I completed the Chinook Pass Loop, down by Mount Rainier National Park yesterday. The route is approximately 32 miles, and starts and ends at Chinook Pass. You can go clockwise or counter-clockwise, though I'd recommend counter-clockwise, because the final 5 miles on the clockwise route are tough uphill miles.
The basic route begins from the Chinook Pass parking lot, where you want to head towards the pedestrian bridge, pictured below. The clockwise route launches off onto the Pacific Crest Trail through the William O. Douglas Wilderness. To make this a loop, you then turn off onto the Laughingwater Creek Trail, and then come back via the Eastside Trail.
I was inspired to do this by friends Kathy and Ras Jahson, as part of their UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge. Thank you! You two got me out there, testing my limits--as I really wasn't in shape for this--and now here I sit reflecting back fondly on the day. Thanks too to friend Seth for giving me pointers on the loop the day before, having already run it a week or two before. Good memories, all--thanks!
I like that this adventure was in the William O. Douglas Wilderness. William O. Douglas grew up in Yakima, attended Whitman, and later went on to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court for several decades in the middle 20th century. He also wrote about the outdoors, and was quite an interesting character. In one famous decision, he argued unsuccessfully that trees should have standing in court. I have heard him called "Gooseberry Douglas".
I drove down the night before, arriving at 11:30 PM, and napped in the car until about 3 AM. I took an hour-plus figuring out where the trailhead was, and then getting my stuff ready. I locked the car at 4:21 AM, with the full moon still riding the sky. I wanted to start even earlier, because I knew it was going to be a 90 degree day, and I melt in the sun. A night hike on the PCT on a warm summer night sounded classic. I settled for a pre-dawn start, which was great.
The PCT section is in full wildflower bloom right now. The trail is lined with wild blue lupine and Indian paintbrush, and their are fields of these everywhere. It's world class beautiful. The trail is easy running, with views of various lakes and hillscapes. Mount Rainier pops out magnificently in certain sections, and Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens were also clear in the distance. I had the whole PCT to myself--early morning solitude, I suppose.
The Laughingwater Creek section of the trail is delightful, if you're headed down. It's easy and fast running, with just roots to look out for. There's probably a loss of 3000 feet on the way down. I didn't see a lot of the Laughingwater Creek, but the area is well-shaded, and includes several little lakes. I ran into Jon headed the counterclockwise direction, also pursuing the challenge. Well-met, we were both enjoying empty trails and world-class views.
The Eastside Trail portion begins at beautiful Silver Falls, and soon thereafter the Grove of the Patriarchs. I stopped at the Grove to check out the old growth cedars and Douglas firs. The Eastside Trail is quiet and does not seem well-traveled by tourists, except near the Grove. Crystal clear water runs atop well rounded river rock in Chinook Creek, which parallels the trail. I didn't see Chinook salmon in the creek, but they may be running now.
The 90 degree afternoon sun was tough for me. I wore long sleeves and a hat with flaps, and the Eastside Trail was shaded, but it still got through, sapping me each time I walked through an unshaded area. I'm not in the shape for a distance like this, too. So, I had to sit on and off, taking my time, and listening to my body. Some of the pitches on the last 3 mile section to Cayuse Pass are miner type trails, going straight up the slope. For a bit there, I was contemplating sleeping on the hill. Even after Cayuse, there's still more climbing to be done to get to Chinook Pass, though not quite as steep. Fair warning to those who choose clockwise.
It was a monumental struggle for me, but I finally made it, happily climbing that last stretch, and coming out to Tipsoo Lake, circled in lupine, with couples and families strolling, taking pictures.