Joined: 16 Nov 2010
Posts: 66 | TRs
|Sunrise is a far enough drive from Seattle—especially in light of the 410 closure—that I always end up visiting other parks of Mount Rainier. This weekend, however, I was determined to make it. Sunrise is not only home to more wildlife than the Paradise or Carbon River sides, it also home to species that are not found on the west side, such as Clark's nutcrackers and several unusual woodpeckers.
New to me on the northeastern side was Grand Park. This must be one of the most beautiful parts of Washington. Lake Eleanor was a lovely alpine lake in its own right, but Grand Park stole the show. The sprawling meadows looked like they belonged on some other continent or some other time period—as if a wooly mammoth might stroll through at any moment.
There were no mammoths, but elk kept up a steady bugling across Grand Park from just after sunset to just after sunrise. Every time I woke in the middle of the night, I heard them, sometimes near, sometimes far, trumpeting back and forth beneath the moon and stars. I slept out on the ground the better to enjoy the spectacle.
Needless to say, the hike in and out of Grand Park was also gorgeous—some of the best country in Washington. Along the way, I spotted seven species of mammal: elk, mountain goat, black bear, hoary marmot, pika, yellow-pine chipmunk, Cascade ground squirrel (S. saturatus).
Some years ago, Gordon Hampton's One Square Inch of Silence radicalized me with regard to noise impacts. These days, I consider one of the most important factors in a location's beauty to be the duration of time that elapses between human-caused noises. It's amazing how few places there are, even out in the wilderness areas, where you cannot spend even one full minute without hearing a human-caused noise, whether cars on a distant freeway, boats on the water, mining or logging equipment, the voices of other hikers, gunshots from hunters, or, most intrusive of all, airplanes overhead.
In your house or apartment, or out in city parks or towns, you usually cannot spend even one second without hearing a human-caused noise of some kind, 24 hours a day.
At Grand Park, half an hour or more would pass between human noises during the day. At night, many hours would pass. Hikers were few—perhaps 20 or so through Grand Park itself; roads were distant enough not to produce traffic noise; and, perhaps as a result of the pandemic, I heard only three airplanes the whole weekend. The silence of humanity added to the natural splendor of the park.
Unfortunately, I did not find any of the unique east-side bird species. The best birds I saw were evening grosbeaks and white-tailed ptarmigans, each of which can easily be seen on the west side. Still, it was fun to run into them up here.
Between the animals, the scenery, the silence, and the solitude, this ended up being one of my favorite hikes in Washington.