One would (and should) approach a hike to a place called Grand Park with high expectations. We were not disappointed.
I mentioned Grand Park a few weeks ago when posting about bearanoia. If you’ll recall, we decided not to hike to Grand Park at that time because of trip reports on the Washington Trail Association website that detailed encounters with a mama bear and her cub. I am risk adverse, so tabled Grand Park at the time. However, recent trip reports specifically stated that no bears were seen, so I was ready to give it a try.
Another reason we chose Grand Park was because of the opportunity to take a back door approach into Mount Rainier NP . You see, the National Park Service celebrated their 100th Anniversary this last week. Which is a momentous occasion worthy of celebration.
However, with all of the celebrating planned at the major locations in Mt. Rainier National Park we knew that the wait to get in would be ridiculous. Thus, we parked outside and hiked a short ways until we reached the park boundary, after which we joined in the anniversary celebration in our own quiet way. I’m not going to tell you exactly how we got to the secret bat trail that led Grand Park. You could find out, if you so desired. Let’s just say it involved a Forest Service road and a little bit of guessing.
Why am I not telling you? Because I’m a horrible person. And we want to go back. And we want to run into as few people as we did this time. Therefore, if I tell you and you tell someone else who tells someone else who tells someone else…see what I mean?
After determining that the unmarked trail that we were standing in front of was, indeed, the trail we were looking for (again, a snidge of guessing), we set out under partially sunny skies. The first couple of miles were forested. The birds chirped, the sun filtered through, the trail easy to follow. A little over a mile in we reached the shores of Lake Eleanor. She is a beauty. In the morning the reflection of the trees and the sky was a sight to behold. When we returned in the afternoon the light had changed, the reflections disappeared and we were captivated by the rich blue-green of her waters. There are a number of camp spots near the lake, all empty on a late-August Sunday.
We pressed on and, at about mile two, the forest gave way to the first of the meadows that Grand Park is lauded for. While I was quite taken with the beauty of the meadow, and the fact that Her Highness the mountain could be seen across the way, I also approached its openness with some trepidation. According to trip reports, this is where mama bear and baby bear were seen cavorting. About midway across the meadow I relaxed. My eagle eyes and super-sonic ears did not pick up any sign of bears.
Meadow gave back to forest, though not as thick as before. We continued a gradual climb until close to mile four, when we arrived at the edge of Grand Park.
Grand Park is indeed grand. And massive. A meadow of massive proportions. And the mountain? BAM! Straight in front of us. With a big ol’ puffy cloud obscuring her top. She creates weather systems, that ol’ girl, and she held onto that cloud like it was her last shred of clothing keeping her decent. Meaning: the cloud never went away. It would start to look like it was going to move away, but then she’d pull it back. Such a tease.
We were able to get our bearings when we noticed the Fremont fire tower on a hill way up on our left. You see, the front door approach to Grand Park is from the Sunrise side…through Berkeley Park, which we hiked to a few weeks ago. You can see the same fire tower, from a much closer and different perspective, from Berkeley. It was kind of cool to know exactly where we were just based upon landmarks.
We began the trek across Grand Park. You think I jest about its size? We walked 1 ¼ miles…and didn’t reach the other side of the meadow. We could see the edge of it ahead, and I suspect we were within a half mile, but we were hungry and the knees were doing really well but we knew we had a 4 ½ mile mike back and didn’t want to push our luck. Plus, we found a small ledge on the edge of a wash to park ourselves for lunch and weren’t keen to pass it up. Usually we seek out a lunch rock. There were no rocks in Grand Park. Or, rather, no rocks large enough to perch ones butt upon.
We pulled out our sandwiches and other goodies and sat, staring at the mountain, grinning like fools over our pure dumb luck. Look to the left…meadow. The right…meadow. Down the trail before us….meadow. Down the trail behind us…meadow. What was missing from that picture? PEOPLE!!! How often does that happen? On a trail in Mt. Rainier National Park in the summer? Unless you’re someplace totally obscure and totally off-the-beaten path? And we really weren’t….but it sure felt like it.
Lunch turned into a leisurely affair. Neither of us were in a rush to pack it in. The sun was bright, but not too hot. The company was good. The food tasty. The mountain gorgeous. Eventually…reluctantly…we headed back down the trail.
We ran into around ten people going in as we made our way out, along with one friendly park ranger who totally scored by getting assigned to Grand Park that day instead of the chaos that was Paradise or Sunrise. The knees continued to hold up on what proved to be our longest hike of the season. There may be hope for them, yet.
Grand Park? Grand, indeed.