Thursday, September 09, 2010

Day Trip to Mount Rainier

(Disclaimer: I cannot take credit for any of these photos! Thanks to Ray, Jen, and Morgan for letting me pilfer theirs.)

As you may remember, back in July when I visited Mt Rainier for the first time in my life I immediately made plans to return in August. That trip came and went two weeks ago and although the plan was modified about a dozen times it ended up being a really great experience.

I had reserved two campsites on the A loop at Ohanapecosh for the 8 people who initially said they wanted to go. Through a variety of events in many of our lives, this number was whittled down to just a few campers but a lot of people who wanted to go for the day. Eventually we decided to caravan in two cars and make it a long day trip.

The day started, as all great day trips do, at a greasy spoon on Rainier Avenue (appropriate, no?) called the Silver Fork. The 8 am rendezvous time was more or less observed and we made great time in ordering (a hard feat considering the large and tempting menu), eating, and getting the hell out of dodge.

Sufficiently sated, we split into two groups - one to grocery shop and one to forge ahead to make sure we got to the campsite by noon. I cancelled one reservation and got a refund but kept the other so we could have a place to hang out. But, if we didn't make it by noon, they had no obligation to keep it for us.

Here I am with Ray after a quick and successful shop. Jen pointed out that we kind of match:
Once on the road it was easy sailing, though Jacob's car was not exactly pleased with the elevation gain. We made it to Ohanapecosh at about 12:15 after a minor detour (I was convinced we were making the same navigation mistake we made the first time but it turned out I jumped the gun). Luckily it gave us a chance to snap this photo of the mountain with a puff:

Fortunately the advance car made it at 11:59 (turns out they'd had some detours of their own) and the site was ours, all ours. The weather was cooperative and while it was chilly in the shade it was quite warm in the sun. Here are Morgan and Jacob after the car ride:

We needed firewood so a group was sent to nearby Packwood while the rest of us went down to check out the river.

What a difference a season makes! Six weeks earlier the river had been dangerously high and fast; the roar could be heard from the entire campsite. In late August it was lazy, low, meandering. I took some time to sit atop a rock (which was underwater last time) and contemplate life (there's been a lot to contemplate lately) and feel generally grateful, as I always do in such circumstances, for my blessed life.

Once the firewood was at hand we built a real clothes-ripper as my Mom would call it (because it's so hot you have to rip off your clothes... get it?). While building up to sausage-roasting temperatures, Ray took the opportunity to jump over things, like the picnic table and skeptically willing people seated in camp chairs. (If you ever need a surefire way to find out 1) if someone trusts you and/or 2) if someone is really your friend... ask to jump over them.)

Before, during, and after jumpfest, we feasted on potato chips and hummus, tabouleh salad, and sausages roasted on forest-foraged sticks. Here's Nick with his stick:

There was a throwback to college as we played a favorite card game called 13, and then the real campfire highlight... s'mores! I still had fixins left over from Mt. Rainier camping trip #1 and was determined to get them eaten. I am a s'more aficionado and take pride in the patience and skill necessary to cultivate the perfect golden brown marshmallow. Since this trip I have started "watching what I eat" and "making good choices" like "exercising." Writing about s'mores makes me want to smear roasted marshmallow and melted chocolate all over my face since then I don't technically have to list it in today's food journal... right?

I digress... after some more campfire downtime, another trip to the river, and a tour of the visitor's center, we headed to Sunrise at about 4 pm for the actual, intended purpose of the original trip: wildflowers! We really only had time for one of the two main spots and decided against Paradise since, if given the choice, I'll avoid crowds. I had also gotten a great vibe from Sunrise the first time around and was eager to see what it looked like without the snow.

Up we went through the curvy roads and stunning views, stopping at the panoramic vista about a mile below Sunrise proper to snap this self-group portrait:
The nice part about going so late in the day was that most people were already headed back to their campsites or home for the night. (This was, incidentally, also the nice part about being at the campsite during the day: everyone else was at Paradise or Sunrise or hiking somewhere and it was empty!) So we had the trails mostly to ourselves. (Though we were curious about the fact that, as we were leaving toward dusk and with nary a soul in sight, the parking lot was still full of cars - where were all of these people?? The Wonderland trail perhaps?)

We started up a "nature trail" and it took me a few minutes to realize that, even though I came back exactly when the park rangers told me to, the wildflowers were not quite as wondrous as had been advertised. Sure, they were pretty and abundant, but had either peaked, hadn't quite reached their peak, or were at their peak but just not as glorious as most years due to an inclement summer. Check out the meadow in this one taken on our trip:
Compared to this one which I borrowed from America's Best Idea:

Despite the lackluster meadows, I wasn't disappointed. There were still plenty of flowers and there was one in especial abunance which was odd and awesome and I loved it. I would call it a mop-head alien flower, but its actual name is "Western Anemone," which is almost as cool.
The weather was still on our side and the views during our hike were stunning. I love this shot:
Once we got to the top of the nature trail (about a mile), a few of us decided to trek further up to a peak (another mile and a half) while the rest did an extended nature walk. It was no easy climb - we were at a pretty significant elevation and it was all uphill - but it was worth it once we reached the top. What a glorious sensation, feeling almost even with Mount Rainier! (Of course we were nowhere near its 14,000 foot elevation, but perspective is a funny thing.) It was cold and windy but sunny and we took a few minutes to bask in our surroundings and take some photos before heading back down.

Jen got this great shot by balancing the camera on my backpack on a rock:
Ray took a series of panoramic shots that he has promised to put together and share with us. Here's Jen trying to get out of the way of one:

In a lot of ways I think any hike down is worse than up - it's certainly more impact on the body and by that time you're tired and potentially getting a bit stiff. But, we made it in good time and when I looked back up at the peak we'd just summited I smiled in gratitude at the weather's cooperation; just 30 minutes after we'd been up there enjoying stunning views, it was covered in a dark, mean cloud.

Here's a shot of our descent:

We were tired but satisfied and climbed back into the cars for our return home. We stopped in Enumclaw for some hot beverages which were oddly difficult to procure (I broke into a Safeway Starbucks to get Morgan some hot water) and then it was back to Seattle without event.

I walked into a disbanded party scene and gratefully ate the leftovers my roommates had yet to put away, then made an overnight waffle batter to enjoy the next morning with our houseguests.

It was the very definition of a Red Letter Day. I hope to make Rainier an annual event... until we meet again, Mountain.

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