July 1, 2011. My birthday. I turned fifty eight years old. The forecast said that the weather was finally supposed to clear. When we woke up we found that the weatherman had been true to his word. The sky was a bright blue and there were no clouds to be seen. We walked to the restaurant for breakfast and could finally see the mountains that were around the Crystal Mountain resort. Just in time to leave. After breakfast we packed up and hit the road. It looked like it could be a perfect day in the mountains.
According to the Mt. Rainier National Park website, the road to Sunrise would open at 8 am today. We were at the turnoff a little before nine. No reason to look like we were impatient. We didn't want to apply undue pressure. Sure enough the road was open. Along the road to Sunrise we found two great viewpoints. One was from a bridge looking towards some of the mountains just east of Rainier. The other was at Sunrise Point. This is one of the most spectacular viewpoints in Mt. Rainier National Park. I almost feel guilty there. It's too easy to drive up, snap a quick photo, and hop back in your car. It seems like you should have to work a lot harder to reach such a fantastic view. We spent quite a while there today, taking lots of pictures and just enjoying the incredible view of The Mountain.
We talked to a guy who was just taking off for a day of ski mountaineering. He was going to ski down into the valley from the viewpoint, then climb up to a peak across the valley, then ski/climb back. I'm not really a skier so I was envious. Sounded like an awesome day to me.
But we had an awesome day ourselves. We reached the parking area at Sunrise. The snow there was still six to eight feet deep. To reach the buildings there were trenches dug in the snow. But the view was amazing. In the parking lot there were several people gearing up to climb he broad slope above Sunrise and then ski down. They would probably do it over and over again all day. Seemed like an awful lot of work for just a little skiing to me. But then skiing has never held any attraction for me anyway.
We drove back to the main highway and continued south. Along the way we stopped at a viewpoint. A lady offered to take our picture together and we readily agreed. I started to explain how to work the camera and got interrupted and told by the lady that she was a professional photographer and didn't need me to tell her how to take pictures. Well excuse me. But when she took our picture it didn't seem that she did it right. You need to hold the button half way down to allow the camera to autofocus. I never heard the beep indicating that it was ready. But when I saw the picture that she took it looked pretty good. You can be the judge yourself. See below.
Mt. Rainier is probably my favorite national park. It has a special significance for my birthday. This was the third time that I had spent my birthday at there. Other than home or visiting family, I don't think that I have ever spent my birthday anyplace else. Around 1980 I took a climbing class for a week on Mt. Rainier that included my birthday. Another time Sandy and I did a vacation to the park over my birthday. On that trip we climbed Shriner Peak, which is still one of my all time favorite hikes. So this was my third birthday in the park. It's hard to imagine a better spot for me to spend my birhtday than at Mt. Rainier. It's an awesome mountain.
This morning we had driven to some fantastic viewpoints but we wanted to hike. So my study from the previous night came into play. We drove to Ohanapecosh (say that three times really fast) to hike to Silver Falls. We did a quick stop at the visitor center and then were off on the trail. Since Ohanapecosh is at only 1900 feet we were way below the snow. We hiked along Stevens Creek for two miles. There were numerous small and large streams coming in from the side. This year, when the snowfall was so heavy, even small side streams were filled with water. As we were hiking Sandy noticed a big slug. We stopped and took a picture. Hard to imagine why there wasn't a whole flock of birds fighting over the tasty morsel. But we saw three or four more large slugs out in the open on the trail as we hiked along. I guess they don't have a major predator in the park.
I thought this was just going to be a stroll for two easy miles alongside a stream. But it climbed up quite a way in spots to get around obstacles. It ended up being a good workout. Silver Falls was very impressive. With lots of snow in the high country and warm sunny weather there was a lot of water going over the falls. We saw it from below and then crossed the river and climbed to a viewpoint above the falls. Even the hike back was quite a bit of work. We made a loop by returning on the opposite side of the river. I was hoping that on this side the trail would follow close to the river. It was very pretty and would have made for a nice walk. But no, the trail climbed way above the river and around to the west. I guess there was some serious obstacle that we couldn't see. But it still didn't take us long to get back to the parking lot.
It was only a short drive to the Grove of the Patriarchs. This trail that crosses to an island in Stevens Creed that has some very old growth trees. But when we got to the parking lot there was a line to park. That was stupid - I kept going. About a quarter of the mile down the road there was a beautiful waterfall so we parked and took pictues. Now my stubborness kicked in. Sandy was ready to give up on the hike, but not me. We drove back and there still wasn't an open spot. But I was creative and managed to park at the entrance so that I didn't block traffic even though it wasn't a marked parking spot. I thought that I had done pretty well.
Shows what I know. Before we could even get on the trail some guy started to hassle us about where I had parked. Yeesh. I don't know whether Sandy or I was ready to take on the dude first. But we both took a deep breath and passed by and got on the trail. The Grove of the Patriarchs was a short trail but some of the old growth trees were very impressive. The bridge to the island caused a major traffic jam. There was a sign saying that only one person at a time should cross. With people on both sides waiting to cross this was a major delay. But we finally got our turn to cross. Then there was a short hike through the big trees. Impressive, but we had seen big trees before, from Australia to California. But it was still cool.
We actually hurried back to the car, thinking that the "parking police" might cause us some grief. But they were nowhere to be found. So the two desperados jumped in the car and made our getaway.
Afterwards Sandy posted some of our pictures on Facebook. She had a picture that I took that showed her standing at the base a huge tree in the Grove of the Patriarchs. Nancy Loke, her secretary while she was in Singapore, commented on Facebook "now you know how I felt standing next to you." Touche.
As we drove to Paradise there were several more waterfalls along the road. We stopped at the first two or three to jump out and take pictures. But after a while even we got jaded. Ho hum. Another spectacular waterfall. Looks just like the last five. Let's just use a picture of the last one and put the name of this one on it. Or better yet not even mention it. At one point several cars were stopped on the other side of the road. As we approached the driver of the first car leaned out her window and started waving her arms at me. I thought maybe there was an accident. No. She just pointed out a young bear just off the side of the road. I took a quick picture through the window and then kept going. From the car it wasn't a very good shot but I wasn't about to get out to get in better position. If there was a bear cub around, then Momma Bear was certainly close by. She might not have reacted favorably to all the attention that junior was getting. So I definitely was going to stay in the car.
Along the way we stopped at a huge pullout that had picnic benches and another great view of The Mountain. From the south side it looked completely different. We hadn't eaten anything since breakfast so we got out some of our fresh fruit and some trail snacks and had an impromptu picnic. While we were eating our lunch a van with Wisconsin plates pulled up next to us and a family with several kids piled out. One of the girls was wearing a Ryan Braun jersey. Talking to the people we found out that they were from Appleton. The dad was nice enough to take a picture of Sandy and I. Seemed like a good idea to have insurance in case the last picture of the two of us together didn't turn out. I took a bunch of photos and then we were back on the road.
Late in the afternoon we reached Paradise. It was crowded but since it wasn't a weekend it wasn't totally insane. The last time we had been here there was a traffic jam that backed up a quarter of a mile from the visitor center. Not nearly that bad this time. We went to the visitor center first and then checked into the hotel. I've wanted to stay there for decades. This year we did it as a special treat for my birthday.
The Paradise Inn is a historic old hotel. It was built in 1916 and is designated a National Historic Landmark. When you enter the building there is a great hall that is 50 feet wide and 112 feet long with a two story high vaulted ceiling. It serves as the lobby. It is furnished with rustic but comfortable furniture that is appropriate for a historic mountain inn. There is a large stone fireplace at each end of the room. A ranger was giving a talk to some tourists next to one of the fireplaces. There was a group of climbers packing there gear before heading up the mountain at the other end. In between were all sorts of people. Everything from overweight, out-of-place looking tourists who looked like they just got off the tour bus to hardy, experienced mountain hikers (we were in the latter, not the former group, of course). People were sitting and reading, talking, or drinking coffee or wine. Behind the lobby there is a gift shop. Yes, I did get to pick out a Mt. Rainier t-shirt for my birthday.
The Inn has a nice restaurant. There is a large dining room off of the lobby. No reservations - first come first served. It opened at 5:30 so we were lined up at 5:25 to get a spot. It was a long drive to the next nearest restaurant. But it turned out that it wasn't that crowded. Our waiter was downright gabby and kept telling us how lucky we were to have so much sunshine. He said that June had been really dreary - nothing but cold and cloudy and rainy days. He said it was the first sunny day in a long time. Hey, what did he expect for my birthday?
After dinner we went up to our room. It was very small but we did have a private bath. It was quite nice too - the hotel had been closed for two years from 2006-2008 for renovation so it was rustic but relatively new. Looking out our window we had a spectacular view of the Tatoosh Range. As it got later we watched the alpenglow on the peaks go from gold to pink to red as the sun set.
In keeping with the rustic, mountain inn character there was no internet access and no cell phone service. I kind of liked that actually. The only contact with the rest of the world were a couple of pay phones off of the lobby. Kind of quant actually. I thought pay phones were extinct by now. Sandy used one to call Shannon to let her know we had gotten to Paradise. She said that she hadn't used he HP calling card in years. Used to be she couldn't live without it.
Even though we were traveling Sandy brought a couple of small gifts along. I got a DVD on the band Rush which looks really interesting. (I am hoping to watch it this weekend, as I write this.) I also got the book Ghost Rider, which I am currently reading. It was written by the drummer for Rush. The presents were very cool and a complete surprise. The reason for the Rush theme is that we were going to see them in concert the following day at The Gorge ampitheatre. They have been my favorite band for many years. We had designed this trip around going to the concert. So I will talk about that in my next post.
It had been an absolutely fantastic birthday with my sweetie.