Over the last couple weeks I’ve done some solo hiking to a few mountain lakes. I hiked to Granite Lakes, Echo Lake and Upper and Lower Crystal Lakes. The latter two lakes are both in the Rainier area. I haven’t explored much of the Rainier area due to the crowds the area sees and that dogs aren’t allowed in the park. Neither are fires. On day hikes a fire is never in the plans but when I’m hiking I’m usually using it as an opportunity to scope out my next backpacking location. A fire in the woods isn’t always possible but I plan my trips around their acceptance.
One of my favorite aspects about the outdoors is planning the hike and discovering the area on a personal level. To come back home and slowly go over the map to see just where you walked really helps you relive the experience. It creates an intense urge to go back and explore again. It’s safe to say that I enjoy really maps. A day hike is an opportunity to explore more about yourself at a later date.
I’ve come to realize that it really isn’t all about the destination. The destination matters because it’s the motivation behind the miles and effort but the magic is in the journey. This sentiment goes far beyond hiking. We all chose a path to walk on and sometimes you have to walk it alone. There are times when I need to get out but I struggle with the motivation. For times like these I borrow my friend’s dog Cookie.
She’s the best hiking partner to bring along in the woods. A year ago my hiking partner Eric was tragically paralyzed while him and I were rock climbing at a gym. Prior to that experience him and I were constantly in the mountains. We wanted to tackle every peak that we could and we were well on our way. There’s no substitute for his companionship in the woods and nobody can match the enthusiasm he exemplified. There isn’t a person on this earth that could pump me up as much as he did.
His absence is still felt on every mile I walk but I keep going. There are still times when I don’t have the strength as an individual and that’s where Cookie comes into the equation. She pushes me to push myself. She looks up at me and gives me that look of understanding and commitment. It’s an unwavering loyalty that you rarely find with other people. I was underwhelmed by Granite Lakes but I enjoyed the trail leading to it because my four legged friend happily trekked along beside me. Everything about the experience was worth it even after a lackluster lake.
I’ve learned quite a bit about hiking, backpacking and the outdoors since I’ve started on this journey. But the journey is still in infancy and there are so many more adventures planned. The most important aspect is that I’ve learned more about myself, my surroundings, and the world around me. It took me countless miles of walking into the woods to be a more understanding person. To appreciate, to love, to live and to be free are all things I learned in the woods. It’s full speed ahead from here because there’s no turning back.
I didn’t take any great photos of Echo Lake. I was distracted by the remnants on the Norse Peak Wilderness fire that burned 50,000 acres in 2017. Half a mile before the lake I could actually smell that distinct forest fire smell that sometimes lingers for years. There was one spot along the western end of the lake perfect for a shot but there were backpackers setting up their camp and preparing to swim. They were all friendly and I’m sure they would have accommodated my temporary intrusion into their slice of heaven but solitude was on the menu and I was getting hungry.
I pressed further into the charred remains. I crossed a burned out bridge where only a support beam remained and rusty nails that would surely make for a longer day than planned. The trail started to fade in and out before disappearing entirely. As long as I could see the lake I knew I could walk the shoreline to get back to the trail so I decided to do some bushwhacking. I discovered a quiet place to take a break away from the couple of small groups on the other side of lake. It was time to indulge in some nourishment and reflect.
After hiking 17 miles on Saturday I woke up on Sunday feeling good but not great. A little more outdoor time was needed to fully reset. As is sometimes the case the Sunday blues had hit me particular hard that morning. I discovered this hike on the fly and I had a feeling it would fit the bill. I had second thoughts as soon as I arrived at the trailhead and snagged the last remaining parking spot available in the lot.
I had arrived at almost 4 O’clock in the afternoon on Sunday and had expected a dwindling crowd. But this is during Covid and it’s a nice sunny day around Mt. Rainier so crowds were not a major shock. As I hiked up the trail I saw a dozen or so people but by the time I arrived at the lake I was the only one there. It was hot, quiet, peaceful and serene and I dove in almost instantly. I’ve swam in other mountain lakes but none as warm as this one. I couldn’t believe my luck. As I was leaving I saw two hikers descend on the lake and I remarked how nice the water was and suggested they take a dip for themselves. I was happy that I enjoyed my own private lake for a while and that they too got the same experience as I had.