As we neared Seattle and descended toward the cloud deck, I could see the very top of a snow-covered mountain peeking up through the clouds, and for a moment felt disappointed it wasn’t as dramatic as I expected it to look. I tapped Ted’s shoulder to show him the distant white speck, just as I got a glimpse of the real deal under the wing of the plane. We were flying over Mount Rainier, and that distant peak was Mount Adams. Standing tall above the clouds, Rainier looked like a bigger endeavor than I expected, and I felt some combination of excitement and fear and a million other things. What had I signed up for? You can really climb that in only two days? But it looks sooo BIG…
That was the only view of Mount Rainier we had until we entered Mount Rainier National Park a week later. We would be spending the next 8 days driving over 1000 miles touring the North Cascades and the Olympic peninsula, dazzled by the scenery and anxiously waiting to put ourselves to the test on Rainier.
After picking up the rental car, our first stop was at REI in Seattle to pick up JetBoil fuel, where we attempted to squeeze the rental car into four spaces before we found one we were comfortable parking in. The rental car had sensors that let you know if you get too close to something or if there’s anything in your blind spot – and in that parking garage it wouldn’t stop beeping faster and faster as Ted tried to pull into those tiny spaces. I couldn’t wait to get out of the city. A few hours of driving later, we set up camp at the Douglas Fir Campground, took a walk along the bright green river, and settled into our sleeping bags before dark.
Waking up at 4:30am isn’t hard when you’re used to a time zone 3 hours ahead – and when you know you’re about to hike in an incredible place. The road up to the Skyline Divide Trailhead was a rough dirt road, loaded with potholes. Swerving back and forth in an attempt to straddle or miss them, Ted remarked, “This is what driving on the moon is like.”
The Skyline Divide Trail is amazing. We had it mostly to ourselves in the early light and watched the clouds swirl around the distant peaks, while crepuscular rays poked through. As soon as we hit the ridge, there was snow, and I was getting increasingly excited to see Mount Baker rise up over us. Rather than taking the trail, Ted insisted we venture up some snowfields “for practice,” which he ended up trying to glissade down on the way back. I’m not a summer person, so playing on snow and looking around at snow in JULY – I was the happiest person ever.
Mount Baker was surrounded by clouds for most of the hike. We hit a perfect window where the clouds cleared out, and I snapped as many photos as I could. When we reached the end of the ridge, where we would have had the best close-up, the clouds had filled in again. We hung out there a while, since it was still pretty early in the day, hoping for a glimpse. It didn’t look like anyone got much of a view of the peak the rest of the day. As we hiked down, other groups asked if the mountain was out, so much so that it made me wonder if it’s shrouded more than it’s not.
What do you do when you’re up so early that you’re back from your hike by noon despite taking your time? You go on another hike, of course! We drove up into North Cascades National Park for the afternoon, hiked to Huntoon Point, did the Fire and Ice Trail, took pictures at Picture Lake, and stopped at Nooksack Falls on our way back to camp. We made a quick dinner and got into the tent just as some showers started passing through. I snuggled into my sleeping bag and closed my eyes..
Drip….Drip…. ice cold raindrops landing right between my eyes. Not the time we wanted to learn there were holes in the tent. Too tired and lazy to patch them in the rain, Ted draped a tarp between the tent and the rain fly to avoid getting out of the tent. Fix it later. It’s time to sleep. Once again, in bed before dark because tomorrow’s another big exciting day of exploring the Pacific Northwest.