It was tough going back to work after five weeks off. It had been a great time. Sandy and I took a trip to the Sierras and did three excellent hikes. Then I had a week and a half to get ready to leave for the Alps. Our trip to Switzerland was two and a half weeks and we spent almost all the time hiking. In one stretch of thirteen days we did eleven hikes. Very few of them were easy. I'm lucky that Sandy is such an enthusiastic hiker. We were in the mountains doing big hikes every day. But while work was an adjustment after so much time off at least it was a chance to rest. By the time the weekend rolled around though I was anxious to get into the mountains again. Sandy was going to stay home because Shannon had decided to come home for a quick visit before starting her last year at the University of Iowa. But that left me free to go hiking for the weekend.
Figuring out where to go wasn't easy. There seemed to be forest fires everywhere in the western US. Idaho had a lot of smoke. In Boise the smoke was so bad that half the time we could barely see the foothills, . Checking webcams it was obvious that the Sawtooths would not be a good choice. You could barely see the mountains from Stanley. I found a good website that had a map of smoke levels from all the forest fires in the US as seen by satellite. The picture wasn't very good. All of Idaho and most of Utah and Montana were covered with smoke. So were the Wallawa Mountains in Oregon. The only places that were free of heavy smoke were the Cascades and the Sierras. Those were good options for hiking but it meant a lot of driving for just a weekend. I thought that it would be a little bit nervy to ask for Friday off the first week that I was back from a five week leave.
I settled on a trip to the Washington Cascades. Mt. Rainier is my favorite national park. I checked the weather forecast and it was perfect. It predicted that it would be warm and sunny every day with 0% chance of rain. It's hard to pass up good weather like that in the Cascades. Although I went back and forth during the week (it would be a lot of driving for a weekend) I decided at the last minute - the trip was on.
I packed quickly on Friday morning before going to work. Since the fall semester hadn't started things were pretty slow. I was able to sneak out a little early and was on the road at 3:45 pm. I only had a gas stop in Baker and a quick dinner at McDonalds in Pendleton. Since I gained an hour going west I got to Yakima at 8:15 pm. I checked into the local Quality Inn and was in bed early. I still had a ways to go to the park so I planned on an early start the next morning.
The hotel started breakfast at 6am and I was there. I ate, packed up, checked out, and gassed up (the car, not me) and left Yakima at 7 am. My objective for the day was Shriner Peak. It's a mountain on the east side of Mt. Rainier National Park. It has a trail to the summit where there is an old fire lookout. It has a fabulous view of Mt. Rainier and the whole length of the Cascades. The trail is four and a quarter miles each way but gains 3500 feet to the 5834 foot summit. Sandy and I had done this hike on my birthday back in 2001. I remembered that it was a lot of work but that the view from the top was spectacular. It was definitely worth doing again.
The trail climbed steadily but relentlessly the entire way. It started in dense forest, then broke into some clearings where there were views to the south. Then about two hours from the start I turned a corner and there was The Mountain. It's very dramatic how you are climinb steadily for so long on this trail with not even a peak of Mt. Rainier and then BAM, there it is. It was ten miles away across a deep valley. Mt. Rainier is my favorite mountain in North America and this is one of the best viewpoints for seeing it. For the last third of the climb it was always in spectacular view.
On our trip to the Alps I had been impressed by all the wildflowers. When I started this hike I noticed a few but thought that there were not nearly as many as we had seen in Switzerland. But that changed on the upper part of the hike. There were lots of wildflowers: Indian Paintbrush, daisies, avalanche lillies, bluebells, and lots of flowers that I couldn't identify (Sandy is the expert on flora in the family). But everywhere the slopes were covered in lupine. It was really impressive. Monet would have been ecstatic on this hike.
I met two older gentlemen coming down the trail. When I can call two guys "older gentlemen" that means that they are OLD. But they had hiked all the way to the top of Shriner Peak - a hard hike. I just hope that I can keep hiking as I get older.
I stopped and chatted with the two Old Guys for a while. They asked where I was from and what brought me to Washington and how long did it take me to travel from Idaho and welcomed me to the area. We chatted for quite a while. When we finally parted they said that it was only about a mile to the top. Great. I look like I need encouragement to keep going from two Old Guys. But they were friendly and meant well.
A little while later I passed three people coming down from the top and then a little later, a lone hiker. That was it. There were only six hikers in three groups ahead of me. Here I was on a perfect Saturday in August, on a spectacular trail in one of the best National Parks in the US, and only six people were ahead of me when I started a little before nine in the morning. Amazing. But the trail is very hard work and I guess there are just not many people willing to put in the effort.
At one point I stopped to take a picture (actually I stopped to take lots of pictures) and a single hiker caught up with me. "Are you the guy from Idaho?" he asked. Ok, I didn't realize it was that obvious. My tshirt was from Zion National Park, not Idaho. What was the giveaway?
"Oh, I talked to two older guys who said there was some guy who came all the way from Idaho up ahead. I figured that must be you." My fame had preceded me. I took my pictures and let him pass since he was faster than me. "I'll see you on the top" the other hiker said. And he did.
It was a long grind but I reached the top at exactly noon. It had taken me three hours and ten minutes of very hard work. The guy who had passed me was sitting on the balcony of the fire lookout so I climbed up and joined him. We sat and chatted for about an hour while we ate our lunch and enjoyed the view. I found out his name was Bernie. He was very talkative and I heard a lot of stories from him. I learned that he was 52, was going through a tough divorce, had one son, worked in a paper mill in Tacoma, had almost been killed ten years ago in an industrial accident (I learned all about his long process of recovery from the injury). I also heard many hiking and mountain biking stories, especially those that involved bears. He ended up giving me his park map so I could plan my hike for the next day. He also had a lot of suggestions for hike I could do on Sunday. One thing about hiking is that you always meet a lot of interesting people.
Bernie and I spent about an hour talking on the summit. Then I decided to start down. Bernie wasn't sure what he was going to do. On the one hand he thought it would be cool to stay on the top until it got dark so he could watch the Perseid meteor shower. But on the other hand he had a female friend in Tacoma who wanted to do something with him if he got back in time. He was seriously conflicted. I left him to his dilemma and started back down.
On the trails that we had done in the Sierras in early July Sandy and I had the problem that they all had descents at the beginning. That meant that on the return there was a tough climb at the end when you were really tired and just wanted to be finished. There was no such problem on the Shriner Peak Trail. There were no downhill sections on the way in that were uphill on the way out. In fact I don't think that there were two steps in a row that were level. It was uphill all the way. So going back was consistent - downhill. Good knees were essential.
Going down was faster. It took me a little over two hours and I was back at the car. Even on the way down I only encountered three or four sets of hikers and a lone park ranger. Totally amazing for such an awesome trail, in August, with perfect weather. Nobody wants to work hard.
That evening pizza tasted really good at dinner. I also had an interesting experience. I stopped at a store to buy something and when I came out there was something on my windshield. It was a card thanking me for being a military family member. It said it recognized that I had to spend many nights worrying about family in danger serving in the military. I have a service banner on my car (two stars for two family members serving in the military) as well as stickers for the units that each of my sons serve in (101st Airborne Division and 36th Engineer Brigade) and a "My Son Is In The US Army" bumper sticker. I don't know who left it but I was deeply moved. I do have a tough time with two sons serving in the miltary and to have acknowledgement from a total stranger was really something. Half of my relatives doen't even care. I really wish I could thank that person, whoever they are.
But that was only one day of hiking. I had another opportunity Sunday. It would be tough, since I had to get home the same evening. Plus I had to make some stops on the way back. I would need a really early start to a very long day.