After a great soak in the hot tub and a really good night sleep in our cozy cabin we were ready for a hike in the park. We did our recon the day before, and decided to head up the Kautz Creek Trail.
The first .75 miles of the trail is new, and relatively flat. The big floods of 2006 devastated Kautz Creek, wiping out the old trail and even changing the course of the river. You can read about it on the first part of the trail where signs and photos have been posted explaining the floods and debris flows that changed the geography of a huge section of the south side of the park.
In this first section the trees are young, only about 50 to 60 years old. Another flood and huge debris flow which covered this area in 1947 tore out the forest and covered it with mud and rocks here. The trees you hike through now have grown on top of that flow. Man, mother nature is impressive. Everything about Mt. Rainier National Park is a reminder of just how violent she can be, but also how beautiful.
Nearly a mile in, the trail turns to the left and you will climb down into the new stream bed, cross a log bridge over the small remaining water flow, and climb up the other side. There you’ll see my favorite part of the whole trail; the old growth trees that haven’t been hit by debris flows in hundreds of years. Can you see Brian’s head just to the right of that big downed tree? That is one huge tree! The trail cuts right through the middle of it and you can stop to count the rings if you want. We estimated about 400 or so rings for this one. That tree was older by far than our whole country, and was alive for hundreds of years before European settlers had ever even heard of the west coast, much less hacked their way through to it.
The forest gets quiet here. I watched Brian’s footsteps in front of me, and loved the way the earth sprang back nearly a full inch every time he lifted his feet. Even the high traffic trail, as packed down as it is by hundreds of hikers every year, is springy with who knows how many layers of moss, fallen leaves, twigs and branches. The light filtering down through the canopy way above our heads was beautiful and soft. Spring flowers were starting to sprout, giving us delicate colorful splashes every so often.
And then we climbed.
And we climbed.
And we climbed some more.
The trail switches back on itself over and over as we worked our way up the side of a hill that felt like a mountain. Every time we stopped to catch our breath we heard birds singing and watched a few squirrels flit about the trees.
We listened to the tiny streams of water rushing their way down the crevices and under the fallen logs. It was so hushed, and so peaceful.
And so exhausting! We were prepared with our day pack full of water, snacks, jackets and a first aid kit, but the trail was longer and way more steep than we realized. We took another break and decided to head back at about mile three. On the way back down we passed two other hiking parties. One young couple that gave up quicker than we did after asking about how steep the trail was behind us, and another pair of men who were headed out for a couple of days, backpacks full of tents and gear, snowshoes strapped to the sides. They kept on going, way up past the spring snow line. I hope they had a great time. I hear the view is worth the effort if you’re well prepared.
We started hiking fairly early in the morning and the day got warmer as we went. On the way up we didn’t feel a big difference in temperature as our bodies warmed up and the sun got higher in the sky. On the way back down though the air got noticeably warmer the lower we went.
By the time we reached the creek bed again it was hot. Coming out from under the shade of the trees meant that the sun shining through our fantastic weather was beating down on our sweaty backs. We drank the last of the water a half mile before reaching the parking lot at the end of the trail.
The new forest down here has been shaped by it’s violent beginnings. Twisted branches, bent trees, hollow stump, all lined the walk.
Nature is messy, and oh so beautiful. Hours of hiking through the hushed forest with nothing but the sound of our own feet and our own breathing reminding us that we were a tiny little part of it gives us both such a sense of the world. Seeing the birds, the squirrels and even our little snake friend made us notice how lucky we were to be here, and to have the chance to see this. To walk through this forest. To smell the trees, the air, the creek, the leaves and the dust.
It was a good reminder that our National Parks really are a treasure. I’ve been lucky enough to visit thirteen of our fifty eight national parks. Brian has been to three. I hope we get the chance to see more, and we’re going to make a big effort to make that happen.
On the map: Click here to see this location on our Google Map.