The snow covering Wonderland Trail is slippery and treacherous. When I try to inch my way down a slope, my feet fly out from under me and I land on my butt. The snow is soft and wet, and the seat of my pants gets soaked before I can scramble to my feet. Oops! The Reflection Lakes trail is a loop, and I quickly realize I’ve got to take it from the other direction, so I turn around and go the other way, back to the parking area and up the road to the other trailhead two tenths of a mile away. This trail looks much more promising.
I soon come to a fork and leave the Wonderland Trail to take the high trail. The path climbs steadily uphill. I stop next to a little creek to play my flute, then climb some more. The flies are nasty today, and they bite! I meet some other hikers coming down, and one of the women has mosquito netting dangling from her hat. In spite of the heat, she is wearing long sleeves and long pants. It is obvious she has been here before! I reach what appears to be the summit, with spectacular lake views far below.
There are lots of people up here. “This is the welcoming committee,” an elderly man says with a smile. One couple was here three weeks before and tried to do the trail, only to find it completely snow covered, just like me, and like me, they came back today to try again. They took the trail down from Paradise. They warn me that there is still plenty of snow ahead. Part of the welcoming committee continues down, and I head onward… this wasn’t the summit; the path continues uphill. Even though this is late August, snow fields cover the trail in a lot of places. When there isn’t snow, the trail is flooded. The sound of running water is everywhere from the melting snow.
I pick my way across slippery snow, following the faint tracks of previous hikers, until I find a fallen log next to a stream where I can sit and eat the sandwich I packed.
I hope I’m still on the right trail, because some of the tracks in the snow head off in different directions, but I figure if the trail I’m following ends up in Paradise or someplace far from my car, I can always turn around and go back the way I came. Picking my way across snow fields, sometimes sinking down to my knees, makes the trail seem much longer than the three miles the map says it really is. All the same, I keep stopping to look around, it’s so beautiful.
After about three hours, I come to a little sign marking a fork in the trail. One branch goes to Paradise, the other to Reflection Lakes. At last, I know I’ve come the right way. I head toward the lake.
Just before a huge snow bank blocks my path, I find a stairway heading up to the road. I follow that road back to where I parked.
By the time I reach my car, I’m ready to wilt, but I’m not ready to leave the park yet, so I drive on for more spectacular views. The mountain looms everywhere I go. The trail I just took tired me enough to turn off my analytical mind and my real self is wide open. The road is curvy; it winds back and forth and keeps bringing me face to face with that magnificent looming presence. It is a presence, and I want to prostate myself and make offerings to it the way people do at Mt. Kilauea in Hawaii. It feels like God. And what is its real name? I wonder. Certainly not “Mount Rainier.” More like Parameshwara, Supreme Lord. Photos just don’t capture the hugeness, the awesome presence of it. It is the holiest thing I have ever seen.