Thursday, January 2, 2014

Trail of the Shadows, Mount Rainier National Park

Trail of the Shadows (Mount Rainier National Park) The best time of year to enjoy this short hike is any time. In winter it’s an easy snowshoe hike and in spring, summer and fall it’s a pleasant hike. The trail is also a sweet winter consolation prize if your snowshoe trip is foiled by lack of snow (such as happened to us recently). The hike begins across from the National Park Inn at Longmire; we hiked the loop counterclockwise. You can see Rampart Ridge from the trailhead and on a clear day, Mount Rainier. Though there wasn’t enough snow on the trail to warrant snowshoes we saw some folks wearing them; snowshoes do provide traction on packed snow and will also prevent you from breaking through the snow. As of this writing snow is minimal, well-packed and potentially icy. We’ve noticed there are two types of snowshoers; those who put them on at the first sight of snow and those that don’t put them on until they are in dire need of using them (that would be us). Our snowshoes stayed in the car. The trail is mellow with minor ups and downs. After a short stretch you’ll skirt a large, boggy meadow interspersed with hot springs. You may smell sulfur and you may see steam rising from the springs. You’ll pass the site of the Longmire Springs Hotel (established in 1890) though the interpretive sign may be partially buried by snow. You might find it a challenge to imagine today but this site was a popular tourist spot with lodging available for travelers to spend the night and soak in the springs. Don’t walk out into the meadow and do heed signs advising you to stay on the trail; don’t venture beyond the designated viewpoints. At about 1/3 mile the Longmire cabin comes into view (James Longmire’s son, Elcaine and his family lived there). Peek inside and try to imagine what it would be like to share such a small space with your family. A short distance past the cabin you’ll notice a structure (right) resembling photographs or movies you may have seen of crumbling structures found in the remote jungles of South America. This is Rusty Springs, also known as “Iron Mike”. The mossy, rockery-lined enclosure bordering the spring does look like a scene from an Indiana Jones flick or the National Geographic. The minerals that seep from these springs are indeed the color of rust. Not so long ago folks traveled from afar for the healing properties of the springs and they were relaxing to those who believed in their restorative powers. The next stretch of the loop is mostly flat with occasional views of other hot springs in the clearings where alders and cattails have grown around the edges of the meadow. We also saw several alders that had almost been chewed through by beavers; some trees looked as if they might topple if you sneezed. Further along the path you’ll eventually come to a signed junction for the Rampart Ridge Trail, a steep trail that climbs to an overlook of the National Park Inn, Eagle Peak, and the Nisqually River. Experienced hikers/snowshoers can study the map for other options. After passing the junction with the Rampart Ridge trail the path skirts more hot-springs as the terrain changes slightly, becoming marshier. A spur leads to closer views of more hot springs quietly bubbling away, staining the water with peacock-feather hues from their minerals. On the last leg of the loop you’ll pass through old-growth Douglas fir, Western red cedars and huge stumps (this area was logged by settlers including the Longmire family). You’ll cross a small tributary on a pretty bridge and as the trail breaks out into the open near the road there is another good view of Rampart Ridge and Mount Rainier – on our hike clouds obscured the view of Mount Rainier except for one exposed, snowy shoulder. Statistics: The loop is ¾ mile with no significant elevation gain. To get there: Drive to the Nisqually entrance of the park via Highway 706, continue about six miles to Longmire and park behind the National Park Inn. For additional information on fees, rules, regulations, current conditions, weather, call Mount Rainier National Park (360-569-2211) or visit their website at . The recommended map for Mount Rainier National Park is Green Trails (Mount Rainier Wonderland Map 269S). Tire chains are required to be carried by all vehicles entering the park (November 1-through April 1) and use them if needed. For photos click on the second set at Flickr: Karen Sykes