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Changing perspectives on Skyscraper Mountain
posted by John : June 27, 2015


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And that's why I have short hair


I've seen my Mountain hundreds of times. Almost always from the north. I know Little Tahoma and Steamboat Prow. I know that at the point is Camp Schurman even though I can't see it unless I'm right there. I know the trails out of Sunrise so well I can describe them without closing my eyes.

Likewise, I know my kids. I know that Clara is the strong one that is trying to figure out her place in the world and Henry is equally strong, but lacks confidence to be himself. I know that Lillian is the sensitive heart of our family that we think we need to protect, but in reality she protects us.

When I close my eyes at work or on a summit and I think of them I see them as they are today, but also as the babies I held in the delivery room. So much has changed, but my perspective on them hasn't really.

I've found Mount Rainier National Park to be a place of changes for us. In 2010 I summitted and proved to myself that I could. In 2012 the girls showed me they could handle big trips in Summerland and we've been doing multi-day trips ever since. In April of this year Henry and I found snowshoeing's second season at Chinook Pass and he made the leap from snowshoe kid to snowshoe adventurer even if his feet are still pretty small.

On this trip we were headed to Skyscraper Mountain. The girls and I had seen it before from the trail down to Berkeley Park. At that time they'd thought I was crazy for suggesting we add that to our trip. Needless to say, we didn't attempt it.

The trail climbs Sourdough Ridge, drops to Frozen Lake, drops more into Berkeley Park, climbs to Skyscraper Pass, and finally to the summit itself. All during a rare June heat wave that brought with it the threat of thunderstorms in the afternoon.

There's something about the climb from the trailhead to Sourdough Ridge that saps the energy of the kids and Henry in particular. Every time we go it requires treats to get him to the top and the complete refusal to hear his fussing. Like on other trips, once we had crested the ridge and were on the downward traverse he was fine.

Lilly was overheating in the hot sun and being suffocated by the insane amount of hair she has. Add a heavy hat and she wasn't having much fun until we were descending past Frozen Lake.

Clara was her usual self, alternately leading us all by example and becoming frustrated at our slow progress. She's never really known anything to be hard and she expects everyone else to be the same.

We stopped at the low point at the head of the Berkeley Park valley to enjoy the creek that bubbled out of the ground. Henry again sat quietly looking defeated. Clara impatiently wanted to charge up the hill. Lilly just looked hot.

When we did start again it was Lilly that took the lead and set an aggressive pace. Henry ran, stopped, then ran again. Clara lagged back with me. Whatever had been driving her all along had abandoned her and she was nearly spent.

All along, Rainier had been poking her head over the ridge and monitoring our progress. The blue sky had been hidden behind featureless, white clouds, but the Mountain still shone brightly above us.

We crossed the only snow on the entire trail just below the Pass. In a normal year there'd have been snow all along the trail. This year, there's just a 15 foot patch clinging to the north face of the ridge.

At this point I expected Clara to take off running up the switchbacking trail, Lilly would want to sit down in the snow and cool off, and Henry would demand M&Ms before taking another step. As I thought about this happening I noticed we were looking at a different face of Rainier than I'm used to. Even though we weren't much farther west than usual, the rocky cliffs of the Willis Wall and Liberty Ridge dominated half the Mountain.

We'd enjoyed a similar view from the Fremont Lookout (in a normal snow year), but still the Mountain looked strange and foreign.

And then... the kids. Henry, who had been lamenting the fact he wouldn't make the summit because he was too tired, ran up the hill. He only stopped because he was waiting for us. Lilly shook of her heat stupor and marched up the rocky trail like it was flat. Clara, who had been strong all along, was suddenly out of breath and showing signs of the elevation. (We were only at 6,500 feet, but she's used to 600 feet and she was definitely less than energized normal.)

On the summit we found goats and an unbelievable view of the Mountain. And lots of biting flies. The latter kind of negated all the former so Lilly led our quick descent, only stopping when she was too far ahead.

Watching their personalities and capabilities change over the course of the day's hike reminded me that they are still plastic and easily formed by what they experience. Even trivial events that I would never notice can send them into the sky or crashing to the ground. The kids are changing every day as they grown and find their place in our family and in the world.

Even though I'd rather they remain as they are at this moment they won't and it will be in part due to the experiences we have together. I guess I better make them good ones.

(And yes, this trip ended with a great ice cream experience at Wapati Woolies. Where else would we stop?)

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