Sea to Ski – Part 2 @ the Mountains

It’s impossible to ignore the mountains in western Washington. If you are in the right spots you will simultaneously see Mt. Baker in the north, Mt. Rainier due east of Tacoma, the Cascades range in the east, and the Olympic range on the western Olympic Peninsula. In between are ridges, hills, and valleys that were contoured in a long ago age. Being a midwestern and southeast coast girl, I am fascinated by grandeur and scale of the topography around me.

My first trip after the pandemic was to the western Olympic coast. My second trip is to the Cascade mountains due east of Rainier in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest just outside the Mt. Rainier National Park. I camped at Silver Springs campground which sits alongside the White River which flows directly out of Mt. Rainier. The natural springs produce several creeks that flow through the campground. This is an old growth forest of tremendous beauty. The nearest town to the campground is at 1700 feet elevation. Nearby Crystal Mountain is 7000 feet. Twelve miles south and up from the campground is the Chinook Pass over the Cascades at 5400 feet. I’m guessing the campground is at about 2500 feet.This gives you a sense of the scale of the area. Mt. Rainier – which can’t be seen from the campground due to intervening ridges has an elevation of 14,000 feet. It can be seen from Route 410 but it was cloudy when I was on the road, obscuring any views.

campground road

The winding road (WA Route 410) took me through the forest once I left the last major concentration of people in Enumclaw which sits on volcanic ash from Rainier. It quickly became apparent that this forest was dense, tall, and exceptionally quiet. I caught glimpses of the White River as I got closer to the campground. It’s as if someone came into the area with a scalpel and carefully carved out this campground. There are only 50 or so sites, each delicately placed within the forest and blissfully separated from each other by the old growth. Washington forests have lots of liken, moss, and firns making them different than Wisconsin forests for example. I made my way down the narrow camp road lined with tall trees standing sentinel. Somehow I maneuvered my Airstream between trees and into my paved site. I felt like I was in a movie world from Lord of the Rings or the Hobbits. I was stunned. Trees hundreds of feet high and some were lying on the ground with stumps at my site and stretching over the springs creek to the river. I sat amongst the giants in silence, save for the sound of flowing water. Midweek means fewer campers and there were only five or so sites occupied. Except for someone’s dog, I never heard the other people. Enough sun reached my trailer roof to keep my solar power going but the trees were a significant shield from even seeing the sky. At night the sky was overcast but even if it were clear it would be challenging to see many stars.

Maybe it was being inside for so long during the pandemic or maybe it is the magic of the forest. Regardless, I felt rejuvenated by being there. The smell of the evergreen trees, the peat and moss, and the ultra clean air was intoxicating. I never saw any wildlife though Elk and other small animals are in the area. Fishing is popular and I did see some people trying their luck in the river. Salmon spawn in the springs and the river but not at this time of year. There are miles and miles of trails in the area, climbing on the mountains, a gondola at Crystal Mountain, skiing in the winter, and other outdoor activities. I did none of these things except walk the campground and enjoyed myself immensely. Sometimes just being in nature is sufficient to make a difference in my well-being. Doing activities is not required to enjoy this place.

I look forward to going to the National Park from the west side and actually see Rainier up close! I would return to this campground for sure. It cast its spell on me. I’m not a wilderness hiker or backpacker. I have neither the experience nor fortitude to solo hike. Campgrounds give me access in a way that driving through the area misses. Spending time at the river’s edge, sitting under towering trees, and breathing the air is invigorating. It is different yet similar to sitting on the beach watching and hearing the roar of the Pacific Ocean. Nature is a soundtrack and presence that is extraordinary. I’m so lucky to be able to experience it all here – from sea to ski!

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