Tuesday, September 16, 2008

RAIN-ier 8/31/08

For Labor Day weekend, Liz and I made plans to return to Rainier National Park. After the fiasco on our last trip we made sure we had camping reservations this time. We ended up at the Big Creek campground just outside the Nisqually park entrance.

Before leaving town we realized the weather forecast wasn’t so hot. The disadvantage of having reservations is that we were pretty much committed to going rain or shine despite the foreboding weather forecast. Our plans for the weekend included a hike to Camp Muir and an ascent of Unicorn Peak in the Tatoosh Range with a rest day inbetween to tour the Paradise area.

We arrived at the campground Friday evening after dark in a pouring rainstorm. Fortunately, we’d come prepared. After quickly erecting our 10’x10’ canopy we were able to set up our tent underneath in relative dryness. We slept well through the rainstorm and awoke Saturday morning to overcast skies with some occasional drizzle. Since the cloud ceiling was around 6,000’ we decided to make Saturday our sightseeing day and hope that the weather would improve for the hiking and climbing we’d planned.

We drove to the park and cooked a nice pancake breakfast at the day-use area. Then we drove up to the Paradise Inn and visitor center, which neither of us had been to before. Since things were completely socked in, we had to use our imagination to see the views of Rainier. We did manage glimpses of the Tatoosh Range.

The parks department is in the process of constructing a new visitor center to replace the existing one, but Liz and I liked the '60s vintage architecture of the existing visitor center.

Looks like Paradise to me

We spent Saturday evening around the campfire and made plans to tackle Unicorn the following day. Sunday morning proved to be wetter than Saturday. We arrived at the Snow Lake trailhead in a mix of snow/rain and debated whether or not we even wanted to get out of the car. Neither of us wanted to go back and sit in the campground in the rain, and we’d pretty much exhausted our sight-seeing opportunities on this side of the park. We decided the climb would be fun anyway, and we would turn around if it got miserable.

Somewhere up there

The hike in proved to be wet but enjoyable. Moisture management became quite a challenge. Gore-tex went on when it started to rain, then back down to the base layer to let the sweat out when it stopped. Fortunately it was warm enough that we remained comfortable in spite of being wet. The gully from Snow Lake up to the summit was pretty interesting scrambling. We saw lots of pikas building beds under the rocks.

Lil' varmint

Around 6,000’ the rain turned to full-on snow. At around 6,500’ we reached a snowfield that required crampons. There was a group of 5 or 6 ahead of us. Stopping to put on crampons and then sitting at the base of the summit block while we waited for the other group before taking turns belaying didn’t sound like much fun, so we opted to head down through the snow. It was coming down hard enough that the tracks we left going up were mostly filled in by the time we headed down. I think it rained pretty much all the way on our hike out. The soft mist among the wildflowers made for a nice relaxing hike out.

Gully from Snow Lake

We spent Sunday evening at the campfire and read for a bit before heading to bed. Since there was a complete white-out above 6,000’, hiking up to Camp Muir on Monday was out of the question. We were disappointed to miss out on the views and most of our climbing plans, but it was a nice relaxing long weekend. We’re looking forward to coming back in the spring to complete our hiking/climbing objectives in this beautiful area.

-Brad :)

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