After last year's Lena Lake overnight with Henry, Ben, and Mr. Rob, I wrote, "The Peninsula was nice, but next year we're going to the Park." It's not that Lena Lake wasn't nice, but it was no Mt. Rainier.
This year I was on top of things. I put in for permits to camp in the Park in March and scored exactly what I wanted. A one-night stay in August at Snow Lake. Snow Lake is on the Paradise side of the mountain. That was a bonus since we almost never get to that side. (It's an extra hour when compared to driving to Sunrise.)
Even better, the weather was perfect. It was a little hot, but clear as can be. We got going at a decent time and met Ben (Henry's age) and Rob (my (undisclosed) age). You may recall that Rob and I have known each other a while. We were actually in the same kindergarten class, went to college together, and lived in the same house after graduation right up until I proposed to Amy. The boys have been adventuring together for the last few years and they're on the verge of some seriously awesome trips.
The only downside to this trip were the bugs. Flies and mosquitos. Some were so big they must have had bit parts in Starship Troopers. The non-toxic mosquito repellent didn't do a whole lot so we pretty much went back to the good old, super-toxic, hope you didn't want to have kids DEET. I was torn between bringing Henry home intact (as opposed to the last couple of years when he was eaten alive) or contaminated. I opted for the latter since it's harder to detect and less likely to get me in trouble.
The hike turned out to be really short. We thought it was an error when we read that it was only a mile to the lake, but no, it really was that close. Bench Lake was on the way so we stopped there for a great reflection, but the lake isn't the usual gorgeous alpine water we've come to expect.
In no time we were at Snow Lake. Unicorn Peak towered overhead and there was only one other tent set up. (That's because there was only one other site at the lake.) We had site #2, which wasn't as nice as site #1, but much better than any site at Lena Lake. (Rob and Ben went back a few weeks later and got site #1. It sounds like it was as glorious as it appeared.)
After setting up, we headed up-lake in search of the little tarn that shows on the map and satellite photos, but was nowhere to be found. We did discover the lake was very refreshing (code for unbearably cold in parts) and the bugs were fewer out of the trees.
Boys will be boys and insisted we scramble on the talus south of the lake. We heard pikas, but didn't see any. There were only a few isolated snow patches, but enough to make snowballs that somehow were directed at me.
Dinner, as always, was macaroni and cheese. Heaven help me if Mountain House stops making it. Bug nets made it tolerable and a deer wandering past made it great. We talked with a solo hiker who had climbed Pinacle Peak, traversed to Unicorn, and descended through a questionable gully. It made me a little jealous, but I reminded myself that by going slow and building Henry's enjoyment and experience in the outdoors I was increasing the likelihood he'd want to do a trip like that.
Henry curled up around my hand and I experienced one of those magical moments when all my troubles fell away. It was just him and me in the wilderness. So what if the car was only a mile away? So what if I had to go back to work the day after we got back? What did any of that matter if I could get just a few more moments like this before he grows up and wants to hike with his friends. Or worse. A girl.
We shattered the stillness of the morning with breakfast prep and getting packed up. Snow Lake has no (official) trail going beyond so there was little more to do. We decided we'd head to Paradise to apply to be Junior Rangers. (The boys had worked on their books for much of the evening.)
But wait! You know how you think you'd respond to some type of situation. For example, if a bear were to spook and run into the brush from a spot between you and your kids what would you do? I bet you wouldn't pull out your camera and say, "I'm going after him!" No, you wouldn't. Because that'd be stupid. And dangerous. If you did, though, I'd hope you'd at least have the presence of mind to take good pictures. (The preceding was all hypothetical.)
Paradise was crowded and full of people for whom walking on the paved paths at the foot of the mountain was enough adventure. At first I pitied them and thought they were wasting their chance to be in the Park. As we walked among them to Myrtle Falls I realized how wonderful it was that the Park made a setting as spectacular as Paradise accessible for non-hikers. For too many Mt. Rainier, and wilderness in general, is an abstract concept. It exists only on the horizon (when the weather's decent) or in a magazine. Thanks to the Park Service, they could drive to within a few miles of the glaciers and drink in pure beauty that we see all the time thanks to our boots.
As the boys were sworn in and I pinned on Henry's badge I made sure to emphasize how lucky we were to be in such a wonderful place and that we were even luckier to have spent the night in the wilderness. I doubt he got it, but maybe if I keep telling him it will sink in.
Of course, the boys were wiped out. Even sugary drinks and ice cream couldn't keep Henry fully awake. By the time we rolled into home he was out and hardly moved as I transferred him to bed.
After such a great trip in the Park I'll be hard pressed to find something better. But don't worry. I'll still try.