Paying the Dues
~Thursday, October 13, 2022~
Now that we’ve got the green light from my mom to take care of Sadie while we fly to visit Hannah, Devin and the grandkids in Illinois, we could finally call Hannah to tell her our surprise. She was thrilled and we couldn’t be happier to have the opportunity of sharing a little of the Holidays with them, even if it’s not on Christmas day. We have missed them so much as its been a year and half since our last visit, and with grandkids, well, that time is all too precious and fleeting. We look forward to many more occasions of being together once we move somewhere closer to them. We hoped to be able to stay longer than 7 days but we want to also spend time with my mom and Shane as well as Jeff’s brother and sister for the Holidays. Plus, we want to get a lot of preparations done for my mom’s big move to Oregon. Now to book our flights, which we’ll do tomorrow. It’s time to get hikin’!
We’re finding out that quite a few things are closed in the park because of it being late in the season or because of road damage. For instance, the Grove of the Patriarchs, one that was at the top of our list, has been closed since November 2021 due to significant flood damage, and remains closed indefinitely. For today, we had an all-day hike planned on The Skyline Trail…….the most popular trail in the Paradise region of the park, and considered “strenuous”. Isn’t that how all the great hikes are? Definitely one of those where “You gotta pay the dues for the views!” The 2 hikes we did yesterday were in preparation for today’s 5-½ mile day which included a 1,700 foot elevation gain in 3 miles and a 2-½ mile descent. And, it would put us way closer to the base of Mount Rainier. Let’s just hope she doesn’t choose to blow today!!
There were noticeably more cars heading up the mountain than there were yesterday. The parking lot…full! But I bet they don’t know about the secret parking spot we found yesterday? I guess not because it was still available. Sorry I can’t divulge its whereabouts as I guess it would no longer be a secret, right? Gosh, with it crowded this much in October, we can’t imagine how nutty summer must be. We had the advantage of clear, blue skies and very little smoke.
There are several options in hiking the Skyline Loop Trail. We chose a counter-clockwise direction, remembering from yesterday, how exceptionally steep the beginning was in the clockwise direction. We found out in the end, that it was the right decision, so we’re not sure why more people don’t attempt it that way.
It takes a little longer to get to the Panorama Point at 7,000 feet, but who cares. I’d rather go a little more gradual. It was still a tough one despite our decision. But man, what an amazing trail. It’s not everyday that you’re hiking right at the base of a volcano. At times, it felt like the glaciers were a stone’s throw away. Even having some sense of scale with us in the photos, you just don’t realize how huge this mountain is and the distance it is to any point, especially the top. As it continuously drew our eyes upward, we were trying to imagine climbing this 14,000 foot mountain ourselves, especially covered in snow. Looking at it from a Fall season reference is nothing compared to what these climbers experience. This is the mountain that climbers “practice” on to prepare for Denali or the Himalayas. Every year, 10,000 people shoot for the summit, but only 50% ever reach it. Many climbers stare defeat right in the face due to severe weather, hypothermia, dehydration, altitude sickness, or avalanches, to name a few. Permits are issued to those with a lot of technical climbing experience such as the use of ice axes, crampons and ropes. But even the most skilled climbers have met their doomed fate with one slip, one wrong step into a crevasse or with an unpredictable avalanche. For those that make it back in one piece, it must be quite the thrill to achieve such a feat. But I think we’ll just stick to our safer, sub-alpine terrain.
We passed numerous hikers, from as old as 7 to as young as 80 😉. The young kids we saw were European and assumed they'd been hiking in terrain like this since they could walk……with little to no complaining. The 80-year old man (as he made clear to tell us his age), was in a group with 5 other hikers and asked where we were headed. He seemed very impressed that we were doing the entire loop. There are short-cuts, so maybe his group used those. Anyway, one of the ladies in the group told us to keep an eye out for the goats higher up. This is when a handy set of binoculars would be helpful but didn’t think to bring them. She said, “We’re used to bird watching which makes us good goat watchers too!” In fact, she spotted one way on the ridge as we stood there chatting, carefully directing us where to look. So I guess we can say we saw one after all!
The dirt trail under our feet appeared much different in the distance, looking ribbon-like as it meandered through a framework of lush, green, Autumn tinged meadows.
With about 800 feet in elevation gain to go, the trail drastically changed from packed dirt to shale once we were above tree line. With no cairns to mark our path, we got off trail for only a few minutes, having to rely on another clue……rocks that looked more worn down. It worked! As we neared the top of our ascent, we got to 7,000 feet with the mountain right in our face (or so it seemed).
It was quite something to get a “zoom lens” experience than the perspective we saw earlier in the day. The mountain is covered in glaciers, producing numerous rivers and waterfalls, some of which we could hear as if we were only a few feet away from them….that’s how much sound carries up there. The moraines are easy to spot as the dirt on top of the ice wicks up the moisture from them. These moraines can be thousands of feet thick, even though you can’t see the ice. Today, there’s no comparison to the size these glaciers were thousands of years ago, as they worked in concert with multiple volcanic forces to shape what we see today. Just like Mount Adams, and Mount Shasta, and countless others, they are volcanoes that stand alone, with an agenda all their own. The mountain itself looks like it's been through a lot in the last 500,000 years as lava from thousands of eruptions flowed and cooled, building the present volcano. On the summit, steam escapes from deep within the mountain’s core, a reminder that it is still active. Pretty awesome!!
From our Panoramic Point, we celebrated with a high five and a Cliff Bar only to be met with increasing smoke. It was time to descend. As we neared the end, experiencing the steep downhill, we were grateful for not having taken this in the other direction. All in all, we beat the smoke and hiked the whole loop in 3-1/2 hours. Not bad for a couple of near 60 year-olds. If you’re ever at Mount Rainier, make sure to do this trail!! You won’t regret it.
By day’s end, we were too tired to cook, and too pooped to care. That’s what popcorn’s for!!