In the summer of 2005 my friend Drew invited me on a trip at Rainier. We did a near loop, starting at the Kautz Creek Trailhead along the Nisqually Road. We left a second car at Longmire, where the Wonderland Trail touches. The hike was to visit Indian Henry’s Hunting Grounds, and beyond.
The Kautz Creek has changed since we did it, it was affected quite a bit by the late 2006 floods, the creek changed its course even. At the time we hiked it you walked a touristy trail for a little, crossed the raging creek on a nice footlog bridge, then went up, up, and more up. (Now one doesn’t cross the creek anymore!) The trail is steep and relentless until after a couple miles you pop out into some of the most remote meadows in Rainier. Just gorgeous meadows! It gains over 3,000 feet in about 5¾ miles.
Looking back I could see Mt. Adams far in the distance –
The alpine meadows didn’t quit either, they only got better as we headed for the high point. Ford ahead of me, ready to cross the top. This was our first view of Rainier since the parking lot.
As you cross over you have Rainier in your face, with the meadows of Indian Henry’s Hunting Grounds, and the ranger cabin as well. We walked down to where the trail ended at the junction with the Wonderland Trail.
Rainrunner and Switchback Steve had joined us as well. Everyone on the porch of the cabin. There is a privy for the rangers, and also a tiny lake behind it for water.
If you take the trail signed for Mirror Lakes you won’t be disappointed. It is a short trail to the small (ponds) lakes that are interesting for one reason – Rainier just doesn’t look like Rainier here. The mountain is pointy, little snow. No round ice cream scoop. A number of well known photos have been taken here.
The trail technically ends here (well, if you read the “end of maintained trail” sign that is) at a set of big pine trees. Look down at your feet and realize that no, the trail doesn’t end. You can see it below you. They just quit trimming the trees. Pop through and a magical paradise opens up. A trail that is in perfect shape that takes you to meadows that cause drooling, below Pyramid Peak. The trail continues to the top, though I did not go to the summit.
The views in the area are non stop and you can see in nearly every direction. We found a spring in the area along with a small melt pond that had many fresh black bear prints around it. Off we went to find a camp spot, hidden away. This area falls under the “cross-country” permit system and you must be 1/4 mile away from a maintained trail (and out of sight).
Watching the sun set, alpen glow on the Mountain. There was rock avalanches often during the day and night, plumes of dust would kick up as they rocketed down.
In the first light I woke up to see a cloud slithering around her. It snaked around. It was the start of a lenticular cloud, though I had never seen one like that before.
We broke camp early and headed back to Indian Henry’s where looking back showed how big the lenticular cloud had become. Rainy at this point realized she had left her keys to HER car (the one at Longmire) at the car at Kautz, in her bag, in the trunk. Oops. Rainy and Steve decided to go back down the Kautz trail, get that car and meet Drew, Ford and I at Longmire.
I had not hiked this section. It quickly drops out of alpine to montane woods at Devils Dream, then heads even lower to cross Kautz Creek up high. Ford and Drew ahead of me, going to the bridged crossing.
The trail goes back up over Rampart Ridge then drops down to Longmire at the end. It was a good hike, an incredibly pretty one to do in late August. The Huckleberries had just started to ripen. Rainy had commented that she could open her tent and pick them right out the door, they were that plentiful.