The Delights of the Ohanapecosh RiverPosted October 9th, 2008
by Ernest Jones
We were camped at Ohanapecosh Park, just off the southeast corner of Mount Rainier National Park in the beautiful Cascade Mountain Range in Washington State. One morning we decided to walk to a nearby hot springs and then on to Silver Falls on the Ohanapecosh River. As soon as we left the paved road of the campground I knew the trail had not been created for someone with limited vision.
The first difficulty I encountered was that my guide dog, Melita, and I had to walk across a stream on stepping stones designed for single-file use. But though Melita hesitated at first, she walked me safely across, and neither of us got our feet wet.
Large rocks, some several feet in diameter, and large tree roots presented obstructions along the trail, but Melita was on the job—and knew her job well. When we came to an obstruction, she would stop and let me find the root or step or rock that we needed to navigate around. Steps along the inclined trail were never the same, with some only three or four inches high while others could be a step of nearly a foot and a half. In some places, logs of about six inches in diameter had been placed across the trail with dirt filled in behind to form steps, but in other places it was living tree roots that formed the steps.
The hot springs were shallow, like a sheet of hot water about four inches deep. The place stunk like rotten eggs.
Leaving the hot springs, the trail grew steeper and rougher and we had to give even more attention to our footing. During the next mile we climbed 1,000 feet higher in elevation. Much of the land was covered in soft moss—in some places up to a foot deep. The thick moss felt spongy if we stepped on it.
Huge Douglas fir and hemlock trees soared above us, their massive trunks so large that two men could not reach around them. These trees reached 150 feet or more into the sky. Just outside our campsite we had measured a fallen giant and found it to be 232 feet long.
As we continued, the trail became even more primitive, and seldom could I walk 10 feet without stepping over the next root—spanning the trail like a large serpent.
We listened to the wind as it brushed past the trees, and felt its refreshing coolness on our faces. Seeming to have no beginning or end, the breeze wafted past, ever present but never in a hurry. Mingled with the whispering wind was the constant song of the river as it danced around boulders on its race to the valley far below.
Hiking on, we became aware of a humming sound that increased as we walked. Then, rounding a curve, we came face to face with magnificent Silver Falls. Here the Ohanapecosh River roars over a precipice, plunging from one ledge to the next in its thundering rush to descend 100 vertical feet. Spray from the falls hurried past us. We were told that one month earlier, at the height of the springtime runoff, this crystal clear river had rushed over Silver Falls at 5,400 cubit feet per minute.
Again we started to climb, eventually reaching a spot where we could look down on the falls. The land around us was strewn with boulders, some as large as semi trucks. Then we crossed the Cowlitz Divide—a name that rang a bell with me. The Cowlitz River reaches the Columbia River just outside of Longview, Washington, where I had lived for many years. Now I had found this river’s birthplace—the glaciers of Mt. Rainier.
The hike was exciting and refreshing. Spending time in God’s nature always reminds me of what He is preparing for us. I was tired at the end of this day, but Isaiah reminds us, “Those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40: 31, NKJV). A day is coming when we will be able to hike and run and never get tired. To me, that sounds just marvelous.
Ernest Jones is a regular columnist for Connected and Lifeglow magazines.