An eventful day of hiking with Marc (c.f. beeeer?
) at Mount Rainier National Park
. Let's start off with the pictures telling the story---you can follow along with the park map
We arrived early and set off on the Glacier Basin Trail, accessible from the White River campground on the east side of the park.
At a primitive campground at the end of the maintained trail, we found a ranger. We learned that the path went on from there, the beginning of a route all the way up to the top of Rainier. As an ambitious day hike, she recommended St. Elmo's Pass, visible above as the bowl-shaped notch slightly left of center. We crossed an alpine meadow, then hiked up a steep, sandy ridge next to a melting snow field.
Further up we crossed the snow field...
...and began a difficult scramble up a steep field of loose stones.
At last we made it to the pass, which featured steep drop-offs and rugged rocky outcrops. We had climbed a little over 3,000 feet. One outcrop was especially good for "mountain man" style photographs:
Marc's packed lunch gave us some time to take in the scenery. At around 7,500 feet, St. Elmo Pass isn't especially high compared with other road trip locations: the floor of the Great Amphitheater at Bryce Canyon has about the same elevation. No matter, we were above treeline, gazing out onto glaciers, and the air was a lot thinner than it was in Seattle. One feels they are On A Mountain here.
Surprisingly, there was little or no wind at the pass, and before long we started hearing
the mountain changing. When a cracking sounded distantly across the glacier, we turned to see a boulder the size of a washing machine crumble from a high cliff and cartwheel down the ice and snow, smashing through snow banks and leaping over gullies. It is rare to see an object gain and deal out uncontrolled destructive power like this, and Mark and I were spellbound. When the boulder tumbled to a stop in the basin, we started breathing again.
We heard other signs of movement on the larger glacier west of the pass, but saw nothing. Eventually, the marmot
in the first photo ambled by (marmots in the park are fearless of people) and climbed a small prominence about thirty feet away, then set to making a lordly shriek every few minutes.
After a while we headed back down---it was just as difficult as the ascent---and with the better part of an afternoon left we decided to hike up to the Mount Fremont fire lookout tower from the Sunrise Visitor Center
We walked along a ridgetop with a fine view of Rainier. Overhead, a small airplane of the Cherokee
variety banked westward over a grassy meadow, flew on for a few moments, and... the engine quit. After a few tense seconds, it started up briefly and then quit again.
"Oh, he's f***ed" was my dreading remark. There were not many places to land a Cherokee nearby. The meadow if you could lose the altitude and line up without hitting the mountain; otherwise trees and talus---survivability would be a coin toss. With the NTSB in mind, I reached for my camera, and the engine started again, this time for good. We made it to the lookout after that without incident:
We drove home afterwards---a great day outdoors. Dinner, and beeeeer.