My daughter and I are just back from two days of hikes (photos here), trying to work around the very high snow year we have had. We decided to go from one extreme to the other, hitting the Olympics and day hiking to Enchanted Valley, then hitting Mt. Rainier and climbing to Steamboat Prow (9700'). One day awash in green, the other in blinding white. One day with high mileage (30 miles), the other with a point to point climb (5300 feet elevation gain).
ENCHANTED VALLEY We started on Wednesday, June 21 and headed to the Olympics and parked at the Graves Creek trail head. This is a 4 hour drive for us but we managed to be on the trail just before 9 AM. Now, the weathered wooden sign at the beginning of the hike reads Enchanted Valley 13.5 miles. However, what with reroutes and the such multiple sources (strava, GPS etc) put the actual mileage at 15 one way, making for a 30 mile round trip. This higher mileage is mitigated somewhat by the rather gentle elevation gain of about 2,000 feet over the entire distance. Perfect weather set the stage for this incredible journey through old growth elken (as in lots of elk) forest, inhaling green splendor with every breath, creek crossings either via established bridge or makeshift ones, keeping feet dry, with terrain gentle enough to let the feet carry us along as we let the ambiance infuse us with health. Doesn't get any better. We arrived at our destination, Enchanted Valley, early enough for the sun to still bathe the valley. Enchanted Valley is of course known not only for the incredible setting between mountains and cascading waterfalls, but for the iconic and historic 3 story Chalet, built so far into the wilderness in 1931. A few years back the wandering Quinault River eroded one end of the chalet, leaving it teetering with the probable demise of falling into the river. However, Jeff Monroe, a house mover from Sequim, instigated (along with much support) a plan to move the chalet from its foundation back 100 feet to save it from erosive destruction, and here it sits with the steel girders still under it, waiting to be moved further to a more permanent location about 200 feet away. Despite looking rather vagabondish with these temporary underpinnings, the chalet is still a sight, nestled in this beautiful valley so far from civilization. We enjoyed a respite from ambulation, sitting on the old foundation (what's left of it) and soaking in the sights, peering up the valley to Anderson Glacier. I orbited the chalet snapping pics and taking video, and we finally packed up for the 15 mile return leg when the sun dipped below the opposite peak. Our hike out was equally enjoyable, watching an elk family ford the river with newborns barely making it across, not using artificial light until 10 PM on this solstice day, and occasionally stopping to gaze at the unpolluted (both haze and light) star show above. We arrived physically sound but plain old tired at our vehicle at 1:30 AM, sleeping in our pseudo RV until 10 AM.
STEAMBOAT PROW We used the next day for R&R and travel, with another 4 hour drive to the White River Campground at Mt. Rainier National Park. We set up the truck in a camp spot with the gracious approval of a ranger; technically the campground didn't open until the next day. One of the best additions to our truck camping arsenal is a Zodi hot shower, and we emerged from the shower privacy pop up destinkified with fluffy hair, with plenty of time to lounge, eat dinner, sip Bailey's and enjoy a legal campfire. Mentally and physically we were ready the next morning to tackle blazing reflective sun and continuous climb. I had skied the Inter Glacier a few weeks before and the melt off was progressing well, but there is still an amazing amount of snow for this time of year, steady from 5400' elevation on. Although the river was emerging from the snow at Glacier Basin, we were still able to avoid wet feet by simply walking up the snowfield for a bit. Climbers and skiers were out bigly time, which made for a good boot track all the way up to about 9100 feet. We paid constant attention to multiple layers of sunscreen and sun protection. My daughter was dragging a bit on the steeper section of the Inter glacier (cracks are starting to show) as this was really her first climb of the season, but after a break at 8100' she felt fine all the way to Steamboat. I was feeling great until I had to kick steps for the last 600 feet or so in my trail runners, with the varying snow conditions eating up a bit of energy. However, the section was short and when we arrived at Steamboat (9700') the weather was perfect; not too hot, not too chilly, conducive to lounging for an hour and a half soaking in the 360 degree views. The Emmons and Winthrop glaciers slapping us in the face ahead (with numerous ski tracks and the Emmons climbing route clearly visible), Little Tahoma knife edged to the left, rising out of gleaming white and shadowy cracks, and views north to Mt. Baker and Glacier Peak, gazing down on the Mt. Ruth prominence (8700'), which my daughter had visited a few years prior. We could have spent all afternoon up there but the evening hours were approaching....we reluctantly hopped back on the glacier and plunge stepped our way down, marveling at our descent speed versus the climbing speed. The snow was even good enough to set in a glissade track, and we did just enough to avoid frost bitten buttocks. Lickety split we were back at Glacier Basin, and our further descent to the waiting food and beverage laden vehicle was just as quick. This day entailed 14 miles and 5300 feet of elevation gain and loss, just enough to know we did some work but not enough to detract from eye popping views, perfect weather and conditions. Two parks, two totally different eco zones, two totally different color schemes, one day of cleanliness and relaxation, how could it get any better?
(Caution: glacier travel should not be taken lightly, one should have the knowledge and skills necessary. Conditions on the Inter this early in the season were mild enough for unroped climbing and skiing by experienced outdoors afficionados, although crevasses were just starting to show themselves. We witnessed a group of 3 glissading towards the opening cracks, obviously not checking their position on the climb. Exercise good judgement and don't recreate on a glacier if you don't know what you are doing)