Saturday, July 10, 2010

Up, up, up to see Mt. Rainier

"Of all the fire mountains which like beacons, once blazed along the Pacific Coast, Mount Rainier is the noblest." -- John Muir

Some people have been surprised that I "got on the mountain" almost immediately after moving to Tacoma. And I think, why wait? This is one of the biggest perks of living here. And so, I arrived with plans to climb the Rampart Ridge, a 5-mile loop that promised a vista with breathtaking views of Mount Rainier.

The climb started gradual enough from the Trail of Shadows. I took in the canopy of evergreens gently swaying in the breeze and the manicured forest. After 15 minutes or so, I realized my back was drenched in sweat and I was panting. Little did I know,
the trail gains 1,339 feet in elevation and I had chosen the steeper side to march up. I hunkered down and put one foot in front of the other, trying to focus on other things like whether the chocolate in my trail mix would still be edible in this heat. (It was.) Tree roots snaking across the dirt path seemed to be reaching up for my hiking boots, the same boots that served me well in Iceland but were failing me now. I could feel the beginnings of four massive blisters. Then a wooden post told me I had just three miles left. The trail evened out and I practically skipped the next 1.2 miles to the vista, swatting away mosquitoes and gnats as I went.

The vista was worth the hike. I came out of the forest and the snow-capped Mountain
was just peeking out from behind tufts of billowy white clouds that resembled cotton candy. A valley of evergreens was below and shadows danced across the hillsides to the west. I plopped down on a boulder and pulled out my trail mix for a celebratory snack. It was then that a white bird dive bombed me, snatching the bag right out of my hand. I turned to see a Gray Jay in the shrubs directly behind me, staring daringly at me with beady black eyes as I reached to retrieve my food. (After all, it had chocolate in it.) Although he invited two friends to monitor the situation and they remained inches above my head as I ate, they were unsuccessful in maneuvering me out of my hard-earned snack. Downhill was a snap (although I got two more blisters on my toes) and I asked a park ranger to suggest a 5 or 6 mile hike to complete my afternoon. But while I desperately wanted to see Comet Falls(the most popular hike in the park) and trounce through the snow, I knew my blisters couldn't hold up to a 2,200 foot elevation gain.

Instead, I settled on the 2.2 mile hike to Carter Falls and Madcap Falls because the elevation only gained 500 feet. To get there, you must cross a glacial river on a thin board with only one railing. Seemed simple enough to me. I patiently waited as a father escorted his young boy, who was inching forward and staring at the rushing water below. Then it was the mother's turn, who made it halfway before freezing (presumably in fear) and staring wide-eyed at her husband until he came and helped her across.

The hike was nothing special, although it was a treat to hear the moving water nearby. I paused momentarily at a little waterfall that could kind of be seen from a railing and then kept going, eager to reach the ultimate destination. After another mile, as I happened upon a campground, it dawned on me that the "little waterfall" must have been Carter/Madcap Falls so I turned around and headed back to investigate. I still stand by the assessment that the falls were so small and unimpressive that they aren't much worth stopping at. But by the time I emerged from the forest, all clouds had been swept away from Mount Rainier and it stood in all its glory.

End count: nine miles.

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