Friday, August 8, 2008

RAINIER: To the top & all the way around :-)

The trip to Washington was a success: THIS year we not only left the parking lot... we summitted! Our team consisted of myself, Janine, John, Doug and Grant, long-distance runners all. My teammates were no lightweights: among other accomplishments, Janine and John are veterans of the Iditarod Extreme (44 days!). They and our fearless leader Doug have completed the Grand Slam of ultrarunning, and 18-year-old Grant is the new national 50-mile trail champ for his age division, having run the White River 50 miler just 2 days previously! Here we are about a mile into the ascent. The summit looks so close but is so far...
By happenstance we ran into some runner friends from back East -- Charlie, Vicki and Barb, who were descending from a day hike to Camp Muir. With Charlie crewing, Vicki and Barb had just run the Wonderland Trail in 3 days, news I was very happy to hear because now I knew it was, indeed, going to be passable for Chet and me -- yippee! Happy smiles all around:

Our weather was great so far, but the forecast called for a storm to move in sometime after midnight. Being accustomed to going all night long in our ultra endeavors, we decided that after setting up the tents and eating dinner at Camp Muir, we'd head for the summit around 5 p.m. Umm... sure... okay... I like doing things differently! Our route was the standard Disappointment Cleaver and the Ingraham Glacier. Open crevasses abounded, and the penitentes looked like something created by Seuss. Fortunately, the route is so well traveled that we had no trouble getting around them. That's Little Tahoma in the background.
I felt great until about 13,500, when the altitude hit like a brick wall. Misery loves company, and I had plenty of it, with both Doug and Grant suffering altitude sickness. Fortunately, I only felt like I was going to puke! However, we were so close and, although a bit breezy at the crater rim, the weather was holding so we kept on climbing. Finally, the real summit!
Heh, heh... T'was a bit dark, but we could see the lights of Seattle which was pretty cool, as was crossing the crater. The descent took forever, but we intentionally took our time over the steep, hard-frozen terrain. (Most parties descend after the snow has softened up in the sun.) Here's Little Tahoma again, this time just before sunrise! As we descended lower, angry looking clouds filled the sky, so we were really happy we'd decided to climb all night.
Upon reaching Camp Muir, I decided to just head on down to Paradise since it was daylight and I knew I wouldn't sleep anyway. So, basically I unintentionally ended up climbing Rainier as a "day hike," albeit a bit slower than the fellow who climbed it in under 5 hours earlier this summer. (O_O) After a couple of days of R&R in Ashford, my BC buddy Chet (curiously, unlike the South Park Canadians, his head does not come apart when he talks) ventured south of the border to traverse the Wonderland Trail with me in 3 days. On Day 1 we simultaneously second guessed our sanity in the cold drizzle while happily anticipating the adventure ahead. Here we are at the start in Longmire (note the speedy legs)!

We were impressed by the maintenance of the WT -- this, the trail that was deemed impassable after the November 2006 flooding! We found the trail to be in excellent shape, every major river crossing with a bridge, most of them seemingly rebuilt every year. The photo below was the most impressive, well engineered bridge; there was quite a bit of movement as one crossed it. Not evident by the photo, it's pretty high off the ground. People with a fear of heights would not be happy here!
Chris crewed us and had the tents set up and all our gear available at the end of each day, so all we carried were a few pounds in our Nathan packs. I carried only one bottle since there was water everywhere, most of which I drank untreated. (I do not necessarily recommend that you do the same, but this is my norm and I haven't gotten sick yet.) Chris ended up driving about twice the mileage we ran. This photo is the start of Day 2 at Mowich Lake. Yep, that's snow we're standing on. The Northwest got a lot of late snow this year, so we had fun glissading, slippin' and slidin' across snowfields. :)
We spent the second night at White River Campground. Due to the overcast, after 2 days and roughly 60 miles, we had yet to see the mountain! Finally on Day 3 we had sun and clear skies. The terrain and views were spectacular, with flower-filled alpine meadows, fun snowfields, marmots, and warmer temps. The third day made up for the first two and then some. :-)
The finish at Longmire on Sunday afternoon: 90'ish miles, 20,000'ish feet of climb and descent, and about 27'ish hours of total running time (not including sleep!).
And now the flowers. They were just lovely! Here's a small sampling. These are called avalanche lillies.

And this is beargrass. We saw *fields* of it, especially on the first day!
Not sure of the names of these, just like all the colors.
IMO, more beautiful than the finest of cultivated botanical gardens.
This is a tiger lily. Some plants have only one bloom while others have many. The most I've seen on one stem is 9 blooms.
Isn't he CUUUTE?! Compared to Colorado marmots, Washington's are generally lighter in color, blond almost. We also saw a few pikas, a deer, and just missed seeing a black bear.

I was threatened with embarrassment worse than this photo if I didn't include it. Let's just say that after all those miles, I was feeling a bit protein deficient, so we took a jaunt up to my favorite "pretend we're in Bavaria" town -- that would be Leavenworth -- and dined on schnitzel, schweinhaxen, kraut (sauer and rot), and, of course, Spaten. Guten appetit!

4 comments:

Jamie said...

Awesome! What a cool adventure! Those pictures are simply stunning. You could easily blow up most of those into posters suitable for framing (especially the last one, hee hee). We miss you out east!

-Jamie

Jacqueline Florine said...

Sue,

Love the post adventure food fest!

Jacki

I am a runner. "We are what we repeatedly do" said...

Looks like great fun Sue! I love the wonderland trail too. The wildflowers are indeed amazing. I hope to complete the whole thing someday. Ahh so many places to get to, so little time. Let me know when you head back east.

H'ard said...

Nice report Sue.. That is a totally cool way to do Ranier. Why stop and sleep if you can bag it in a day..Best be careful of the guys of German descent....