Sunday, October 23, 2005

Poorly Prepared: Hiking Mt. Rainier

This is an old story, from the Summer of 2004, but I felt that it may be interesting and amusing for some to read.

It was day 14 of a 17 day trip from Michigan to California. Adam and I reached Mount Rainer, Washington on July 6th around noon; with just enough time to fit in an afternoon hike. After setting up our campsite in the damp and cool underbrush of towering redwoods, we set off to hike the Skyline Trail, which was described as a strenuous hike. This was the fifth National Park we had visited, and the word strenuous no longer intimidated us, nor did mention of patches of snow. {Note here the word was "patches"} As we approached the main lodge, located at the base of Mount Rainer, it began to drizzle. The peak of the mountain was not visible, and became less visible as we grew closer. The cotton clouds and thick fog seemed to be on their way in, rather than out. Before heading off, we packed our day packs with plenty of water and some light snacks. Hesitating for a moment, contemplating the possibility of increased rainfall, we decided to cram our raincoats into our packs.
Five minutes into the hike, we find ourselves stepping over patches of snow and streams of runoff from the top of the mountain. Within 20 minutes, the patches of snow are no more. We are now trudging through layers of snow reaching at a minimum five to ten feet in depth. The trail is now marked by red flags and the fog allows only the visibility of about an eight yard radius. Of course, at this point we were amused by the terrain and excited by the fog. Our limbs were still warm and our feet were still dry, but not for long. Funny, the trail description didn’t mention this sort of landscape. After hiking for over an hour, having met no other hiker along the way, we began to get nervous. My legs had turned cherry red and my hiking boots were now small swimming pools for my toes. Not to mention, my summer hiking pants, were soaked and heavy with water. We were now trekking up steep snow covered mountainside, angled at 40-50 degree inclines. What had started as an exciting and unusual hike, mixed with laughter and happy conversation, was now a silent drudge combining grunts, sighs, and intermittent fighting.
We pulled out our flimsy paper map of the trail so many times, that the tattered folds were separating and disintegrating in the moisture of our palms. We had not yet reached the midpoint, and we debated over whether to turn around or to keep going. We kept going. The description of the midpoint included mention of a rest area and rest room. Perhaps we can go inside and get warm, we thought. Ironically, the midpoint rest area was under construction and there was a simple, barely welcoming, port-a-potty. Thankfully the cold air smothered the stench. Adam and I walked over to the elegant restroom, and huddled between its blue wall and the face of the rock wall beside it, barely shielding ourselves from the wind. We stood there a moment; long enough to empty some water from our boots. We then pressed on. This area of the trail included several areas of step incline, and therefore frequent areas of drop-off, where the flags were connected with yellow cording. Thankfully the fog blocked an honest view of what would be a long fall down the mountain if I were to lose my footing.
After about three and a half hours, we finished the trail, having met no one along the way. As we approached our car, we caught a glimpse of some hikers heading up to the trail. They were strapped with ice picks and crampons, water proof pants and quite an impressive amount of gear. Here we were, soaked through, tired, and yet oddly proud. We finished that trail with no special gear, no waterproof clothing, and certainly no crampons. Of course, we were also idiots. The lesson was to never trust a hiking guide when you are in the mountains.

1 comment:

Renegade Eye said...

That was a painful read. I'm from Minnesota, and I felt the chill. It seems a story of a warm heart and cold feet.

I thought the same thing you did about my template. I'll keep it, and see how people feel. I have Plan B template picked.

I think Carlos Paez Vilaro's work, takes you to a new world, like Picasso's work. I live in a humble apartment. If I wanted a big home, I'd love his wild architechture.