Sunday, July 18, 2010

Two Glorious Days at Mount Rainier

(Warning: long blog ahead, but filled with photos!)

Last weekend I had the privilege of going to Mount Rainier for the first time in my entire life. Those of you gasping in awe – please keep in mind we were a cabin and not a camping family. Summer weekends were spent at our friends’ place on Lake Tapps swimming, boating, hot tubbing, and eating junk food.

So, when my friend A (aka Desomniac) invited me to attend his sister’s 30th birthday camping bash on the mountain I accepted with glee, even though it was six months in advance. When the weekend finally arrived we tended to some basic logistics, I made a ton of pre-prepared food, and N (aka the TwobyFourster), Desomniac and I were off.

We left on a Friday afternoon and were sure we’d run into traffic. But we avoided I-5 altogether, taking Rainier until it turned into the 167 and then merging onto a few other highways whose numbers I currently forget but whose wide open, traffic-less vistas I do not. The drive was beautiful, and the closer to the mountain we got the giddier I became. Once we entered the park itself I was exclaiming left and right about how excited I was and how incredible it all was.

We took an accidental wrong turn which allowed us to climb to a higher point ending in lake Tipsoo, still covered in snow this time of year. A quick backtrack had us at Ohanapecosh camp ground on the southeast side of the mountain and our sweet spot on the A loop right next to the river. All told our group had about 6 camp sites, and the people who had arrived before us had dinner all ready. We quickly set up camp, gorged on chili and then s’mores, and turned in relatively early. How cute is my car in the wilderness?

The next morning we had a huge breakfast of pancakes, hash browns, bacon, and coffee. Then, two carloads set out for Paradise, the most famous and popular destination on Mount Rainier, located on the southwest side of the mountain. We cruised up the gorgeous roads – passing a zillion bikers on the way, both motorcycles and bicycles – and were ridiculously lucky to get two adjacent parking spots. This spared us having to park farther away and take the free shuttle up.

It was a beautiful, sunshiney morning and we stopped to take a few pictures of the super-up-close mountain from the parking lot:

Then we checked out the newly remodeled visitor center. It had a pretty cool scale model of the mountain with lights showing different pathways. It also had some great interactive elements that were designed for kids but fun for adults as well. Here is a shot from the outside:

Since it’s been such a cold season, the trails at Paradise were still covered in snow. Here is our group braving the trails, including a 3.5 year old:

Now, those of you who know me as the ‘crazy no-pants lady’ will believe that I hike in a skirt and chaco sandals. So, I hiked in the snow in a skirt and chaco sandals.

My feet were red and burning for a few minutes once off the snow but they were certainly dry much faster than everyone else’s!

We paused for a few minutes in the lodge at Paradise which includes the predicable but always pleasing exposed wooden beam structure, plus these awesome chairs:

On the way back down we stopped at some of the scenic pull-offs including Reflection lake...

...Box Canyon which features the river cutting impressively through the rocks about a hundred feet beneath you...

...and Narada falls where we had lunch:

When we got back to the campsite we chilled by the river, played a rousing game of Settlers of Katan, and then ate a gigantic barbecue dinner:

After that we went to the nearby amphitheater for the park ranger talk. That night’s lecture was about water and how it interacts with the mountain and it was pretty interesting, largely because he kept it to a reasonable 40 minutes.

That night 2x4 and I stayed up late watching the stars and the smoldering fire embers and I actually managed to get six hours of uninterrupted sleep before rolling out of my sleeping bag at 6 am. I took a chair down by the river, wrote in my journal, did some yoga, and was generally peaceful for about 2 hours before the rest of the crew woke up.
Desomniac, 2x4 and I decided to hike to Silver falls before breakfast, a lovely 2.5 mile loop whose pinnacle are some fantastic falls. They were especially powerful that day due to the recent increase in temperature finally melting some of the snow.

We took this impressive trio of shots along the way:

When we got back, an identical and equally giant breakfast was underway and the sun was breaking free from the clouds to give us another beautiful day. Afterward we packed up camp and checked out the Ohanapecosh visitor center, which is actually quite expansive.

Then we started the journey to Seattle with a detour to Sunrise on the way. Here is a shot of the Olympics just a short distance from Sunrise:
Sunrise is a smaller and less popular spot than Paradise but, in my opinion, no less beautiful. The visitor center is closed until next year but they had a store stocked with some pretty fabulous merchandise, all of which I managed to resist. Here's the store with the trails in the background:
The trails at Sunrise were also still under snowpack, but we did less snow walking this time, venturing only as far as a picnic table island – the entire ‘lunch area’ was under snow – and hanging out in the sun for awhile before getting back into our cars and hitting the road for home. Here's the picnic table area:

Before heading back I took this totally dorky shot which the ranger had told kids they could do to simulate what the mountain looked like before it blew its top many years ago:

As we headed back to Seattle, Desomniac told me that I'd seen just about everything you can see on Rainier by car. Nice! The only downfall was that the meadows were not in bloom. Now that I’ve been to Rainier I can’t wait to go back and I already have a trip planned for late August when I can see the mountain in all its flowering glory. Until we meet again...


AmberAnda said...

That does sound glorious! I might have gone to Rainier as a child, but I have no distinct memories of it. Your photos definitely make me want to go!

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you'd never been to Rainier! And I'm super glad you finally went! Also, I'm very impressed by your early-rising.

Jenn said...

Funny: I know exactly the turn you took to accidentally get to Tipsoo Lake.

Mike and I hope to hike up at Sunrise tomorrow, if all goes to plan, so your post serves as a good Trip Report for us. Useful and entertaining reading.