Snowshoeing at Mt. Rainier

View looking south from Mt. Rainier to the Tatoosh Range.

Had a great weekend out of doors this week. I spent Sunday doing a 53 mile mountain bike ride with friends and Kristin took the dogs snowshoeing back near Talapus Lake where we went last weekend, but the real treat was on Saturday. We woke up bright and early (actually it was still dark) and made the drive to the Paradise area at Mt. Rainier National Park. Neither of us hadn't ever been to the south side of Rainier before, but we really wanted to get some snowshoeing in there. Most of all, we just wanted to wander around where there weren't any trees and, if we were lucky, no people either.

We were second in line at the park entrance when the ranger opened the gate and before long were walking around the parking lot at the Paradise Visitor Center trying to find the trail -- things that are very straightforward in the summer become a bit trickier in winter, especially when surrounded by walls of snow. We eventually found our way up out of the lot and headed off to the east towards Edith Creek. It was snowing lightly and we were in the clouds so visibility wasn't very good. But we didn't mind and just started hiking uphill through a half-foot of fresh snow.

Kristin enjoying the early-morning tranquility on Mt. Rainier.

Being unfamilliar with the terrain, I tried to commit the topo map to memory and go by what I felt like made sense. I pointed to a ridge and traced a loop in the air with my outstretched hand. I wanted to avoid the steeps for fear of avalanche and get up onto the ridge and loop around to the west from the top. It was a good plan and worked well, but Kristin was having a bit of trouble with the elevation and was moving a bit slower than normal. We weren't in a hurry though so I just continued on ahead, breaking trail, and taking photos. Once we got to the top of the first ridge I noticed that another pair of snowshoers were following our tracks.

Either I plotted a good route or they were even more clueless than us. Or they just wanted the comfort of following someone else's tracks... Probably a little of all three.

Visibility got laughably poor just below glacier vista and, for a brief moment, I wasn't sure whether my plan would find us a safe route down. I soon spotted a pair of backcountry skiers shoeing their way up the mountain about 100 yards away -- my route had an exit! Excellent. We thought about continuing the climb towards Panorama Point at about 6800 feet elevation (we started at roughly 5500) but between the poor visibility and Kristin's trouble with the altitude, we decided to descend. Next time, I'm packing my snowboard with me for the descent!

We meandered back down the mountain, across the snowplay area, and over to the Nisqually Vista trail. We followed the trail for a while but then went off exploring in some untracked snow just in time for the sun to pop out. A fine time to stomp down the snow and take a rest. Snowshoeing is pretty exhausting and we ended up doing 1100 feet of climbing through fresh snow. It's not a lot of climbing, but we're still getting used to these things so it was a lot for us. We eventually shoe'd our way back down to the large UFO-shaped monument and walked the road a short way back to the truck and called it a day.

Highlight of the day: Breaking fresh trail with Kristin early in the morning when virtually nobody else was out on the mountain.

Lowpoint of the day: Paying $3.92 a gallon for regular unleaded gasoline in Elbe on the way home.

Click here for photo slideshow.

No comments: