Wednesday, July 18, 2007


After bashing Northwest Airlines because of their shitty service, I now have to plug for Delta--they got our bags onto our connecting flight in 5 minutes. We had the stewardess make everyone stay in their seats (like that ever works) to shove our way from the second-to-last row of the plane up to the door and then sprinted, I mean like heartrate at 180 sprinted--to the other gate for the connecting flight, where they had already given away our seats because they assumed we weren't coming. And they got the bags there anyway. Fantastic.

Anyway, we're now in Seattle. We spent two days doing touristy stuff, and eating fresh cherries, and hanging out with my beagles. Then we decided to go trot up to the Muir campground on the slope of Mt. Rainier. This is 5000 feet over 4.5 miles. I thought it would be significantly steeper, but it was all doable. The path starts at the visitor center, which is at 5400 feet. Apparently, the geniuses who built the visitor center miscalculated, and built a roof that can't handle any snowload. So, when there are 20 feet of snow on the roof, bad things happen. They go through ~$1000 of diesel fuel per day to melt the snow off the roof in the winter. Seems like a bit much, eh? But that is our national park service for ya.

The trail starts, kind of steeply, and its paved. Yes, paved, like asphalt. This is to keep everyone on the same path, but coming down we saw plenty of tourists who felt like they were privileged enough that the signs saying "keep off alpine meadow" didn't apply to them. Eventually the trail is no longer paved, but still very highway-like. We saw two marmots, the first was doing something normal like running across the trail, but the other one showed no fear of these big clomping human animals, and continued to sit there and eat its breakfast of flowers while we took pictures. It probably wants a cut of the profits from selling its picture for postcards or something. Finally we got past the regular tourist turn-around, and the trail becomes an actual mountain trail, and climbs steeply a bit more. Then we got to the snowfields, where the walking gets much easier.

I love walking in steep snow on mountains. Its so monotonous that you can just zone yourself out and you find yourself in your own little world of thoughts and white footsteps in dirty brown and pink snow. Especially when you're only on a snowfield and not a glacier, this is a very enjoyable way to walk. Lift the leg, swing the foot back and kick it into the snow like a pendulum from the knee, stand up on it, repeat with other leg. Slowly, steadily, rhythmically, side-stepping first one way and then the other, and then you get to the top of the little steep part, and trudge on to the next steep part. Those heavy mountaineering boots that seem so unwieldy on the rocks and dirt are completely at home in the snow, and after a while you feel like you're almost part of the mountain. Its a cool feeling. Around Anvil Rock, this big rocky thing that sticks up next to the snowfield, our beautiful sunny day became a lot more cloudy, and we walked into the clouds that were smashing themselves into the mountain and then whooshing over the top of the ridge. Naturally, it got much windier there, and I started wishing that I was wearing appropriate mountaineering pants instead of running shorts... It also started to get whited out. Luckily we were at the beginnings of a more or less marked path up to the campsite at that point, instead of just people randomly walking up a snowfield, so we followed this path up to the little pass, where there were a couple low stone buildings and people with tents.

We waited for my mom, who is probably the fittest mom I know. I can't think of too many moms who can do what she does, all with a smile on her face and poetry in her head. Its usually about a 10 minute wait every hour or so, so we went inside one of the little stone guide buildings to wait, fed her some chocolate, and we headed down. It was cold and windy up top, so we started out moving really fast. We could see enough through the cloud that I was confident we were going the right way--this was nothing like those whiteouts I've been in where you get completely disoriented and can't tell up from down or left from right because everything is so white. The snow was nice and dirty, it being July and all, with plenty of strawberry snow for variation. The clouds weren't that thick, either, otherwise I don't think we would have gone all the way up. So, we started down, and as it got steeper we did a lot more boot skiing, which is wickid fun.

Then we hit the first butt-slide. This is where other people have slid down on their butts and made a nice channel, sort of like a waterslide, down the slope. We had brought some plastic bags, so we sat on those, and you picked up speed really quickly. It was so much fun! so we went bouncing and whooping our way down the mountain. What had taken ~2 hrs to go up took ~30 min to come down. Eventually my butt got too cold and wet, so I started boot skiing a lot more, but my mom and Ed were having a blast butt-sliding.

It was kind of sad to get off the snow, because suddenly your boots feel heavy again, and you clomp downhill without sliding at all, and its a lot slower. Soon we began to see the tourists on their afternoon walks, most of them looking exhausted and wearing flipflops and stopping to sit down a lot. We saw a couple groups of people who had done the whole mountain; that sounds like it would be a fun trip. There are some tricky crevasses to get around above the campsite, so they recommend doing it with a guide, but my dad thinks he wants to join one of those groups at some point this summer. Hopefully he'll have good weather.

Yesterday we rented road bikes and my dad took us on his favorite 60 miler. We went around lake washington, which is the lake to the east of Seattle. We started out on this bike path that goes along rt 90... just keep pedaling and you'll get home! We got to Mercier island and did a lap on this really pretty windy road that contoured along a hillside with views of the lake in a forest. Very nice. Crossed the other bridge on 90 and loopety-looped around Lake Samammish to another bike path that took us back to Seattle. Nice ride.

Now we're off to the olympic peninsula for some walking and eating and the usual stuff with dogs. Hopefully it won't rain too much.

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