The weather was perfect again the next morning. We had some open time in the morning. In the afternoon we needed to drive to Ellensburg which was about three or four hours away. We had a motel reservation there. From there we had about a forty five minute drive to The Gorge Ampitheatre for the Rush concert. It started at 7:30 and we wanted to give ourselves lots of margin. So we figured that we needed to leave the mountains early in the afternoon. But I wasn't sure what to do. With so much snow in the high country most hikes in the park weren't feasible. I had spent the evening before pouring over the Mt. Rainier trail guide to try to find a good low elevation hike. I only found one candidate and it didn't look to promising. I was about to propose that we just have a leisurely breakfast and head down to Ellensburg early. But then I caught myself. Here we were at one of my favorite mountain places, Mt. Rainier National Park, with several hours available, and perfect weather. By golly, we were going to hike. Sandy agreed.
Paradise is at 5400 feet and there was still a lot of snow on the ground - like six to ten feet. Part of that is due to the fact that Paradise gets so much snow in the winter. It's annual snowfall is 680 inches - that's over 56 feet. Even though the Paradise Inn is three stories tall it is usually buried during the winter. With that much snow on the ground it takes a while for it all to melt. So even though it was sunny and warm and the snow was melting like crazy, there was still a lot left.
We thought about following the climber's track up towards the Muir Snowfield. Although it is on snow it is packed down by all the climbers ascending so it is easy hiking. But on such a bright sunny day being on a snow field we figured we would probably get fried. Not having climbing goggles there would even be a risk of snow blindness. We decided that we wouldn't do that hike.
The hike we decided on was Rampart Ridge. To reach the trailhead we had to drive to Longmire, which is near the Nisqually Entrance on the west side of the park. There is a visitor center and lodge there and a lot of parking. It's at only 2761 feet so the snow was long gone. The trail starts just across the highway from the lodge and climbs south facing slopes to the crest of Rampart Ridge. From there we were expecting to get good views back down into the valley and, of course, ahead to The Mountain. The trail continues along the ridge until it meets up with the Wonderland Trail, which can be followed back to Longmire for a 4.5 mile loop.
We had our usual confusion getting started. There is a very short, easy, wussy loop trail, the Trail of the Shadows, that starts across from the lodge. The Rampart Ridge trail takes off from one of the branches of the that trail but isn't signed at the road. Eventually we sorted it out and found the correct junction for Rampart Ridge about a quarter of a mile from the start. From the junction the trail climbed steadily. But there were lots of switchbacks and the while it was steady uphill, the trail was a moderate grade. It was quite nice climbing through the deep forest. Although it was hard work climbing the slope it was shady and cool in the woods. The trees blocked the wind and the vegetation absorbed most of the sound so that it was as quiet as a church. You almost felt like whispering when you talked. We saw a few other hikers on the trail but not many.
We gained altitude slowly but steadily. After climbing a thousand feet we reached a short side trail to a viewpoint at 3720 feet that overlooked Longmire and the surrounding valley. It wasn't too impressive though. We continued up to the the trail's high point at 4080 feet. The trail took a sharp turn and started to head down. I heard some people talking off the trail. We pushed through a few feet of brush and there was a magnificent viewpoint of Mt. Rainier. There were some nice boulders so we could sit and enjoy the view. Just as we got there the other hikers left so we had it all to ourselves.
Since we were at the high point of the trail and still hadn't seen any snow we decided that instead of heading down the way we came up we would continue around the loop. It wasn't that simple though. Now we were on the broad crest of the ridge and not a southern slope. So there were a lot of snow patches left. There wasn't anything that stopped us but it did get wet and sloppy in spots and requred some care to get through. Soon we connected with the Wonderland Trail and were heading down to the trailhead again. Although I hadn't expected much from the description it turned out to be a very nice hike.
We had only eaten a light breakfast before starting out in the moring so we were both hungry. Not far along the highway we stopped at a great viewpoint of the Tatoosh Range and had another picnic lunch. Once again we found someone who would take a picture of the two of us.
Driving back towards Paradise was a bit of a hassle. It was a Saturday with nice weather so the road was crowded. Lots of people had obviously come up for the day from the Seattle area. It seemed like at every corner there was a car stopped to look at a waterfall or some animal by the side of the road or a scenic view. It was slow going. But once we passed the turnoff for the spur road to Paradise the traffic thinned quickly and we made good time.
This time driving back to Yakima we took US12 over White Pass. It's lower so there wasn't nearly as much snow as on Chinook Pass a few days before. We stopped at one viewpoint where there were a bunch of college age kids posing for a group picture. There were two BSU tshirts in the group and several of the cars parked there had Idaho 1A plates (county code for Ada County - where Boise is located). We figured that it was a group of BSU students heading, somewhere?
We reached Ellensburg and found our hotel. Sandy was a little dubious because she recognized it as the place that we had stayed at a few years before. On that trip we had been unable to find a hotel anywhere in the Yakima Valley on a Friday night for some reason. Eventually the only place we found was in Ellensburg and we spent the night in a smelly smoking room. Very unpleasent. That was the last trip that I was allowed to plan without having reservations for every night of our trip made ahead of time. But now we were on the flip side where we locked into a hotel that we weren't too sure of. It had good reviews on Trip Advisor though. Turns out that several little old ladies had bought the place a few years ago and really fixed it up. So it turned out to be ok. It had Sandy worried for a while though.
Ellensburg is forty miles from the Gorge Ampitheatre but there really isn't anything else nearby. It is out in the middle of nowhere. Sandy was wondering if maybe we could have gotten someplace closer. But everyone around the motel, and at Shari's across the street where we went for dinner, was wearing Rush concert shirts. It did indeed seem that we were in the place that lots of people going to the concert were staying. We had plenty of time for a leisurely dinner and then headed for The Gorge.