It wasn't exactly my kind of hike, but sometimes a closed road is the only trail to get you where you need to go.
The road to Sunrise is gradually being closed down for the winter. You can't get up to the lodge any more, or even to the "big bend" where you can see three of the four major peaks in the Washington Cascades: Rainier, Adams, and Baker. From the closed gate by the White River campground, we only need to hike up about a mile to get to the earthcache we want to do before they close the road completely.
It's up, up, unrelentingly uphill. So I just put my head down and walked the yellow line, stopping occasionally to take a photo, and check out the view back toward Mt. Rainier. And sometimes I looked down at my feet, to the beautiful signs of autumn.
The earthcache was all about the Osceola mudflow, which 5600 years ago took the top of Mt. Rainier and carried it down the mountains all the way to Puget Sound. This account gives me the shivers every time I read it:
"This was a catastrophic event, possibly triggered by a small eruption. About one cubic mile of hydrothermally altered rock collapsed as a giant landslide. It took the summit of the mountain, along with part of the northeast flank and the overlying glaciers, racing downwards toward Puget Sound, through the White and Green river valleys, reaching as far as Kent, 70 miles away. Moving an estimated 45 to 60 miles per hour, it covered 212 square miles with mud, rocks and trees, possibly as deep as 300 feet, and destroyed everything in its path."
The mudflow is visible today in various places, including the road cut on the way up to Sunrise. That's it behind me.
At the last corner, a huge cottonwood tree grew. High on the ridge, nowhere near water, it somehow took root and thrived. It was glorious in bright yellow, shining in the morning sun.
We headed back down the hill, glad to be going downhill. Just up WA-410 there's a place to pull off and see Mt. Rainier, standing at the head of the White River valley.moved on, heading toward Tipsoo Lake, we stopped to look at the mountain, with snow blowing off the top.
But by far the best view of my favorite mountain is from the highway just before the top of Chinook Pass, where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses over the road. In early summer, the meadows are full of wildflowers, and in the fall the bushes turn to gold and the lake swells from runoff. There's already been snow there, and soon the road will close until late spring.