Jumping for joy in Spray Park [Mt. Rainier, WA] Canon S95 (photo by Jeff Kimes)
Photos from my recent Spray Park hike in Mt. Rainier National Park with my friend Jeff Kimes are up at Flickr/playapixie
Are you ever so delighted by an experience that you almost feel like you are getting away with something? That's what my September 20, 2012 overnight into Spray Park with my friend Jeff felt like: a few lingering wildflowers and blueberries, perfect sunny weather, soul-inspiring stargazing, jaw-dropping views from the flank of Rainier, early fall colors, solitude, and a peaceful bear, and all just two days before the official start of fall.
We weren't sure if we'd be able to camp in Spray Park (only two parties are issued cross-country permits for that area, and it took some sweet-talking of the ranger to even be issued one of them), but we got lucky, and I believe we had the entire area to ourselves on Thursday night. We got a late start up the trail at 2:30PM, and only encountered a few day-hikers and one fellow headed to Eagle's Roost camp. By sunset, Spray Park was all ours, and we didn't see or hear another person until around 10:30 the next morning. Stargazing from the meadows was epic, as there were clear skies and no moon (although wildfires in the Cascades and the lengthy high pressure system we've been having in the region made for a bit of haze.)
The next morning, a bear joined us for our yoga/meditation hour, and hung out at a respectful distance. I first spotted him between my legs from Downward Dog pose (!) maybe 300 yards up the hillside towards the ridge between Hessong Rock and Mt. Pleasant. He eventually meandered to within 40 yards of our camp, but never acted threatening, although he clearly knew we were there. We watched him for at least an hour before he eventually wandered out of site to our west (after first checking out our camp kitchen, where we had wisely cooked our delicious Salmon dinner the night prior quite a safe distance from camp, though nothing of ours remained there at that point.) I was glad we had carried in a bear canister (borrowed for free from the ranger station at Carbon River), as there are no good trees for hanging food at that altitude, and salmon and veggie-scented trash in a tree would probably have been all too inviting.
Friday afternoon we hiked straight up the little trail from Spray Park to the ridge between Hessong Rock and Mt. Pleasant, and followed the trail along the ridge to the top of Mt. Pleasant. Fantastic views of Fay Peak, Knapsack Pass, Mist Park, and Seattle Park awaited (stirring up schemes for a multi-night trip in the region during wildflower season.) To the west, low overcast at around 4500 feet obscured Mowich Lake and everything westward (reinforcing our giddy feeling of getting away with something, since we were in 70 degree sunshine, knowing that everyone at home was having a gray Seattle day.) From Mt. Pleasant, we followed the ridge between Seattle Park and Spray Park, where we serendipitously ran into our friend Sheri (who had hiked up through Knapsack Pass earlier that day.) We then followed the ridge trail further to where it joined the main Spray Park trail, and back down to pack up our camp and head back for the trailhead.
One last break for a small dinner at the viewpoint just below Eagle's Roost gave us one last sweet surprise. Right around Eagle's Roost we began descending through fog, and when we first arrived at the viewpoint, Mt. Rainier was completely obscured in clouds. But within just a couple of minutes, it completely cleared, and we drank in a pink and gray dusky mountain landscape with our last trail meal, the icing on the cake of an entirely perfect weekend.
By the time we reached the parking lot, at around 8PM, it was dark, and we needed headlamps for the last 3/4 mile or so. We passed several groups (including one very large group headed for Eagle's Roost) who were on their way in, and the campground at the trailhead and the parking lot were both packed with friday night visitors, presumably staging for an early start for their saturday morning hikes. We were even more grateful that we'd hiked thursday/friday, as we realized just how popular Spray Park is, and just how lucky we were to have it all to ourselves.