What Did You Do Before Noon Today?
Trip Start Jul 11, 2007
12Trip End Jul 30, 2007
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As the climb continued higher and higher we began to see a real difference in the landscape. At our furthest part away from the summit of Rainier, we began to see beautifully colored wildflowers. Nestled near babbling glacier streams that run calm and quiet, the landscape reminded me of the movie set of Heidi. Perfect and pristine, it is hard to actually believe that the beauty of this landscape is not man made. As we continued up along the trail, we started to see more and more wildlife. While limited in variety, the quantity of animals didn't disappoint. Loaded with mischievous chipmunks, friendly birds, and an interesting mammal called a marmot. A marmot looks a little like a groundhog with a very long tail. More furry and more varied in color, the Marmot waddles along low to the ground resting on rocks for warmth and foraging through patches of snow and flower beds for seeds and grass. Surrounded by green grass and wonderful wildflowers and with our new friends, the Marmots, we continued on. A third change occurred as we continued to reach higher ground. From green grass, soft waterfalls, and fragile flower petals, we now entered a much colder, snow covered terrain. Still traveling with the chipmunks and marmots, we soldiered on. Reaching new lookout points, new turns in the trail, and new elevations, we began to feel more and more insignificant on this very large mountain with every step. At that point in our journey we had yet to see anyone else hiking and other than the echoing sounds of the reconstruction project of the Paradise Lodge. This old time example of National Park system lodging had suffered severely during the past years storms so it had been decided to renovate the lodge and then build an additional building to handle the large amount of flocking vacationers that visit from all points around the globe.
We crossed some trail routes that were snow covered but were easily identified by the trail flags posted along the way. As the morning sun continued to rise and shine we got closer and closer to our goal. Armed only with pointed rocks in our hands to use in order to catch ourselves in the event of a slide, we maneuvered across several stretches of snow covered slopes but our last one to traverse proved to be the most difficult one. Not only because it was the last stretch but more frustrating because we couldn't get to it. The distance was close to 200 yards across and was widely exposed to a large overhead expanse of snow and at the end there was no clear exit without cutting our own way out. This pathway would cut our final hike by ½ mile but the problem was the face was beginning to melt, looked really unstable, and there was no margin for error, a break-away would take one or both of us down into the valley. We could see our destination point but knew the smart decision would be to track back and take the route to the High End Trail which would add another 400 feet up the face of the mountain, now taking us to almost 8,000 feet. Knowing we were so close and yet what felt like a million miles away, we tracked back to the beginning point of the last leg and headed up. Crossing above the area we were to have crossed earlier the view was amazing and provided an eerie glimpse of what would have been our out area. Each step up felt like four but by now there was no turning back. Our breath felt weighed down with iron bricks but as we approached our final few steps knowing we were about to accomplish our days goal.
Coming down to Panoramic Point, we were soaked with sweat, fatigued, hungry, and ready for a break. The glacial air blew through our wet clothes and quickly we made decisions about peeling off some layers and hunkering down under a large rock and under some emergency wind/rain ponchos. After getting situated, warm, and out of the wind, we were able to bask in the beautiful blue Nisqually Glacier that hangs onto Rainier's side. From our make-shift shelter we sat and absorbed this magnificent scenery for about 20 minutes before Joe noticed the weather changing in the valley below. We had not seen one person all day and now we began to see teams and teams of them. From our rock where we had hunkered down for lunch and our rest, we watched team after team of climbers head to Camp Muir. From there, the climbers camp and then head out at midnight for their accent to the summit. We topped out at almost 8,000 feet which is about half way up. The summit of Mt Rainier is 14,410 ft. We really respected these men and women who were traveling up the mountain. Weighed down with 75 pounds of gear, ropes, and who knows what else, they also are hiking in climbing shoes made for scaling snow passes. While those may be great for the snow, I can only imagine how uncomfortable they must feel on loose rock trails and steps. As the weather changed clouds rolled in quickly and then suddenly we were in the middle of a complete white out. The hikers that we had moments before been watching, now were lost in the white out as the storm from the valley below now rushed up through the passage ways and smothered any visibility.
During our white out, we renewed our energy and began to work our way back down the mountain. The next 2 hours were more strenuous despite the notion that climbing down would be easier. The steep decline created a large amount of pressure on our thighs and knees and I learned that actually walking backwards was easier than working my way down the mountain. Continuing down, we passed a few more teams for climbers, loaded with gear and snow boots on their way to Camp Muir. After checking in, the hikers would begin working on the accent at midnight. For us, the 7 hour journey proved to be most rewarding. We saw the most amazing sights, battled the thin air, and met the hike with perseverance and endurance. Reaching our goal point was a great personal accomplishment for both of us!
After reaching the bottom, we visited the visitor's center and decompressed our lungs and bodies a little before heading back to camp. Upon arriving at our camp we changed into warm dry clothes, and snuggled under our sleeping bags for a long afternoon nap. Waking up our bodies hurt, were cramped and tired. Joe joked that he thought he was suffering altitude sickness. Hunger overcame our fatigue though and we headed out to search for dinner. We took the recommendation from a wonderful camp fire wood attendant in the camp ground. She recommended the Copper Creek Inn Restaurant. We headed to Longmire, right outside the Park and found the old service station and lunch counter from the 20's. It became a restaurant in the 40's and has become internationally famous for its trout dinner, homemade bread, and blackberry pie. We celebrated with "Moose Drool" Beer, micro brewed out of Mosula Montana. The bowl of chili I started off with and the homemade warm blackberry pie with ice cream that Joe finished with would have been a meal in itself but the Halibut and Chips bucket that Joe ate and my chicken Caesar salad were delicious. If you are into Blackberries, visit Copper Creek. From syrup to salad dressing to jelly and butter blackberries are everywhere in this hometown restaurant. With full bellies, we headed back to camp, built a quick fire, and fell quickly back to sleep. Shortly after we zipped in, it began to rain and we could only imagine how all those people we had earlier passed heading toward Camp Muir were fairing at 10,000 on Mt Rainier.
Where I stayed