-foot section near and dear to my heart. Here, I stopped to provide information on the volunteering that goes hand in hand with the Ice Age Trail. I chose this specific spot because a few short weeks ago, I was lucky enough to volunteer and build this section of the trail. I reminisced about the painful memories of de-stumping this area and adding a new rock wall to aid trail stability.
We then continued down the hill to a new area loaded with young pines and older oaks. Being a tree enthusiast, I had to take this opportunity to talk trees with the hikers, so besides chatting and aksing kids about deciduous and evergreen trees, I gave them a quiz. I asked each child to find one leaf and one acorn and hold them up high. Then, I asked them what they were holding. Some said nature. Some said seeds. Some said stuff. :) Great answers, but not the one I was looking for. I told them that they were holding the future. After scanning the faces and noticing quizzical looks from both children and adults, I mentioned that the acorns were the baby oaks and the leaves would decompose into the soil needs to help those babies grow, so the kids were literally holding in their own hands the future of the forest. They seemed to enjoy it.
After the quiz, we retraced our steps back to the tower. At the Tyke Hike, Our librarian assistant read some stories and led some glacier yoga while I handed out Tyke Hike Certificates and schedules for future hikes. At the school hikes, I took many still energized children up to the top of the tower for a scenic look at the fall colors, which I am told are near 40% of their peak this weekend.
You may remember the frustrating bump in the road I told you about. It may have been a literal bump in the road as one of the tires I had just purchased the night before had already gone flat. Luckily, some Good Samaritan hikers from one of the school hikes assisted me with the change. Technically, they did it and I entertained the kids. :)
Alas, that slight unexpected event didn't detract from the wonderful day. I enjoyed seeing many former students, current students, and other excited hikers. When I surveyed the growing crowds while waiting to begin the Tyke Hike, families told me they heard about the Tyke Hike from the local newspaper, the Ice Age Trail website, a moms group, Facebook, REI, the library, and the bulletin board posting information in the park's parking lot. I was blown away at how many ways are out there to get tykes out and about.
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We are very pleased here at Hiking Forward at the overwhelming response to our call for writers, photographers and outdoor junkies to share the stories of their experiences in the wilderness via the Hiking Forward Correspondents Program.
As a blogger who resides in the Midwest I find it fitting to have the first announced Hiking Forward Correspondent to also live, hike and adventure here as well.
Peter Dargatz lives just up the road a bit in Wisconsin. A great young fellow and proud family man, he too "gets" the Hiking Forward mantra. Knowing that other people smell what I am cooking here is truly an awesome experience for this blogger.
Peter and I had the opportunity to chat last week about what motivates him in the outdoors as well as within his daily life to ensure he gets himself and young family outdoors as much as possible. As a kindergarten teacher, busy dad and husband Peter still finds time to serve his local hiking chapter and serve as a hiking coordinator in Wisconsin. To use the Star Wars line... per our phone conversation, the force is strong in this one. I sense the outdoors are not just something Peter enjoys... Peter is the outdoors. Peter isn't Peter without the outdoors and the outdoors aren't half as grand without Peter and his young family.
We here at Hiking Forward and all of you who read this blog (thank you!) will soon be the beneficiaries from what Peter will be providing us from the great woods of Wisconsin. I think his unique perspective as a young family man who is working hard to bring up his adorable young daughter and family in the outdoor community will serve us all well. Peter's insights will serve those who are either striving to do the same or know someone who needs a hint on how to emulate the Dargatz family.
Stay tuned for great insights.
In the meantime check out Peter's Hiking Correspondent Profile here on Hiking Forward as well as his other social links and blogs.
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