We have our tent down and car packed in twenty minutes, so we’re definitely getting pretty good at this camping stuff, and I actually feel OK even without my morning fix of a quart of coffee. We head up the mountain for the Paradise Park Station on the Mazama Ridge,
which I am amazed to find has a very lifelike ranger capable of dispensing rudimentary hiking advice. He tells us that the cloud cover breaks at about 7000 feet right now, but of course that’s subject to change at any moment. We decide to take the Skytrail, which gives real mountaineers the chance to summit and us the chance to go higher if we need to, since the park is completely socked in with fog, visibility is about 50 yards, and there isn’t much point in going to see a genuine Ring of Fire volcano if you never even get a glimpse of it, after all.
There are some very serious looking climbers with ice axes, crampons, and mule backpacks that are silently preparing for a long march to the summit in the parking lot, and it makes our light loads seem ludicrous in comparison. Jonathan, dressed in shorts and a long sleeve T shirt, loads up his backpack with food and water and we leave at 9:30, hiking through the mountain mist and thick smoky fog on a very steep asphalt trail that soon gives way to dirt. I feel a little robbed looking around me, because the red, gold and purple flowers at the trail’s edge and the pointed firs above hint at the beauty of the valleys and meadows below, but we can’t see that, or really anything at all. We just know we must keep moving up, across a short expanse of Nisqually Glacier and the Muir snowfield, across steep slopes of crumbling basalt, until we finally pass a couple that tells us the fog breaks 1000 feet vertically above the top of our trail, and that the exertion is worth the effort.
That’s all we need to hear, so we keep going up. At one point we’re a little lost and head across a steep slope that is a tiny bit dangerous. I know this because even Jonathan thinks so and there are large rocks crashing down the cliff face we are traversing, making alarming sounds as they go, and I note with no small amount of consternation that, when these little boulders are lost in the cloudbank below us, we never hear them hit the ground. We make it back to the trail, and don’t see anything unusual except for some very large and unwary groundhogs feeding on flowers no more than twenty feet from us.
We speed up the mountain slope, passing groups of heavily laden hikers. When we get to about 7500 feet, we can see that the sun is piercing the clouds and get glimpses of the mountain top, which is intermittently yet mysteriously revealing itself through the haze, and I want more than ever to get a clear view of this conical peak. We surmount on icy ridge and Jonathan says, “There it is.”
And just like that, we’re over the clouds and Mt. Rainier is defiantly and brilliantly silhouetted against a sapphire sky and we’re standing there before it like two explorers who’ve just discovered her, and we sit down and gaze up at this beautiful peak in stunned silence. We quickly snap some shots because we know that this kind of clear visibility is a rare commodity, and soon enough we’re proven right, because the clouds sweep gently over the snow covered face of this beauty like a veil, and the grey rock face is soon obscured by curling waves of ephemeral white lace that glide over the surface as gently as a man touches the lips of his lover. But we’re reminded that this is a dangerous mountain that can also kill (a good clue was the WARNING sign we passed on the way up), and that we dare not spend too much time at this altitude, especially equipped as we are with no more than what you’d take to the couch with you to watch a football game, so we leave within a few minutes and begin the long trek home. It seems to me that Mt. Rainier is inadvertently one of the least accessible parks by virtue of its climate, so I as I drive away I feel lucky to have experienced its full glory in the sun. Unlike more popular places like Yellowstone or Yosemite, you have to work hard to enjoy Rainier’s splendors, but for those who try, she begrudgingly shows you her young face, and it’s a sight worth seeing.
Our hike down is uneventful, and we’re driving through Washington south to the coast of Oregon in no time, passing through the clean and funky city of Portland as we go, over the Tillamook Sate Forest nestled in the Coastal Range, on to the low green pastures full of cows grazing in the fields around the cheese factories and vineyards, and finally to my friend’s home in Netarts, which is a strange and wonderful little town on the edge of the sea overlooking Three Arch Rocks and a picturesque little bay. This city is known for big ocean views, quaint little resorts (“Happy Camp”) that are like remnants of childhood vacation memories, and lots of very weird but nice people who live low stress lives, drink way more than their per capita share of alcohol, and who don’t suffer the pompous very gladly.
Teresa is a friend of mine who makes a living cleaning rentals, and I’m staying at her house. It’s a cute little two bedroom away from the beach. As soon as we arrive, she tells me we’re eating at another friend’s house, and that great dinner (thank you, Erin) is of course followed by a trip to the local bar, Schooner’s, which is directly on the bay, but which, paradoxically, takes no advantage of that view whatsoever, so the patrons are forced into a kind of drinker’s communion at the U shaped bar inside.
I don’t really remember the rest of that night, except that for the first time Jonathan and I must share a bed, and things work out pretty well to my surprise, because we’re both around 6 feet tall and like to hog the pillows, but I slept like a log, I know that much.
Tomorrow we plan to go into town for some errands and visit Cape Meares…if you stay in touch I promise I’ll tell you more about some of the characters here!