This summer, our family schedules coalesced such that we were able to get away for a week in mid-August. Our destination: Mount Rainier National Park. Our objective: time together and idyllic day hiking.
We flew in to Portland and drove north to Rainier the long way through Mount Saint Helens. This seemed like a good idea at the time, but the quality of the experience was tempered by my being tired from the long flight, the slow miles and the limited views because it was overcast. Which is not to say it wasn’t a worthwhile experience. It was a beautiful drive.
In time, we finally arrived at our destination in the southwest part of the park–The National Park Inn, situated in Longmire. It’s a cozy throwback to an earlier time. It’s quiet, with only 25 rooms, and a porch with a killer view of the mountain. How much of a throwback became apparent as my travel companions discovered–to their horror–that there was no internet access or wireless service. None, zilch, nada. No TVs, neither. This was a surprise to all and resulted in a fair amount of grumbling. Imagine: not being able to update your Facebook status, check in to a destination, upload pictures, make pithy comments. No instant messaging. The only tweeting was from the incessant chirping of the birds. We were unable to check email for work. I couldn’t post this blog. No one in the entire park could read this blog! It was post-apocalyptic. Like vacations once were, as far back as, maybe 15 years ago.
You know, it was damned refreshing.
It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words. It was so beautiful at Rainier, words fail to do justice. So with this post I will go liberal with the pictures and annotate to provide reference.
On the way to Longmire, we pulled over at Box Canyon to stretch our legs. It is indeed a box canyon with gushing water. The rock slabs around the top of the canyon clearly show the striations from millennia of grinding glaciers.
We also stopped at Narada Falls.
After we arrived in Longmire, we checked in, cleaned up and ate dinner in the restaurant in the lodge. Let me digress a bit here to comment about the dining experience. Both properties, the one in Longmire and the more popular (and peopled) inn up in Paradise, are managed by the same company. The accommodations are nice, cozy and clean. But the dining experience at both restaurants was not good. Since the common element is the managing company, I put the blame there. What was unsatisfactory? Well, the food was overcooked, the service was slow. In fact, the service ground to a halt when each dining room was only 50% occupied. Up in Paradise, after a meal which featured extremely fatty rib eye steaks, we waited 25 minutes to get a slice of pie for dessert because…the kitchen was backed up. Because slicing a piece of pie and slapping it on a plate requires such a high degree of preparation. Anyway, the food and the dining wasn’t worth it. But they also have a monopoly in the park. And an avid reader of this blog will have a sense of my opinion about government sanctioned monopolies.
Despite the dining, the park itself was so wonderful, I would happily return to experience it’s beauty again.
The next morning we awoke to clear skies, so we headed up to Paradise to hike the Skyline Trail (Labeled as Strenuous by the NPS. 5.4 miles RT, 1,700′ elevation gain, highest point: 7,100′). Why the Skyline? Well, because the VisitRainier.com website says: If your schedule allows you time to hike only one trail at Mount Rainier National Park, we recommend the Skyline Trail, especially on a sunny day.
Well, we intended to do more than one hike, but it was a sunny day. We seized the moment.
The meadows were sprayed with an abundance of wildflowers. Mid-August.
Day 2 was slightly overcast, so we stayed in Longmire and hiked up Rampart Ridge (Moderate. 4.6 miles RT, elevation gain 1,420′, highest point: 5,000′) across from the Inn. This too, is a beautiful hike. The ridge itself is the remains of an old lava flow that cut its way through once massive glaciers on either side. The glaciers have long since retreated up the mountain, leaving the exposed ridge. As we climbed up the ridge, we walked through a wondrous old growth forest, dwarfed as Giant Western Hemlocks, Red Cedars and Douglass Firs towered above us. And the ground was soft as we walked over the decaying matter laid down over thousands of years. Some of the trees were 8 feet in diameter, easily over 500 years old. It was a cathedral.
It being a moderate hike, we were back at the Inn by lunch. Eileen could sense that I still had considerable wanderlust coursing through my veins. She deftly suggested that Daniel and I go off on another hike while she lounges on the porch and reads. We readily agreed. And we set off 10 minutes up the road to hike Comet Falls to Van Trump Park (Strenuous. 5.6 miles round-trip. 2200′ elevation gain). This was a good idea. I was anxious to see how fast Daniel and I could tackle this beast. We started up at a brisk pace. And the trail is a relentless uphill walk all those 2,200 feet. There is no exercise program that replaces what youth alone can provide. I kept up with my 20 year old son for about 40 minutes before I made him stop. I was seeing spots, always a good time to stop! After about three minutes recovery and a slug of water, we pressed on and up, at a more humane pace.The NPS says average hiking time is 4 hours. We did it in 2 hours, 40 minutes. I slept well that night.
On our final day of hiking, we again met overcast skies. Nevertheless, we made the 2 hour drive up to Sunrise, the highest point accessible by road in the Park. Despite the less than ideal photographic conditions, we enjoyed a marvelous hike on the Burroughs Mountain Trail (1st Burroughs Mtn.) 4.8 miles. 900′ elevation gain. The NPS labels this strenuous as well, I guess due to the overall elevation of the hike, which starts at 6,400 feet.
For the trip, I pretty much stayed on eastern time. This meant early to bed and early to rise. In the quiet mornings, I stayed limber by doing the Tai Cheng neural reboot (sans the foam rolling) outside in the cool, fresh dewy air.