Unfortunately, the weather on opening weekend was lousy. We were busy the next weekend. The third weekend, though, was open and at least not forecast to be extra terrible. Lilly's recovering from a knee injury (I'm sad to report I have blessed both the girls with my bad knees) so it was only Clara and Henry that got started from Tipsoo Lake under gray skies.
The first section of the route crosses the snow-covered meadows above Tipsoo Lake and climbs through the trees until joining the PCT. Cross over the highway (leaving Mount Rainier National Park) and the loop really begins.
Just like in 2015 I made the mistake of staying too high. The PCT descended, but the more reasonable slope in the snow, and where the tracks were, climbs. Not a big deal, right? Actually, this set up the biggest challenge of the trip.
With the snow well consolidated some of the slopes were a little sportier than when it's all powder. The kids and their lack of... let's call it "ballast," had a hard time kicking steps. The snow would slide out from under their snowshoes and they'd move a foot or two down the slope. Not being used to this things got a little tense. I calmed them as best I could and they eventually decided to take off their snowshoes for better kicking. (I left mine on for the floatation thanks to my... ballast.)
Clara felt safest facing the slope and kicking steps as we slowly traversed. It wasn't far, but it took a long, long time. By the time we got to a spot I could leave them for a moment they were fried and tensions were high. I put them in a tree well and scooted over the next rise to see where we were in relation to my memories. The terrain got easier, but I wanted to give them an option.
"We can keep going and I think it'll get easier. Or we can go back and..."
"NO! I am NOT going back across that slope!"
With our decision making complete we forged ahead. Indeed the way got easier. Whether it was because the terrain was actually more conducive to traversing or that they were more comfortable it's hard to say. We made much better time, though.
On a break in the thick fog Henry tried to throw snow at me. I turned and expertly flinged (flung? flang? flugelhorned?) a bit of snow from the basket of my pole. How expertly? Right in the face. I spent about 10 minutes teaching both of them how to replicate my feat of awesomeness and then it was on. I think Henry picked it up quickest and had the most direct hits. However, Clara perfected the backward shot so when she had the high ground while climbing she could deliver a devastating attack.
The laughter and fun marked a turning point in the trip. Before it had been mostly full of groans and grimaces. After getting snow in the face we were smiles and giggles. It's amazing how a little levity can change an entire trip. Also, fewer traverses across deadly slopes. (No, they weren't deadly, but they were pretty scary for the kids.)
We continued a little higher to a saddle and then descended through open meadows and almost rejoined the summer trail. Of course, we never quite found it, but did find a couple of steep glissades into the bowl where Tipsoo Lake was slowly thawing.
Like most of the trips that are a little more epic I heard the usual, "Thanks for bringing me on this trip," in spite of the trials and tribulations during the effort itself. More and more I'm finding that if we can push through the initial resistance the kids really enjoy themselves regardless of the challenges. One day I hope to hear nothing but wonder and gratitude from the trailhead, but that might be a little much.