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Hiking Mt. Rainier Trip report Washington Washington Cascades

Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground (Mt. Rainier National Park) – 9/21/2019

We spent most of the Summer doing day hikes from home so that we could be back in time to give our elderly cats their daily medicines which put a limit on how far away we could go, but we had purchased tickets to the Seattle Seahawks/New Orleans Saints game prior to Buddy getting ill so my parents graciously took over for a day. We took the opportunity to drive up the day before the game and stop for a hike in Mt. Rainier National Park.

This would be our second visit to the park having hiked the Northern Loop on a 4-day backpack in 2015 (post). For this visit we were looking for something on the SW side of the mountain that would be a good late Summer/early Fall hike. A little research led us to Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground from Longmire.

We arrived at Longmire just after 8am and prepared to set off on the Trail of Shadows.
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Our trail was located across the park entrance road from the National Park Inn.
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Also across the road was the shear cliffs of Rampart Ridge and the snow capped summit of Mt. Rainier.
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We were excited to see the mountain as it had been raining for several days and more rain was forecast for the next few, but a partly sunny forecast had at least given us some hope.
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The Trail of Shadows is a .7 mile interpretative loop around Longmire Meadow. We followed this trail clockwise for a quarter mile where we arrived at a junction with the Rampart Ridge Trail.
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We turned left on the Rampart Ridge Trail which promptly began climbing via a series of switchbacks to the top of the ridge. The trail climbed through an old growth forest with lots of mushrooms this time of year and a bit of fall color showing on the maples.
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The trail gained the ridge after a little under 1.5 miles and began to follow it to the NE. One and three quarters of a mile from the junction we forked right to a signed viewpoint overlooking Longmire.
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The position of the Sun wasn’t ideal, even with some clouds around, but Eagle Peak was also visible (albeit through some trees) rising above Longmire.
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Less then a quarter mile from the viewpoint we came to a turn where the trail began to descend, but before we started down we followed a short path to a rocky viewpoint where we got a better look at Mt. Rainier.
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Mt. Rainier was the main attraction but to the NW behind the clouds was another interesting and colorful peak, Mt. Wow.
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We spent quite a while at the viewpoint before starting down on the Rampart Ridge Trail which we found turned back toward the mountain and provided another spectacular view.
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We were soon back in the mushroom filled forest grateful for having gotten such a nice view of the mountain already. We figured if the clouds moved in, at least we’d gotten to see that .
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After 2.9 miles on the Rampart Ridge Trail we came to a signed junction with the Wonderland Trail.
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Here we turned left following the pointer for Indian Henry’s (Hunting Ground)
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We had gained over 1400′ climbing up to Rampart Ridge and now we began to lose 400 of those feet as the Wonderland Trail dropped to Kautz Creek in 3/4 of a mile. Mushrooms remained a main theme of the hike as we descended through more green forest.
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As we neared Kautz Creek the mountain once again came into view.
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We dropped into the washed out canyon of Kautz Creek where, you guessed it, there were some more interesting mushrooms amid the rubble.
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IMG_9731Satuick Mountain

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The crossing of Kautz Creek was fairly easy as far as glacier fed streams go. The creek was split into three channels which were small enough to rock hop across dry footed.
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IMG_9737The third channel was the largest but still relatively small.

IMG_9740Mt. Rainier from the far side of Kautz Creek.

The trail then reentered the forest and shortly arrived at Pyramid Camp.
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IMG_9746Yet another big mushroom.

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After a brief stint in the trees we emerged at another washed out creek bed. According to the map this was Pearl Creek (which later becomes Pyramid Creek after merging with a couple of other streams).
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This creek would have been a little trickier to cross had it not been for the presence of a pair of footbridges.
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After crossing the creek we popped back into the forest and almost immediately came to a clear spring.
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Beyond the spring the trail began to climb steeply gaining over 400′ in a half mile before becoming a bit more gradual as it traversed up the hillside crossing a few creek beds along the way.
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IMG_9763There were quite a few coral fungi present as well.

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IMG_9769The mushrooms in the back had exploded.

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IMG_9774A few red huckleberries left to eat.

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Approximately one and three quarters of a mile from the Pearl Creek crossing we arrived at Devil’s Dream Creek.
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This creek flowed through a narrow slot canyon that looked (and sounded) really interesting.
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Although the trail briefly climbed uphill along side the canyon there were no views to speak of save one look down to the water below. From that spot it sounded like there was some sort of waterfall just upstream but there was no angle available to see anything so we settled for more colorful mushrooms.
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A half mile after crossing Devil’s Dream Creek we did spot a waterfall downhill to the right of the trail just before arriving at Devil’s Dream Camp. A path led down to the creek here. There wasn’t a lot of water flowing but it looked like it might be a pretty good waterfall when there was more flow.
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After the side trip we passed through the 8-site Devil’s Dream Camp.
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It was uphill through the camp but not longer after passing the group site the trail leveled out a bit and entered the first meadow as we neared Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground.
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A larger meadow followed with a view of Mt. Rainier hiding behind Iron Mountain.
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IMG_9825Gentians

IMG_9826Mushrooms in the meadow.

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IMG_9828Gray jay in the huckleberries.

A quarter mile from the camp we arrived at Squaw Lake.
IMG_9832Iron Mountain from the lake.

We crossed Devil’s Dream Creek again as we passed around the lake.
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I don’t know where the actual boundary of the hunting ground is but beyond Squaw Lake the meadows kept opening up more as we neared a backcountry patrol cabin.
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Finally Mt. Rainier came back into view.
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We spotted the patrol cabin approximately 8 miles (according to my GPS) into the hike. The cabin was set back in some trees overlooking the meadow with Mt. Rainier in the background. It couldn’t have been a more picturesque setting.
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We had been playing leap frog with another pair of day hikers who had planned on turning back at the cabin. We had also considered that given the distance and elevation gain to get there, but the mountain was so visible we decided to push on to Mirror Lakes which was just under a mile away. From a junction with the Kautz Creek Trail near the cabin we followed a pointer for the Mirror Lakes Trail .3 miles down the Wonderland Trail.
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The Wonderland Trail lost a little elevation before arriving at the Mirror Lakes Trail junction. Views of Mt. Rainier were plentiful along the .3 mile stretch.
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We turned onto the Mirror Lakes Trail which was pretty wet in spots from the recent rains, as were the meadows alongside the trail.
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There were a number of frogs in the meadow and they seemed to be enjoying the extra water.
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Most of the flowers were long since past but a few stragglers were hanging on.
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IMG_9920Butterfly on the remains of an aster.

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While the Summer flowers were mostly gone the nearby hillsides were heralding the arrival of Fall.
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We were glad that we’d decided to go on even before reaching the Mirror Lakes as the trail just kept getting us closer views of Mt. Rainier.
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IMG_9931Pyramid Peak to the right.

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The best was yet to come though. The largest (and first) of the little lakes that make up the Mirror Lakes had a perfect reflection of the still mostly cloud free mountain.
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We lingered for awhile studying the mountains various features.
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We would have loved to have stuck around longer but we still had a long hike back to Longmire and a 2 hour drive to our motel so we pulled ourselves away and started back. In the time it took to reach the patrol cabin the clouds had increased noticably.
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The shift in the clouds did reveal more of Emerald Ridge to the north which had some interesting features.
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We returned the way we’d come until arriving at the Wonderland Trail/Rampart Ridge Trail junction. This portion of the hike saw us spotting additional mushrooms that we hadn’t noticed earlier and a few more frogs, including one at the spring near Pearl Creek.
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IMG_9987This guy was tiny.

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IMG_9995Frog on a rock at the spring.

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The clouds had really moved in by the time we were crossing Kautz Creek and Mt. Rainier was gone.
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From the Wonderland/Rampart Ridge junction we stayed straight on the Wonderland Trail which, in addtion to being new trail, was at least a mile shorter route back to Longmire.
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The trail lost elevation pretty quickly and was fairly steep in places. The mushroom theme continued here as well.
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The trail did level out some as it passed below Rampart Ridges cliffs and over a swale on a boardwalk.
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We crossed the Paradise Road and soon after turned at a pointer for Longmire.
IMG_0044Looking back across the road.

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Our feet were sore and our knees tired but the 16.4 miles had been more than worth it. As we were loading up the car a gentleman asked if we would give him a ride out of the park. He had been on the Wonderland Trail but after 5 days of rain everything was wet and he hadn’t been able to cook some of his food so he was living to fight another day. His car was at Mowhich Lake though so we gave him a lift to Ashford and dropped him off at a motel/restaurant there before heading toward Seattle.

It was a great start to the weekend, if only Seattle’s play had been half as impressive as Mt. Rainier was maybe they could have pulled out a win. Ah well, we will take a beautiful hike over a single W any time. Happy Trails! (and GO Hawks!)

Flickr: Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground

Categories
Hiking Middle Santiam Old Cascades Oregon Trip report

Donaca Lake – Middle Santiam Wilderness

We recently returned from our final overnight backpacking “test run”. Our destination for this round was Donaca Lake in the Middle Santiam Wilderness. The wilderness, established in 1984, consists of 8900 acres in the Willamette National Forest. There were several potential trailheads that we could have started at and we chose to park at the Pyramids Trail. http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/willamette/null/recarea/?recid=4334&actid=64

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This trailhead left us with the least amount of driving time, but it was by no means the shortest hike to Donaca Lake. That was okay with us since we were wanting the extra distance to get used to hiking with our packs over 12 miles at a time, and coming from this trail we would be able to do the majority of the Middle Santiam River hike described in William L. Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades. After crossing a little footbridge we turned left on the South Pyramid Creek Trail which traversed the SE flank of the South Pyramid for 1.5 miles where it briefly joined road 572 at a trail junction. On the opposite side of the road was the Crescent Mountain Trail. This was the opposite end of the trail we had taken up to the top of Crescent Mountain earlier in the month. The South Pyramid Creek Trail picked up about 10 yards down the road reentering the trees on the same side that we had just exited.

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The trail soon began following an unnamed stream downhill toward South Pyramid Creek. We crossed over this stream a couple of times, sometimes on a bridge and other times not.
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As we neared South Pyramid Creek the forest showed signs of logging activity on our left. This meant a lack of trees and shade, but it also meant there were tons of berries that had taken advantage of the sunlight and disturbed soil. We noticed several different varieties of huckleberries/blueberries, trailing blackberries, and what turned out to be Gooseberries.
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Gooseberry

Since we didn’t know what they were for sure we didn’t sample the gooseberries, but the rest of the berries were thoroughly tested. 🙂

The trail crossed road 2047 where a sign indicated it’s continuation 800′ to the right.
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We turned up the road, passed over the creek and started looking for the continuation. We hadn’t really thought out just how far 800′ was and at first we thought we’d passed by the trail since we felt like we’d gone plenty far. We backtracked looking for an sign of the trail and tried pushing through some trees thinking that we might have seen it. Once we stopped for a minute and really considered that 800′ is nearly three full football fields we realized we hadn’t gone far enough so we headed back up the road. I spotted a sign ahead just around a bend and announced that I’d found it, then looked to my left to see I was standing next to a trail and hiker sign. What I had seen was actually a sign for the South Pyramid Horse Camp and I had completely missed the trail.
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The trail was much fainter and overgrown in this section. It appeared that the trail had been rerouted at some point which would explain why my maps and Garmin did not show the 800′ road walk and instead showed the trail continuing directly across the road. It would also explain the trail junction that we came to not far from the road. It wasn’t on the Forest Service Topographical Maps I had nor was it shown on the Garmin (in fact both showed that the South Pyramid Creek Trail ceased to exist before reaching the Chimney Peak Trail which was the one we needed. Sullivan’s map showed the trail connecting and so did the Willamette National Forest trail description, but standing at this junction we became a bit confused. There was only one sign at the junction.
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It was on a tree facing away from the direction we’d come. It was a “Y” junction so one trail went up and away to the right and the other headed down to our left. The distances didn’t match up with anything I had seen or read about but I knew we wanted to head toward Shedd Camp. The map in Sullivan’s book showed the South Pyramid Creek Trail intersecting the Chimney Peak Trail .3 miles from the Middle Santiam River and the Shedd Camp Shelter and we had planned to turn left at that point to visit a small waterfall on the river. The 2.4 mile distance listed on this sign just didn’t make any sense though. We headed left wondering if we would magically arrive at the river in .3 miles but after walking for awhile it became apparent that that would not be the case. After approximately 1.5 miles we spotted what I thought was a really random sign pointing back up the trail we’d just come down identifying the trail as the South Pyramid Creek Trail.
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After a moment pondering why there would be a sign here we noticed another trail and sign. We had finally arrived at the Chimney Peak Trail.
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This time there really was only .3 miles to the Middle Santiam River. We took a break there to look at the falls and enjoy the river.
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After the break we headed back up to the trail junction and took the Chimney Peak Trail. We were now following the route described in our 100 Hikes book which put an end to the trail surprises. It was 2 miles from the junction to our next marker, Pyramid Creek. Along the way we spotted a couple of very interesting patches of Indian Pipe.
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There was a nice camp site at Pyramid Creek which was my backup plan just in case there were no sites available at the lake. The creek itself was fairly wide with no bridge, and there was no way we were going to get across dry.
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After fording the creek we crossed road 2041 which was abandoned years ago due to numerous washouts and entered the Middle Santiam Wilderness.
Road 2041:
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Edge of the wilderness:
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It was obvious that the trail doesn’t get a lot of use as the vegetation was encroaching on most of it.
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The trail was joined by the Gordon Peak Trail 2.3 miles from Pyramid Creek and shortly after we came to Swamp Creek. I had expected a swampy bog here given the name but found a nice little creek that required another fording.
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After crossing Swamp Creek we were only about three quarters of a mile from Donaca Lake. I had read somewhere that there was only one camp site at the lake and we had just passed a couple who had been staying at the lake so we were anxious to get there to make sure we could get a tent site. They told us the lake was lovely and it did not disappoint. From the first view through the trees we could see it was a very pretty little lake.
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As we were passing along the lake we spotted a trail up to a small camp site away from the lake so we headed up and claimed our spot. After dropping off our gear we headed back down to the trail to explore the rest of the lake. The trail came to an inlet creek where we found another bigger campsite and a nice little gravel beach.
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Just a little further up the trail was a third campsite but we decided to stay where we had dropped our packs because we didn’t want to be in the path of the lake access. Before going back and setting up camp though we sat on the gravel beach and watched as Newts and fish swam around in the lake while birds and bugs zoomed over the water.
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After watching the wildlife for awhile we headed back to our packs and set up camp.
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While we were setting up another group arrived and settled down at the big site so when we were ready to go back down to the lake we took our dinner and headed to the third site we’d found and followed a little path to a different gravel beach. After dinner we hung out for awhile before turning in for the night.
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I woke up a little before 5AM and headed down to the lake to see if I could get any sunrise pictures. There wasn’t enough light for my camera to pick up much but there was a colorful stump that Heather had remarked on after dinner. It’s reflection in the water was eye catching.
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After Heather woke up and we’d eaten breakfast we packed up and started our return trip. It was going well until we hit the 3.8 mile sign. It was the longest section of trail I can remember hiking. We kept thinking we were going to arrive at road 572 and the Crescent Mtn. Trail junction but instead we just kept climbing. Even when we finally spotted the road it seemed as though we paralleled it for miles. We had a mini celebration when we did finally pop out on the road before tackling the final mile and a half. The final stretch went much quicker as it was primarily downhill and we eventually arrived back at the Pyramids Trailhead.
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In 27.7 miles of hiking we had seen only the two groups totaling five people over the two days. If you’re looking for a nice quite forest where you can have the trail to yourself the Middle Santiam Wilderness may just be the place for you. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157645981978735/
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