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Celebrating Summer in Mount Rainier
posted by John : June 21, 2014

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Been there, done that

Every year the crews at Mount Rainier National Park labor to open the road to Sunrise. It's a twisting, narrow road that ends at 6,400 feet, the highest spot you can drive to in the Park. It's late June or early July when it finally opens and it's a celebration at our house. Two years ago we visited a few weeks after it opened in July and had an amazing snowshoe and hiking adventure to the Fremont Lookout. This year we'd be visiting Sunrise on the first day of an around-the-mountain tour. I was giddy with excitement.

When we arrived at Sunrise I was shocked to see how little snow there actually was in the meadows. I had visions of a road cut through towering banks of snow, but there were parts of the meadows that were bare! Nonetheless, we carried our snowshoes to the end of the pavement and geared up. (What did you expect? I pretty much carry snowshoes when there's even a dusting of snow. It's part of my Ambassadorial duties for Tubbs.)


That noise would be Henry's sunglasses. This could be bad. I looked at them and saw the arm was broken off the frame and one of the lenses was cracked. This was bad. When I climbed Rainier I wore a pair of goggles that didn't properly shield my eyes. They were sunburned and hurt for a week. It wasn't something I'd wish on anyone even if that person had just shattered their own glasses. So I gave him mine.

Yes, my super-fancy sunglasses I won that were so expensive I'd never be able to replace them. I impressed upon Henry the importance of taking care of my glasses and resigned myself to their fate. Then I squinted and tried to see where the kids had gone.

The snow that was still in the meadows was several feet deep and well consolidated. The snowshoes were more for traction than floatation and worked great. We climbed straight up the ridge without much trouble and then headed toward Frozen Lake. Along the way we talked with a ranger who said much of the trail was bare beyond the Huckleberry Creek trail. Since this was only the warm up to another day at Paradise I wasn't interested in pushing so we made Huckleberry our destination.

Sourdough Ridge is usually an easy, wide trail. However, the snow had mounded on the trail making it a far knifier route. In some spots the kids felt uneasy next to what they considered to be a sure slide to their deaths. Ever the good guy, I walked beside them so they could pass each "danger" area. (In truth, even a full-fledged, out of control slide wouldn't have been too bad.)

When the snow ended we stowed our snowshoes and continued on the familiar dirt and rock trail. A marmot spooked and ran across the trail and there were plenty of birds and bugs to be seen. When we reached the Huckleberry junction only Lilly wanted to continue on. Henry stayed with Clara while we made quick work of the sometimes-snow-sometimes-rock trail to the top of the ridge where Lilly celebrated her first summit in the Park. (I didn't remind her that she'd actually been on other summits in the Park before.)

Going down is always so much easier and faster that a lack of traction isn't that big a deal. Lilly and Henry opted not to put their snowshoes back on and slipped and glissaded their way down the hill. Clara and I were more cautious in our travel, but kept up acceptably.

Our plan had been to stay the night at the White River campground just below Sunrise. However, it wasn't yet open for the season so we drove a bit more and camped at Ohanapecosh. I knew I'd done right by the kids when they ate full servings of macaroni and cheese (of course) on top of a huge rock beside our huge tent and then fell quickly to sleep. I was left watching the fire die out pondering our adventures planned for the next day, but even I didn't last long before I was tucked into my sleeping bag listening to the soft breathing of my fellow adventurers.

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