Plumber Peak, Mount Rainier National Park
October 3, 2010

Autumn is one of the best times of the year in the Pacific Northwest. In the alpine zones the huckleberries turn a brilliant scarlet, exploding in a field of golds and bronzes as the shrubs and other plants get ready for the long sleep of winter. Mount Rainier is one of the fastest, and easiest, ways to see the display. It looked like we wouldn't see any of this at the trail head, let alone the Mountain; the air was dense with fog and cloud, leaving only a sense of atmospheric moodiness.

Shauna, Neal, Andrea, and I headed up the slightly mucky trail and into the fragrant woods, climbing steadily. Even though we didn't have expansive views, the local colors were impressive enough. Each plant stood out in uniqueness, a rarity in the plant world. Nature is about the species, not the individual. But now, at this time, each plant had a specialness that a couple of months ago was not present.

Humans are both outside Nature, and within it. Humans, at least some Humans, are individuals and unique in themselves, whereas one huckleberry bush is much the same as another huckleberry bush. But humans are also part of the natural world in the same way that a fox or a crow or a toad is. We are both animal and other. And that makes us unique on our planet.

Unbalance happens when we try to live in one world exclusively, and ignore the other part of us. Buried in a maintenance manual for motorcycles is this sort of argument, though not brought to the logical conclusion of the author. We are both Romantic and Classic. Living in one world isn't any healthier than being dead.

We reached the pass and found ourselves lost in a dense fog. Without being able to see our objective for the day, we were forced to wander and hope that we might stumble upon the peak. Wander we did, and scramble we did, but Plumber Peak we did not find. A bit of food and we started our retreat. As we reached the pass, the clouds lifted just enough for us to spot the ridgeline we needed to gain. Up we went once more. By some sort of miracle, the clouds lifted on just enough of the mountain for us to enjoy it the moment we reached the top.

It was hard not to giggle on top, and not just due to the Steel Reserve. It was as if we were getting away with something that just shouldn't be. All day it had been nasty and foggy and misty, except for the very moment we reached the top of Plumber Peak.

The sun grew strong enough for us to need sunglasses. It was a picture perfect Pacific Northwest summit. Clouds down low, exploding countryside, and the Mountain. All this for, if we hadn't gotten lost, about an hour's worth of effort. And we also had huckleberries to eat. If you can't be happy here, you can't be happy anywhere.

The Mountain is on the list for this winter, spring, and summer. Gibralter Ledges in February, Emmons Glacier in June, and Tahoma Glacier in July. That's a lot of time on the largest glacier complex in the contiguous United States, but it is a worthy place to spend my rapidly disappearing free time.

I'm getting old and my interests are changing. My time is going to other places and other hobbies. New responsibilities and obligations. This isn't a bad thing. It is only a change. And a change that I've been very deliberate in making. It has been an active decision. The best ones always are. Along with the unstructured, floating ones. The intuitive ones, I mean. It is the duality of man. Angel and Devil. Mind and Body. Classic and Romantic. Both are needed, and one is not enough.


From Lakewood, take SR 512 east to SR 7 and follow the signs directing you to Paradise. After passing Alder Lake, reach the town of Elbe and take SR 706 to the Nisqually entrance station of the park. Unless you have an annual pass of some sort you'll need to pony up $15 at the entrance station. Follow the road past Longmire and climb to the road to Stevens Canyon (signed for Sunrise). Make a right turn (if you reach Paradise, you've gone too far). Drive to the Reflection Lakes Trailhead and pick up the Pinnacle Peak trail. Hike 2 miles up to the end of the maintained trail at Pinnacle Pass. Make a left turn and follow the use trail up to Plumber Peak.