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Iron Bear Mountain
posted by John : October 6, 2013

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We're going where?

Exactly a year ago to the day we were blessed with a stunning blue-bird day. We reveled in the sun in the Emmons Moraine in Mount Rainier National Park.

Unfortunately, with the Park closed, we couldn't squeeze in one last trip even though the weather promised to be every bit as good. Instead, we headed for a peak in the Wenatchee National Forest that wasn't closed (or at least barricaded) in spite of the government shutdown.

I'd been to Iron Bear Mountain in 2011. But that was in the winter and although it was beautiful it was awfully cold. Not that it was shaping up to be that much warmer on this day.

As we crossed the Pass we entered a thick fog bank. The temperature dropped from about 45F to 39F. I had visions of cold kids trudging along without even the promise of views. For the next 20 miles the sun was kept from us until we turned north. Looking behind us the wall of cold towered over the road. Ahead of us, though, was nothing but blue skies and a climbing thermometer.

At the trailhead a pair of hunters were packing up. We were all dressed in orange, but the idea of shots being fired anywhere near us still worried me. It was just back in 2008 when a young hunter killed a hiker in Washington. In 2011 it happened again in Oregon. The likelihood of that happening to us is extremely low, but the impact so high that it's not a risk I can dismiss. Talking about how we'd respond with a six year old is difficult, but I think I struck the right tone by talking not about being shot, but rather about tripping. A skinned knee and the debilitating pain (for a six year old) is something he can relate to. The girls understood what I was getting at, but played along.

When we'd snowshoed we didn't bother with the trail. I remembered it being steep, but direct. That's one of the blessings of snowshoes. You want to go straight up? Go for it. As long as your quads and calves can take it, you can go. (And if not, make sure you've got heel lifts. Need a recommendation? I can help with that, too.)

The summer trail is an easy 3.75 miles to the summit gaining about 1,900 feet. It was so mellow that we were able to run sections of it. Uphill. I know what you're thinking. "What was chasing you?" Nothing, but I was chasing the kids and they are fast.

Of course, I didn't realize it was 1,900 feet of gain until we got back. All along I had somehow gotten 800 feet into my head. I told the kids it was just like hiking up our local trail. Whoops.

Perhaps the biggest adventure was gauging how they were doing and just how hard I could push them without turning it from a fun Fall outing into a death march. We took an extended break when we crested the ridge that would lead us to the summit. The kids ate and played with "Inchy," their new camouflaged inchworm friend. We don't usually pause long for meals, but this was perfect to recharge their batteries and they charged up the hill. Running again. Maybe they had too much time off.

Although we'd found a bit of snow down low (most of which was either thrown at me or piled on poor Henry's head) the patches above the ridge were bigger and deeper. None crossed the trail, but in a few weeks this area will require snowshoes again.

Our first views to the west elicited genuine oohs and ahs. I think those are some of my favorite sounds. Knowing they feel the same way I do about amazing views tells me I've been raising them right.

The final few feet to the summit were a mad dash through ankle-deep snow to a pile of rocks standing against a deep blue sky. Another hiker (one of only five we'd see all day) was there, but he didn't stay long.

The kids played in the snow as though they'd never seen it before. They built a snowman, made snow angels, and tried to eat their weight in the white stuff. The dog mostly chased snowballs and sniffed around for PBJ crumbs. I just smiled and reminded myself that the kids are capable of more than I give them credit for.

Although I figured I'd be dragging them up the hill they hadn't needed any bribes or sweet talking. All they needed was the promise of a snow-covered summit and a bright sun in the sky. I'm sure their needs will change as they get older, but hopefully I'll always be able to provide.

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