Berkeley Park

Berkeley Park

A few months ago, the Mountaineers Director of Membership & Communications, asked me to take part in this summer’s Our Parks, Your Adventure (OPYA) Challenge to raise money for the club’s disadvantaged youth programs. Saying yes was the easy part. The hard part was picking something that I could do in the amount of time allotted for the challenge and something that would make me push my limits without going overboard.

I decided on the Berkeley Park Trail on the Sunrise side of Mount Rainier. It would be a seven + mile hike with 1200’ elevation gain. I wasn’t too worried about the distance. I had just started hiking again, in the previous two months after having both knees replaced. But, while I could hike five miles on fairly level ground, I knew the elevation gain would really push me in a way I hadn’t been challenged in over a decade. I only had two months to prepare for this challenging hike, one listed as ‘strenuous’ on the Mount Rainier trail handout, but when I looked on The Mountaineers website it’s listed as easy…boy, did it ever feel a lot more strenuous to me!

To help prepare, I walked up and down my block, which has around 262 feet elevation gain – very steep over a very short distance! Before knee surgery, I wouldn’t even attempt this walk on my block!

Next, I signed up for Rattlesnake Ledge, just to see how much I could do. It’s 4.2 miles at 1,129 feet elevation gain, so fairly significant. Plus, the other people who signed up were pretty fast hikers and I struggled to keep up. I hiked about 83% of the trail before my legs felt like jelly and I just couldn’t hike any higher. I rested until the others in the group were on their way back down, then I joined them for the descent. Keep in mind that this hike was just four short months after my last knee replacement and after a decade of inactivity that resulted in a lot of lost muscle tone.

Some other hikes I used as practice were the Big 4 Ice Caves Trail (912’ elevation gain), High Ridge Trail (213’ elevation gain), the Golden Gate Trail (181′ elevation gain), Hurricane Hill Trail (912’ elevation gain), and Marymere Falls (393’ elevation gain). I couldn’t even finish the Hurricane Hill Trail, so I was pretty nervous as my big day got closer!

After meeting my donation goal for the OPYA challenge, I decided to take a page from Kristina’s handbook and wear a multi-colored tutu for my hike, promising everyone who supported me with a donation a photo of me wearing in on the trail.

To reach the Berkeley Park Trail, I first had to climb 400’ in elevation over .76 miles to the Sourdough Ridge Trail. Then, I followed that trail for .78 miles and an additional 52’ of elevation to the western end of Frozen lake.

Continuing west, I hiked another .73 miles on fairly level terrain. This was the area where I saw my very first marmot – a pair actually, who came within feet of us and even seemed to pose for photos. The next part was the most beautiful, as we descended down into the valley for another 1.15 miles and dropping 692’ in elevation. It took us 3.25 hours to read our turnaround point. After a stop for lunch, we headed back to Sunrise. While most of the others hurried ahead, it took me almost three hours just to make it back to Frozen Lake. Hiking back up that elevation gain was probably the hardest thing I have ever done…or at least in the past decade! The rest of the hike took me 50 minutes.

The first thing I did was remove my hiking boots and socks and put on my slip-on shoes! Then, I downed a bottle of Gatorade and turned on the A/C in my car to cool off.

I met my challenge goal, both in donations raised and my personal achievement, but I will probably wait another year before attempting a hike as strenuous. I still have a long way to go to build muscle back up in my legs after a decade of inactivity.

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