Posted by: pointlenana | August 15, 2018

Guest Post: Janet’s Big UPWC Owyhigh Lakes Adventure

Owyhigh Lakes Loop:  Summerland, Ohanapecosh Park, Grove of the Patriarchs, to Owyhigh Lakes

August 6, 2018, 07:11-19:55 (elapsed time 12:44)

Janet Vogelzang (and Mark Cliggett)

On Sunday, August 5th, Mark suggested we hike the Owyhigh Lakes Loop – a UPWC route – sometime very soon as he had races scheduled and time was wasting.  Plus, we just buried our best furry friend of 13.5 years and desperately needed distraction.  Plus, I’m not in great shape right now and shouldn’t be given time to overthink anything.  We agreed on Tuesday, the 7th.  Then I suggested “tomorrow”.

Off we went.

I’ve done little hiking at Rainier.  We climbed to the summit many years ago on the Emmons Glacier; but since then, I’ve only done a few easy walks out of Sunrise with less ambitious hikers and the Northern Loop (last year) with my much speedier husband, Mark.  Never been to Summerland.

There’s a great children’s book by Michael Chabon called “Summerland” about some slightly misfit folks who travel in an old Saab named Skidbladnir and play baseball as a team (ALWAYS losing their games).  Nearly every character from mythology and American folk tales appears in the story, including Chiron, Paul Bunyan, and Sasquatch.  It’s a wonderful, wacky story to have in mind to start a long day-hike in August.

The other thing that made for a nice way to start the day was how mild the weather seemed.  We’d expected HEAT, but the sky was hazy (with smoke) and slightly cooler than we’d anticipated.  A beautiful trail through some nice woods led to easy climbing and more open views.  We greeted a few folks out for a slower stroll and steadily climbed into high meadows, crossing small streams and meeting the first of many backpackers (roughly 33) we’d see that day on the Wonderland Trail.  The flowers grew more colorful and copious as we climbed.  We listened for birds, and Mark hoped to see a bear.


Summerland came upon us in full flower.  All the meadows we walked through gave us gifts of discovery.  Asters and lilies, paintbrush and lupine, spirea and monkeyflower, lousewort and false hellebore, columbine and heather.  Our favorite evoked Dr. Seuss characters:  the pasqueflower seedhead.  We gloried in the various colors and shapes – each meadow seemed to have a unique mix of species that made it special.  But Summerland was the first of these, and we paused and took it in with more awe than the rest.

As we walked up the trail out of Summerland, we spied a large hoary marmot crossing the trail ahead.  She cruised behind a boulder, came around the other side nearer us, then climbed atop to flop down on her furry belly.  She lay facing the trail, calmly allowing us to walk right up and past with barely a bat of her eyelashes.  We took photos without seeming to disturb her in the slightest.  She seemed to be enjoying her morning, so we left her alone to soak up the hazy rays.


We walked on, only occasionally breaking into a short trot when the trail was level and non-technical – so, not much running at all.  Fine by me.  This beautiful trail on a beautiful day (peak flowers?) deserved all the time we felt we could give it.


We climbed up and walked down.  Up and then down.  And again. Repeat.  We passed glacial run-off streams cascading down the cliffs, crossed rushing creeks bordered by profusions of pink monkeyflowers.  We exchanged “Have a good day”’s with hikers.  We saw a little wildlife – the marmot, orange-gold butterflies, grey-blue butterflies, a vole on a wooden bridge, no bears (phew), and no dogs (as expected in the National Park).

At around 2pm, thirsty and weary from the long downhill on the Cowlitz Divide Trail (on this section we saw only a family of 5 who were camped at Ohanapecosh Campground), down across the road, and looping back up to the Grove of the Patriarchs, we were happy to take a brief break to fill our water bladders, get our hats wet, dig out some trail food, and take a moment to dry out a stream-dipped phone.  (No more of those distracting calls, thank goodness! 😉)

Slowly building a little momentum after getting some calories on-board, we began the long afternoon along the Eastside Trail.  Here we only saw another 5 folks – one group of 3 plus another couple – none with backpacks.  The couple warned us of a bear they’d seen a mile back (a mile ahead for us) crossing under a bridge they were on and following the stream downhill to the river.  We proceeded watchfully, but we never saw any sign of this bear.  Another disappointment for Mark and relief for me.


This section of the loop makes multiple creek crossings and helped give us a mental/emotional lift with every bridge over yet another amazing deeply carved granite channel with loud, white water flowing below our feet.  We longingly passed some glorious little pools of clear, quiet water that would’ve been heaven to our hot, tired toes.  But time was passing, and we weren’t moving along at the pace we’d hoped to maintain.  We had our headlamps; but I knew that once the light faded, I’d have to slow down even more just to keep from tripping and falling.  So we shuffled along.

The last climb through a forest and then up into yet another gorgeous, flowery meadow (still no bear sightings) nearly led to despair at the odious biting flies.  And then the mosquitoes came out.  [Sorry – can’t stop to pee, gotta’ keep moving to a breezier spot where the bugs are slightly diminished!]

Finally passing Owyhigh Lakes in the late afternoon/early evening light, enjoying pretty reflections of the craggy ridge behind while moving at a pace designed to avoid the majority of mosquitoes and flies, we continued with renewed resolve toward the car somewhere some miles ahead.

The last few easy downhill miles went slowly.  Slowly because we were ready to be done and everything seems slow in that mind-frame, slowly because the inspiring scenery was behind us, and slowly especially because I was determined to stay upright in spite of stiff, tired legs and feet.  I felt sorry for Mark — I know we COULD have moved a lot faster, but it wasn’t happening that day.  Yep, slow but steady. One foot, then the other. Step by step. Down down down.

Back at the car just before 8 pm!  Still daylight! We fist-bumped and quickly changed into dry clothes, hopped into the car, and turned down the hill toward home.

Great day.  Great route.  Great way to start to process grief. Great thanks to UPWC for throwing down the gauntlet. Great appreciation to Mark for solid love and companionship and for gladly sharing the chips and chocolate milk.

–Janet V.

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