This article originally appeared in Volume 24, Issue 3 as a column for the Northwest Nomad.
I am an avid outdoorswoman, and I tend to claim that whatever season we’re in is my favorite for hitting the trail. Each one has something unique to offer: burgeoning new growth in spring, wildflower-strewn meadows in summer, crisp air and crunchy leaves in fall and quiet snow-filled rambles in winter.
It was the perfect combination of those last two that inspired my husband and I to brave the frigid winds of Mount Rainier’s east side on the Veterans Day holiday and wend our way around the Naches Peak Loop, which is a part of the 2,650-mile long Pacific Crest Trail.
The hike offers lovely, expansive views of the surrounding valleys, a stunning overlook down into impressive Dewey Lake and an unobstructed view of Mount Rainier towering majestically over the surrounding alpine terrain. If the winter winds hadn’t been quite so assaultive, we easily could have whiled away the hours of our afternoon perched on our claimed snow-covered hillock, drinking hot cocoa and basking in that glorious mountain view.
Most people start the Naches Peak Loop hike from the Tipsoo Lake parking lot, which is accessed directly from Highway 410, or Chinook Pass Highway. We opted to begin from the Pacific Crest Trail parking lot, which allowed us to take a snowy romp directly on top of the Mount Rainier National Park wood sign that serves as a bridge spanning the sleepy mountain highway. There was something ridiculously rebellious-feeling about dashing across that gate above the road, with cars driving beneath and drivers gawking up at us, that made us feel a little like kids, in the best way possible.
The trail dipped and dived in gentle ways all along the circumference of Naches Peak. The recently-fallen snow had frozen in several places, so we slipped and slid along with the trail’s undulations. It gave us an excuse to go slow, which in turn forced us to take heed of all of the little details that are often missed in life’s normal hustle and bustle: the way a lingering dewdrop cupped in a dying leaf fractures into a thousand beams of light when the sun hits it, or the sound the wind makes as it passes through the trees and how it sounds eerily similar to waves crashing on a shore.
Even with a purposefully leisurely pace, frequent stops for inspecting flora and prolonged breaks for vista-viewing, we completed the 3.2-mile loop in only a few hours’ time. Not yet feeling as if our cup of adventure was brimming over, we opted to make the most out of our time in the mountains by adding on another short hike, this time to nearby Sheep Lake.
By that late hour of afternoon, with the sunlight fading to a soft golden glow, the hordes of other hikers had all but disappeared: all that remained at the lake were their footprints in the snow, and the evening’s beginning frost forming on the water’s surface.
As is always the case with these caliber-resetting micro-adventures of ours, the silence that was surrounding us deepened. Eventually, it quieted even the most disruptive chatter inside us that is so often screaming for attention. This is what nature does. It allows us to be still, and listen.
The Puyallup Post is the award-winning news media of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2018. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube @thepuyalluppost