Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Memorable Travel Moments: Hiking to Tolmie Peak Lookout, Mount Rainier, Washington (1990)

My college roommate got married in Seattle in 1990. Having significantly less time off than her new spouse, her new spouse was charged with entertaining me, his sister, and her friend. Since he was a serious hiker (the kind who goes out every weekend and tackles a different mountain trail and never brings a camera because the scenery isn’t the point), he decided to take us on one his favorite hikes on Mount Rainier.

Keep in mind that I only hike for the photo ops and his sister and friend – visiting from England – very likely spend most of their time hiking around the local shops at home. They certainly weren’t used to hiking up a mountainside, especially at 5000 feet. (Neither was I.) But he insisted and soon we were on the Tolmie Peak Lookout/Eunice Lake Trail.

This was the first week of August and there were flowers everywhere, masses of them in brilliant Crayola colors. I’d never seen anything like it - had never even imagined anything like it.

Eunice Lake was beautiful, still and calm in the hot sun, but there were a few mosquitos. They weren't too bad, but my British companions – including the instigator of this hike -- weren’t used to mosquitos and found them dreadfully unpleasant. I believe a bit of unpleasant language and a fair amount of violence (directed at the mosquitos) occurred.

Well, some of the unpleasant language might have ben directed at our guide, as from here we could see our destination: the Tolmie Peak Fire Lookout.   
 He had to be nuts. There was no way we’d be able to hike all the way up there!

But he kept pushing us along on what sometimes seemed like a forced march into the wilderness, prodding us along almost every step of the way, encouraging us to keep moving and frustrated that we were so slow. He did pause occasionally to ask us if we were enjoying the scenery, to which his sister replied: “I feel like I’m on a train, with the scenery whizzing past.”

Exactly.

Actually, he did stop occassionally to take a break, probably so none of us got too far behind. Once the last of us (usually me, since I kept stopping to take pictures) reached his shady resting spot, the break was over. Time to hike some more! Isn’t this fun!?

But it was stunningly beautiful (the lake, the mountains, all those flowers!) and we did have a wonderful sense of accomplishment when we reached the lookout tower.  . . or maybe we were simply lightheaded from exhaustion and the altitude.  

At any rate, at the lookout tower we had a chance to rest, eat lunch, and savor our accomplishment . . . at least until the young woman with the child on her shoulders bounded past us, barely breathing hard. Maybe this shouldn’t have seemed so hard.

At least we had amazing scenery to distract us from the fact that we would soon need to begin the hike back.
This was the first time I’d ever really spent any time hiking in the mountains and I was amazed by the beauty and, especially, by the flowers. I had never imagined that there was a place where flowers grew in wild glorious abundance like this. (Wild flowers in Minnesota tend to be shy, timid things; beautiful, but dainty and delicate.) I was stunned by Mother Nature’s display here and I’ve been on a search for its equal ever since.

It was a truly delightful, if exhausting, day. And all my hiking companions survived their mosquito bites and lived to tackle our next (non-hiking) adventure the following day.

Information on this hike  – with links to more to see and do in Mount Rainier National Park.

Fire Lookouts on Mount Rainier


More Memorable Travel Moments 

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