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Summerland
posted by John : July 30 - August 1, 2012


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Here we go again


When Clara was born, I took her with me on hikes so I could continue hiking without ditching the entire family. When she got older, and Lilly and Henry came along, it was impractical for me to continue hiking with kids as I had before. I couldn't wear enough of them to still put in 10 miles in a day and so hiking with the kids became an investment in the future.

My friends, the future is now. Well, almost.

The girls and I spent a magnificent three days on the flanks of Mount Rainier in "Summerland." They hiked in a solid four miles and gained 2,000 feet to set up camp. (We got the second best spot, number four, on the knoll above the shelter.) They were champs at filtering water, though they did get a little distracted and disappeared when Mr. Eric and Paula showed up. And they ate their rehydrated macaroni and cheese with gusto. True backpackers!

Still, it wasn't the trip of my dreams. The dark clouds we'd seen as we hiked up the Wonderland Trail had not rained on us, but did completely fill the camp with a thick mist. So much for killer views of the so-called mountain. Eric and I fretted over what we'd do if we woke to similar weather.

Oh, us of little faith. We woke to clear black skies with a full moon washing out the stars. I'd hoped to take some jaw-dropping shots of star trails over the mountain, but it wasn't to be. Instead, we went back to sleep with the promise of blue skies in a few hours.

By the time we rolled out of camp it was already starting to warm up. Snow covered most of the basin between us and Panhandle Gap, but we figured to go that way just to see how far we'd get. Cookies and Skittles helped keep us moving. Surprisingly, so did the prospect of getting to the top and seeing what there was to be seen. What good little peakbaggers!

Along the way we had plenty of time to roll in the snow, play in a mostly frozen tarn, sing YMCA on top of a ridge, and giggle like schoolgirls. (The girls also laughed a little.) Before anyone realized it, we were almost to the Gap and there was no point in turning back.

From the Gap we could see a herd of goats on (what we now know is) Banshee Peak a mile and a half away and lots of "goat memories" snagged on the brush on the goat track. We could see Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood to the south, Indian Bar in the valley below us, and a lone coyote making his own tracks through the empty snow fields.

Clara pointed out we weren't at the top and while we weren't looking she and Paula climbed an extra 30 feet of rock. Or course, we weren't going to be left out so we all followed for a summit pic. (And yes, I went a little higher to the next hump to see if there was a register.)

Climbing snow is ok, but the real fun comes when you get to go down. I'm a fan of the seated glissade (mostly because I'm not coordinated enough to boot-ski) and I brought rain pants for the girls specifically for this eventuality. Eric wasn't quite as prepared, but swaddled himself and Paula in their coats. Eric disappeared over the lip of the Gap and reappeared way, way below us a moment later. Paula went next. Zoom. Lilly followed. Or at least tried to.

In our house, we have a belief that if something is going to go sideways, Lilly's going to be riding it. And so it was glissading down the Gap. She started ok, but started turning around until she was somehow sliding down backward. Still sitting up, but backward. Of course, that couldn't last so she flipped over onto her stomach (sideways, not heels over head) and face first. Thankfully, she came to a stop on a little bench between the top of the run where I was standing and the bottom where Eric was. She was not pleased.

Clara showed no worry and zipped right down and past Lilly with no issues. Impressive. I was about to drop down when I realized we were short a pair of poles. It only took a minute to retrieve the trekking poles, but by the time I got back Lilly was even less pleased. It was a little challenging, but I managed to stop right near Lilly and walk her down to the base.

Now... would you expect a seven year old who just had (yet another) perceived near death experience to bounce right back? I sure didn't, but she did. Soon we were sliding down the remaining slopes and traversing steeps to get back to camp. I'd say she manned up, but I think she did a better job of it than most of the men I know would have.

That big flat bit of snow we walked across? Only two weeks later is was mostly melted out and a pretty little tarn. Oops. Good thing we didn't punch through. It would have been a soggy afternoon.

As it was, we lounged around camp, watched the marmots "play" with each other, and relaxed. Too often, we make camp, have dinner, sleep, have breakfast, pack up, and hike out. This was awesome. No rush, no hustle, just relaxing. Or at least as relaxing as you can be with three little girls in two tents. Yikes.

As nice as it was, we did have to pack up the next morning and head out. The trail seemed longer, as usual, but the cars were right where we left them. And they did just fine getting us to ice cream at Wapiti Woolies.

My investment has matured and I've got two awesome hikers that will go places I would go by myself. Just a few more years and Henry will be ready for these kinds of trips and I'll be a rich person indeed.

Is it too soon to plan a multi-day trip with all three kids?

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