These posts will cover all the areas I'm visiting in the confines of Mt. Rainier National Park in celebration of 35 years exploring here, including new places with a smattering of old.
LONGMIRE TO PARADISE
Not exactly a hike, but a good workout nonetheless. Since I have STP (Seattle To Portland) coming up in a few weeks with a busy schedule, I decided to use a few free days to get one last mondo ride in. The weather forecast was somewhat iffy, but I left early to start biking from Longmire at 6 AM. It was somewhat chilly, so I dressed like a winter climb....thermals, top and bottom, with extra gloves and layers. It actually wasn't too bad, and my single layer thermal top did the trick until I neared 5000 feet, where I had to add the rain jacket. Twice I passed deer on the side of the road, once within 6 feet. My silent approach has them looking at me with a perplexed expression in their doe eyes...actually a pretty cool experience. A steady drizzle accompanied the gusting winds as I topped out at 5400 feet, gliding through the fog to the deserted Visitor Center and setting up next to a window with about a foot and a half of overhang, at least getting me out of the rain. I didn't spend too long here, putting on a thermal cap and some waterproof gloves, then set off to circle back via the Paradise Valley road. This was a miserable segment, with the rain increasing to pummeling strength and a steady stream of water hitting my face, cast off from my front bike tire...there was no escaping the cold drenching, but I let the steed run this downhill segment at 25 MPH despite the squirting fire hose. However, once I turned back on the main drag and dropped a few hundred feet in elevation, the rain abated, the squirting tire retired and I enjoyed the swift descent back to Longmire. I was bone chilled so took a break and had breakfast (after I changed) at the Inn, trying to warm up with coffee and huevos rancheros. I didn't get truly warm until I drove to the next climb start point, the east entrance at Stevens Canyon (Ohanapecosh) with my heater running full hot and full blast, hanging gloves and socks in front of the vents to try and dry things out. Meanwhile the weather was changing for the better, boding well for the next climb.
OHANAPECOSH TO PARADISE
Despite the Sunday crowds, I snagged a parking spot at the entrance and changed into bike shorts, but due to the still not so summer like temps (50 degrees), I kept the thermal top on, somewhat dried after the hot air blasting in the truck. This is the longest segment with the most climb, the only respite for the legs being a short downhill stretch after Reflection Lakes before rejoining the main drag back to Paradise. The sun steadily made an appearance and I stopped on occasion to photograph the flowers that lined the road. Other than that, it was grind city for a few hours; one has to embrace hill climbing in all its glory for a day like this, despite some minor suffering. Arriving at Paradise for the second time was a totally different experience, with tour buses disgorging scads of people and slightly warmer temperatures (but lots of puffy jacket sightings), along with a fairly bloated parking lot. Despite improved weather, the mountain was still not making an appearance. I spent just a few minutes in this scene, casting off for the long downhill segment, amazed that the parking overflowed well onto Paradise Valley road. It was hard to believe the difference in just a few hours from when I was here in the morning, only needing to don my shell for the breezy descent. Traffic wasn't bad compared to earlier, and I was able to use my lane to negotiate the curves, bumpy road segments and drainage grates, giving myself plenty of clearance from the canyon side with its precipitous drop offs and stone walls. Interrupted only by the annoying climb up to Backbone Ridge, the last miles rewarded with a winding smooth road and sharp corners, suddenly braking at the entrance and my waiting vehicle.
WHITE RIVER TO SUNRISE
After I finished my second leg and was back at my vehicle at the Stevens Canyon entrance (4 PM), I drove up Highway 123 to Highway 410 and reentered the Park at the White River entrance, easily finding a camping spot to park my pseudo Avalanche RV. My original plan was to do all three of these climbs in the same day, but temperatures were still chilly despite sunny skies and truthfully, at my age my legs were feeling the 65 miles and 7500 feet of climb. I concluded that continuing on climb 3 would be doable but slow so I opted to climb to Sunrise the next morning. I enjoyed the rest of my afternoon, partaking of the dinner my thoughtful wife had packed in a small cooler, lounging in the sun down by the river, and marveling at the ever changing and fantastic cloud formations the fierce upper winds roiling off Rainier's summit produced, whilst snacking on peanut M&Ms. Since I had had little sleep the night before, I had to make myself stay up 'til 8, when I crashed in my Avalanche and slept until 6, most excellent. When I arose (Monday, July 2) the skies had enough holes to bask in occasional sun. I ate breakfast (also in the cooler), suited up and hit the 300 foot downhill segment to the intersection for the road to Sunrise, noting that it was frickin' cold....I don't mean summer cold, I mean winter cold. I had my thermal bottoms on for this climb and ended up with my thermal top and a fleece layer, and it was still chilly. After being snowed on nearing 6,000 feet, I donned my entire clothing ensemble. I was still cold, as the winds were gusting so as to move my bike when I was but doing 5 MPH. When I rolled into Sunrise a ranger took one look at me and asked if I wanted to come inside and warm up, directing me to a garage heater and letting me stand there for 20 minutes soaking up the heat while we chatted. Rebecca, I thank you! I've had such good experiences with Park personnel, both rangers and maintenance staff...these are really fine people. After elevating my body temperature back to normal I hit this exhilarating downhill, plenty toasty after exiting the gusting winds up high and enjoying a downhill traffic free experience. Despite pathetic speeds in comparison, I felt like a tour rider. No mind, this is the reward for the uphill grind. I negotiated the short 300 foot uphill back to my waiting vehicle and packed up for the ride home. Originally I had a hankering to go climb Shriner Peak, but thought that later in the year with fall views would make for a better outing as I tick off those trails and areas I have yet to set foot on.
Despite rain pelting my face, sometimes heavy traffic and freezing gusting winds, my thoughts were how lucky I am to be able to do this kind of endurance endeavor at age 63...I actually climb better now than 10 years ago, when I thought the Longmire to Paradise segment made for quite the day. Even now I am learning that mindset is everything, that what once seemed too hard can become possible if I just get out and try it, adding the experience to my body memory. I can only hope that I can continue these types of outings as I progress toward and past my 70's. Total stats: 89 miles/10,200' climb.