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Northway Peak (via the Crystal Mountain Gondola)
posted by John : November 23, 2013

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No pain, all gain

Remember when I laid out my four goals for this snowshoe season? I chose them because they offered killer views that we hadn't really seen much of. They were all approachable for kids and, by extension, old people like me and Amy. And if we can do it, that means Nana and Papa can do it, too.

Rather than let an early season opportunity slip through our fingers, we headed to Crystal Mountain Resort as soon as the forecast looked passable.

Did I say passable? I meant freaking amazing. Usually, I wind up with bright blue skies with a fierce, bone-chilling wind. Or moderate temperatures with clouds and the threat of rain. This time, though, we nailed it with upper 30s, no wind, and only high clouds.

But 2,500 feet of gain is still a lot of vertical on snowshoes or not. Unless.. GONDOLA! Remember how awesome Gondor was in Middle Earth? The Gondola was like that, but red. In 10 minutes we were whisked from the valley floor to the ridge top and confronted by Mt. Rainier.

Sometimes the Mountain lingers on the skyline in an unobtrusive way. Not this time. This time it demanded attention and dared the other mountains to be noticed. Even though we could see the other four Washington volcanoes, they couldn't compare to the Mountain.

As tempting as it was to sit back in one of the chairs (yeah! chairs!) and gaze at the Mountain, we were there to snowshoe.

We got some strange looks as we put on our snowshoes that were designed to increase friction instead of reduce it. The skiers and snowboarders zipped by us as we walked behind Grubsteak on our way to Northway Peak. Some members of our party weren't totally into the idea of going downhill, knowing we'd have to climb back up later. On the other side of Grubsteak, though, there were fewer skiers and the area seemed a little more wild.

Not a lot more wild, mind you. We could still see lifts and the ski area boundary rope separated us from the park itself. It was wild enough, though, that we were able to do our annual Christmas card photo shoot with a backdrop courtesy of Mother Nature and the National Park Service. The only problem was we got too many good shots and now we have to choose which to use.

Amy, Lilly, Nana, and Papa opted to head back to the Summit House to secure our table for lunch. (Um, what? A table for lunch? Don't worry. We'll get to that.) Clara, Henry, and I pushed on to Northway Peak. There might have been one small detour thanks to a closure sign, but we found untracked snow and a summit where Clara could point out all the mountains she knew.

The walk back wasn't much to worry about right up until the end when I began receiving texts from Amy. They were seated. They were ordering. What did the kids want?

On my adventures I've become accustomed to cramming a smashed PBJ down my throat as I try to catch my breath. Or taking a quick bite of a bar that's been through so many melt and freeze cycles it hardly qualifies as food. Today, though, was a gourmet experience.

A real, honest-to-goodness restaurant with cloth napkins and everything. There aren't any restaurants in North Bend with cloth napkins. The food was good, too. I'd recommend the burger, though be warned they cook a little on the rare side.

We caught the gondola down near the official "last download" at 3pm. Tons of skiers in line behind us probably meant it was going to be a long afternoon for the gondola operators. When there's snow to the base I'd guess the download is just folks like us so don't let that scare you off.

Given there's no effort required beyond driving to Crystal (sometimes an adventure in itself) this needs to be on everyone's list this winter. And when you go, make sure you stop at Wapati Woolies in Greenwater for ice cream on the way home.

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