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Celebrating New Year's Day on Mazama Ridge in Mount Rainier National Park
posted by John : January 1, 2016


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Year of the Mountain


(This is a traditional post so let's start it with the same old same old.)

For nine of the last 10 years I've celebrated the new year with an adventure. Although the Northwest had just experienced the second wettest December ever New Year's Day was forecast to be blessed with clear skies. If we went high enough, we'd find all that rain that fell in the lowlands (11 inches!) was deep powdery snow. If you've been reading my posts for any length of time you know that my favorite place to go get high is Mount Rainier National Park.

We usually head to the east side of the Mountain because it's closer and downright gorgeous. But it's closed in the winter so we headed around the Mountain to the aptly named, "Paradise."

Due to the length of the drive, we rarely visit Paradise. Last time we were there was in 2014 when we snowshoed to celebrate the beginning of Summer. Yes, so much snow usually falls at Paradise you can snowshoe just about all year long. Although we were snowshoeing, the snow wasn't deep and it wasn't fluffy. It was Summer snow. The kids had never experienced the mind blowing amounts of snow that can cover the Mountain. As we drove up the long road from Longmire to Paradise the kids marveled at the deep snow. Soon it was taller than the car. Then it was towering above us.

We headed down into the Paradise River valley along the closed road. It's about half a mile, but the wind tried to make it longer by pushing back against us. A nice couple assured the kids there was no wind at the bottom and sure enough, we made it with most of our skin intact.

As usually happens on our trips, some of the kids tried to convince the rest of us that we had gone far enough. My job is to make sure the kids understand what awaits them with a little extra effort and encourage (some might say, "push") them to go farther than they think they can. Sometimes it works out, sometimes not. What made it work on this trip was the collection of beaming faces of people coming down from Mazama Ridge.

"Glorious." "Perfect." "Beautiful." "There's a trench all the way to the top."

(I was sold before I heard a single word, but I think the kids really liked hearing they wouldn't be breaking trail all the way up.)

The last time I went up Mazama Ridge I was towing overnight gear in my pulk and having issues in the deep snow. And it was snowing like crazy. Not this time. Perfect weather. Perfect snow. Perfect perfect perfect.

We made great time up the ridge. It was easy walking in the trench. Much easier than the waist-deep unconsolidated powder from a few days before. Only two things slowed us down.

We kept looking at the view.

And then the kids decided to break trail straight up the hill to avoid a switchback. Suckers.

By the time they decided sticking to the packed trench was a better plan we were half way up. They certainly learned their lesson and earned their treats at the top. The grimaces turned to grins when we reached the ridge top.

The rugged Tatoosh Range lay to the south and Mount Rainier to the north. Mazama Ridge is wide and perfect for rambling. Unfortunately, time prevented us from continuing our walk, but all three of the kids admitted it was awesome (some more reluctantly than others) and declared it should be a repeat destination.

Like most trips, the way down wasn't the exciting part. We retraced our steps, face-to-face with the Mountain the whole way. I stopped about every 10 feet to take a picture of it and then had to hurry to catch up to the kids.

The kids finally experienced the epic snow of Paradise and I had a chance to celebrate the beginning of a new year with them. I think the only one that missed out was Treen who had to stay home. I'd say next year we'll go somewhere she can come, but if it's going to be this great again I'll deal with the longing stare as we drive away.

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