Yes, Virginia, there are bears in the wilderness. I’ll get to details later in the post. The title was just to grab your attention. Though we did really see a bear. And that’s really what I said. It was an honest response.
Saturday was hike day. My favorite day. Our destination? A pretty little 8-miler up near Sunrise in Mount Rainier National Park. No mountain views, but multiple alpine lakes made this one a memorable beauty.
Once-upon-a-time we could leave by 7:30 or 8 and head to Sunrise or other non-Nisqually (that’s the entrance that goes to Paradise) entrances during the summer and find parking at our selected trail head. That’s becoming more difficult with each passing year. For instance, last year we arrived at the Sunrise entrance in early August at around 9 am. A not unreasonable time considering that we live a little over two hours from that entrance. We sat in line for almost an hour to get in. Though we have a season pass and require no directions, map, or general information, there was only one ranger manning the gate that morning.
This year we were intent upon avoiding such a snarl. How? Well, it involved getting up while it was still dark and being on the road by 6 am. Fun? No. Not really. But, breezing through the entrance with absolutely no wait made the early morning worth it.
We arrived at the trail head by 9 or so, after popping up the road to the Sunrise visitor center to take a few photos of Her Majesty and use the restroom. We loaded up and headed out under somewhat overcast skies coupled with a chilly breeze. Starting to feel like fall.
Part of the reason I selected this hike is because it’s highest point is 6100 feet. While prime wildflower season has passed, I was hopeful for a few hardy hangers-on at that elevation. My wish was granted.
The trail began by making a dive down a ridge line. Of course. Because my very favorite thing to do is spend the last mile of a hike slogging uphill. Builds character and all that. We elected to bypass the spur to Sunrise Lake, as I had read that better lakes were coming. About a mile in we arrived at the first beauty for the day: Clover Lake. Is there anything more gorgeous than an alpine lake? Something about those crystal clear waters. Blue, topaz, aqua…the colors run the gamut. We stopped at the shores of Clover for some photos, a quick snack for the husband and to drink it all in.
By that time, blue sky and sunshine had arrived. There was still a breeze, enough to keep us in jackets and long pants, but it was welcome. July and August can be notoriously buggy months on the hiking trails in the great PNW. However, the weather has been a bit cooler the last week or so and that, combined with the breeze, meant no bugs. Oh, there were plenty buzzing around, but none of them were interested in us. No mosquitoes. No flies. That alone makes for a great day on the trail.
As for flowers? Yes. There were some. Small pockets of lupine. Assorted mountain daisies. A few paintbrush here and there. No magnificent carpets, but enough to make me happy.
We left the shores of Clover Lake and headed on down the trail towards the spur that would take us to Hidden Lake. We agreed that we would have lunch there. Hidden Lake was an absolute gem. It was a bit of a climb to get there on a trail that was narrow in parts, but so very, very worth it. The color of that lake was exquisite. The trees around it vibrant green. Across the way, shale climbed steeply to cliffs above. There were only two other hikers when we arrived (actually, we ran into very few people the entire day. Another perk of getting there early and choosing a hike without mountain views), so we made our way around the shore looking for a secluded spot.
We’re fond of lunch rocks and we outdid ourselves at Hidden Lake. A large, relatively flat rock, jutted out into the lake. It was perfect. We pulled out our sandwiches, legs dangling over the edge. The wind was more brisk on the lake, but, again, not buggy, so we weren’t complaining.
Lunch was pretty much over when we heard the sound of loose shale across the way and up the ridge. We both scanned the rocky area with interest, but didn’t see anything. I figured it was just a chunk that had come loose, but was looking in case the reason it had come loose was an animal. A couple of minutes later my eyes drifted back along the ridge line and below it…and I saw something moving, making its way across the shale field.
“Holy shit! Is that a bear?” First words out of my mouth. I swear. Now, remember, I suffer from bearanoia. It’s my only true fear in the wilderness. Well, that and stupid people. In fact, earlier that very day I had been thinking about bears as we made our way down the trail (fact: I think about bears on every hike. On this particular hike I found myself contemplating the following question: which would be worse? a) getting personally chewed on by a bear or b) coming across a stranger who had been chewed on by a bear and was still alive. I will have you know that I did not come up with an answer to that question on this particular hike, which means I will undoubtedly contemplate it on a future hike).
Now, I’ll have you know that as I uttered the words above my mind was still trying to convince me that I wasn’t seeing a bear. I tried to go with dog. Yeah. Black dog. But, my intellect was having nothing to do with it: “It’s a BEAR stupid!!!”
We both scrambled to our feet, gaping at the bear. Who was quite far away. Like, across the arm of the lake and up that shale field. We were in absolutely no danger. Unfortunately, the husband forgot the binoculars and my longest lens is a 100mm macro, so this is the best you get:
However, even with the fuzzy photo there is absolutely no doubt that that, dear Virginia, is a stinkin’ bear!
We stood and watched him/her for a while as he/she made his/her…whatever…let’s just call it a him…made his way nimbly. You heard me…nimbly…across that shale field. Where was he going? I gauged the distance between him and us should he continue around the lake to where we sat. I suck at distances, so I have no idea, but let’s just say that if he had kept coming that I probably would have been chucking stuff back in my pack and encouraging the husband to quickly snarf the rest of his lunch. Finally, the bear hit a green patch and stopped. And there he stayed. Must have been a good patch of berries.
Shortly thereafter, we packed it in. Back down the trail, we stopped where the spur met the main trail, contemplating our next move. The trail ends at Upper Palisades Lake and I would have loved to have seen it as it’s reputed to be even prettier than Hidden Lake (though I don’t know how that’s possible), but the husband was done. I did convince him to go “just a bit more” to see Dick Lake, but we turned back from there. Another time.
We returned to a parking lot full of tourists gaping at the mountain. We peeled off our trail-dusty shoes, sweaty socks and pulled up a rock wall to sit on for a short breather (and perhaps a frosty cold one for me), then packed it in for the day.
A gorgeous hike, stunning lakes and…a bear. Cool, but I not something I need to see on a regular basis.