Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Girls Weekend: Mt Rainier, Feb 25 &26

fresh snow on MTTA trails
Our day started early in the city: at 6AM, Siv arrived at my house, bags in hand. From there, we made a couple more stops, switched cars and were off to Mt Rainier. Despite the early hour, everyone was pretty talkative on the drive down, so much so, that Nicole missed the exit to South Hill in Puyallup. We hoped no one in the back seat noticed, but they were too quick for us and, while trying to get back on route, we had a moment or two of hysterical laughter as we drove 'round and 'round the South Hill Mall parking lot, looking for the exit. Although we didn't stop in the mall, we did manage to squeeze in some shopping on the trip... at TOP Food, since Fran had forgotten an important bag on her countertop, in the haste of early morning preparations.

Our next stop was at Whittaker's Store to purchase a map of the MTTA hut system, where we were headed for the day. From the snowpark at 2700', we donned our snowshoes for a nice, on-road-yet-not-boring trip up to Copper Creek Hut, where a storm was just starting to rage. We quickly ducked into the hut and immediately I was blinded; it was so warm inside that my glasses immediately fogged up. That was ok, since there was a comfy couch behind me and I sat down to take my boots off, which is just as easy without sight. There were a couple of groups who had stayed overnight and a couple of other day-trippers like us. We ate at a long wooden table and admired all the wood and amenities inside the cabin that made it look like home in the mountains.

After a visit to the outhouse (with a view), we set off for the car. The wind had picked up and it was blowing around snow, making it a bit uncomfortable. The four of us soon adopted the mantra, "Hot Tub" to keep things in perspective. We had rented a house near Ashford that had a hot tub, full kitchen, 3 bedrooms and 2 full bathrooms. We couldn't wait to try it out. After a misguided off-trail foray, we were soon down to the car and headed to warm, bubbling water.

The water was nice and hot as the four of us sat in the sheltered tub with a view to a babbling brook and trout pond, with snow falling softly. There are times when not even a photo will do a scene justice, so use your imagination. After showers and a little yoga, we set upon the quick task of making dinner in the cabin. It seemed like a lot of food, but we ate nearly all of it, then watched a movie and were in bed by 9:30PM. Definitely not a group of night owls.

In the morning, we woke to some fresh snow and a little sun, so we set our sights on Paradise and Mazama Ridge. Since the gates to Paradise (as dramatic as it sounds, but in other ways) didn't usually open until 9AM, we took our time at breakfast and packing up. Our hopes were dashed when we arrived at the Park and saw the sign, "Road to Paradise closed today". We asked the ranger at the booth if there was a chance it would open, but he apologetically said no. Between the storm that had been forecasted, the recent avalanche deaths in the Cascades and all the drama that had occurred in the Park in the last couple of months, they weren't taking any chances, being very judicious with the opening of that gate.

Once inside the Park, on a day with high avalanche danger, the only other reasonable option is Rampart Ridge. Having done that route so many times before due to similar situations, I was not excited at the prospect of doing it one more time, but Siv had never been to Rainier before and I don't think the others had snowshoed that route in quite a while. Once on the trail, with fresh snow under 'shoe, we quickly passed another party and were in fresh, untracked snow, a real treat at Rainier which gets many winter visitors. The Ridge was a winter wonderland and we were the princess fairies! We stopped at a little lake for a snack and some frolicking, reveling in the fresh, beautiful, quiet winter wonderland that was all around us. For a good section of the trail that I was in front, I was following an animal's tracks, maybe a fox or marten, and I felt like an animal myself, free in the wilderness of fresh snow and snow-flocked trees.

At the high point of the ridge, we could see Longmire Inn and the Park offices in the murky fog and low clouds and once in a while, we got glimpses of nearby peaks, though never quite of the Mountain herself. But just as we were arriving at the end of our adventure, the sun came out of the clouds and we stood like shocked, full-of-awe city girls, soaking up the sunshine.

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