Time listening to the mountain

I heard the jet overheard, the view of it blocked by the canopy of branches arching over the trail. I’m sure the view from 35,000 feet was rather spectacular as the plane flew over the Cascades on a sunny spring day.

Most days, I would be envious of such a view. I love to see the mountains from above.

But on this day, I found myself unconcerned about the views.

I had come to Mount Rainier National Park to interview some staffers for future stories. But when I was done, I opted to take advantage of the lack of snow in the Longmire area and the extra time I had. So I donned my backpack and started up the Wonderland Trail from Longmire headed for Cougar Rock.

Walking through the forest, I knew the views of the mountain would be few.

But I was OK with that. On this trek, I was intent on using on my listening skills. Not every trip can be about looking for the next view of Mount Rainier, I told myself.

The park accommodated my aural approach, filling the afternoon with an amazing array of sounds.

The sound of the Nisqually River coursing down the mountainside was a constant companion. In one spot, the river loudly tumbled over a series of rock steps. In other places, it quietly glided through a small pool.

There were other water sounds, like the gurgle of a small creek tumbling down the hillside over a jumble of rocks. The green moss that covered the streamside rocks almost glowed in the afternoon sunshine.

The wind created a rush as it blew through the top branches of the Douglas fir and Western cedar that soared stories above my head.

For much of the first part of my hike, the most constant sound came from my boots. There was a crunch as I walked over a small stretch of gravel-size rock. There was a steady thump when I walked across the hard-packed dirt. Where fir and cedar needles thickly blanketed the path, my footsteps were nearly muffled.

I was surprised when I realized that I had gone quite away before hearing a bird. I couldn’t see it amid the tangle of tree branches, but it’s chirp was clear. When I neared the Cougar Rock area I could hear more, a mix of twirls, chirps and longer calls.

The sounds of man – jets overhead and the thrum of car tires when the trail cut near the road to Paradise – made me appreciate my chosen task this day.

But not all human sounds were intrusions. When I reached the Cougar Rock/Comet Falls trailhead, I could hear the chatter of a quartet of park visitors as they hopped from rock to rock in the river bed. Their laughter provided proof that I was not the only one enjoying the day.

Even the delicate crunch of a lunchtime Cheeto added to the afternoon’s soundtrack.

The pleasant “Hello, how are you?” from two women just starting up the trail as I approached Longmire was a nice way to end my journey.

What struck me most, however, were those remarkable moments of silence. At one point, I crossed through an area where moss and lichen blanketed the ground like a green carpet. The tree branches allowed only scattered rays of sun to reach the forest floor. But the wind had stopped, there were no cars on the road, no one else on the trail. I came to a stop and realized it was just me and the park.

Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640

N 47 45.845

W 121 47.712

Check out these coordinates: I found this spot to have lunch just off the Wonderland Trail, not too far from the Comet Falls Trailhead. The spot is at the top of a bluff overlooking the Nisqually River, with Eagle Peak as the backdrop. I could see the snowmelt running down the cleft in the mountainside creating what will likely be a sizeable waterfall once the weather warms. A couple of trees make for a good backrest.