Thursday, August 4, 2016

Westside Road Adventures: Lake George and Gobblers Knob Lookout

I said it would be an easy bike ride followed by a short and easy hike. I said we would see hardly any people. I said these things to entice my teenage siblings up the Westside Road of Mt. Rainier to the Gobblers Knob Lookout, and even believed them myself. As we pushed our bikes up the long hill to Round Pass we were passed by many swift and unencumbered hikers – yet again my rose-tinted planning glasses had let me down.

Mt. Wow from the Westside Road trailhead

 We arrived to find the trailhead nearly full, even at an early hour of a weekday morning, and we appeared to be the only ones who had thought to bring bikes. Closed due to frequent destructive floods, the Westside road crosses two creeks at its start. Thinking to simply glide through the first of these, I hit the water at full tilt, and was rewarded by a drenching plume of water that gushed up over my legs. My sister – wiser than me despite her youth – crossed on the handy flattened log placed across the stream beside the road.

Tahoma Creek

Past a forest drowned in a sea of boulders washed down by glacial floods from Rainier, we came to the roughly repaired portion of road that borders the turbulent waters of Tahoma Creek – the stream painted a milky white by the glacier milk that feeds it. This bumpy stretch turn be highly enjoyable; a rough roller coaster ride over a wild river patch job. Beyond the trailhead for the semi abandoned route to the Tahoma Creek Bridge and the Wonderland Trail, the road becomes a dreary slog through young forest – a constant uphill on the way to Round Pass. Mutiny threatened as we reached our destination – a derelict parking lot with a decayed sign for Round Pass.

 It was a relief to leave our bikes and take to the verdant depths of the woods. The forest here is one of the finest in the park – ancient giants tower over delicate woodland flowers, and the trail weaves from deep forest shade to numerous peak-a-boo views of valleys and glaciers beyond. This would have been an easy hike had we not already pushed our bikes 4 miles to reach the trailhead.  The less than a mile journey to Lake George felt longer than it had any right to be, possibly due to the heavily annoyed footfalls of a teenager dogging my steps.

The beauty of Lake George was marred by ground too damp to sit on, skies quickly clouding, and families with small children chattering and calling as they arrived around us.

It was to numerous groans and complaints that we continued on; up through meadows and past bogs, until the teenagers planted themselves by a meadow of avalanche lilies and refused to move. With strict instructions to return at an appointed time, I hit the trail to scale the last half mile of mountain to the lookout. Drenched in sweat from running most of the way, I finally rounded the final spur of rock and was greeted by the vast panorama I had so longed for that day – though the mountain itself was still stubbornly wrapped in cloud. The real dark cloud, though, over my visit to this spectacular place was the vandalism I discovered at the historic Gobblers Knob lookout (details of which can be found here).
Emerald Ridge and Glaciers from Gobblers Kob

With no time to dwell on the evil that lurks in the hearts of men, I set up my tripod to capture a few hurried timelapses, and then reluctantly hightailed it down the mountain as fast as I could safely go in order to avert the wrath that faced me from the teenagers in the meadow below.

The ride down justified the pain and suffering of dragging our heavy bikes all the way up to the pass, and the experience of gliding down through the forest soothed somewhat the savage mood of my siblings. Only once or twice did we have to peddle, and it was with no small amount of smugness that we flew past hikers plodding their slow way down the long road.

The Westside Road is not the easiest, most spectacular, or least travelled path in Mt. Rainier National Park, yet it does hold its own unique charms.  Despite its popularity, there remains a sense of adventure that eludes one on more renowned pathways. Hiking the tourist laden byways of the more easily accessed parts of Mt. Rainier makes one appreciate anywhere less trodden. There has been talk over the years of reopening the road, and I think this would be a mistake.  Let it remain a bike path, a highway free of noise through the deep woods of the most mysterious side of Tahoma.