It’s been a strange late summer/fall this season. Rainy, cold, days on end. I was looking to flash the Wonderland in October like I did last year, but by the time there was a weather window and time opportunity for my schedule the Cascades had seen quite a bit of snow. I set out on October 1st for a try, and met with snow as soon as I departed White River. As beautiful as it was, the high stepping through drifts up to my knees past Sunrise on the way to Mystic Lake slowed my pace enough that I determined I just couldn’t make good time in these conditions. That was the end of going for Wonderland #32, but it was quite the day.
And so came November, with cold but nice weather for days on end. Mt. Rainier’s West Side road was slated to close on November 4th, so I decided to try for a few peaks utilizing the road for access on the mountain’s west side: Aurora and Andrews. I set off in the morning after it got light on my mountain bike and hoped I’d packed right. In my truck I had an ice axe, snowshoes, poles and a BD Whippet, along with sturdier shoes. However, I set off with my studded Inov8 trail runners and the whippet and left the rest. The West Side road grade is gentle so one can make good time on a bike; I crested Round Pass and rode 8 miles to the St. Andrews Creek trailhead, stashing my steed in the bike rack. On the trail I encountered snow above 5100’ but the crust was hard enough to keep from post-holing. Soon enough I was at Klapatche Park and witnessed something I had never seen before….a frozen Aurora Lake. Frozen enough for me to walk on. However, the weather was beautiful so I continued on solid snow and bare patches of trail to St. Andrews Lake (also frozen) about a mile up the trail. I looked at Andrew (mountain) and decided not to make a go of it on top of Aurora due to the short days. I retraced my steps and encountered no problems ascending Aurora Peak (6094’) which boasted incredible views of the Puyallup formations, and the mountain of course. It was a short jaunt back to my bike and I found myself back at my truck at 3:45. So I had plenty of time to summit Andrew, assuming my calculation of 2 hour round trip was accurate. I have no problems biking in the dark. I drove up the road to Longmire and had dinner, bedding down in my truck for the night. Stats for the day, 27 miles (16 biking)/5700’ elev.
Day 2 Look at my list of tools I brought to handle varying snow conditions. Lots of options, including clothing. What I failed to pack was a tire repair kit and extra tube. It wasn’t until I lowered my bike from the rack that I saw a completely deflated front tire. Today I would be walking. 4 miles later I was at Round Pass, taking a cut off trail to get on the South Puyallup River trail, then a left on the Wonderland to approach St. Andrews Park from the other direction from yesterday. Temperatures were mild for this time of year and the snow on this day was much softer (no freezing over night). I donned a pair of Rocky Socks to help with errant snow entry in my gaiterless shoes and entered the snow fray at 5400’. I left the snow covered trail before St. Andrews Park and proceeded cross country in the direction of Andrew (6716’), finding some bare patches on steep hillsides on the ascent. Once I crested a saddle the objective was in sight; I kept to the ridge line, then dropped lower to skirt Andrew on the south side, looping around and working my way up a steep snow covered boulder field. As my eyeballs crested, I was relieved to see a flat, snow covered summit plateau sporting incredible views. The air provided a nice layering effect for vistas to the south, spying Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens. I also had an interesting view to the frozen lakes I had visited the day before, St. Andrews and Aurora Lake. I wasn’t concerned about the time as there was plenty for me to get back on the snow covered trail before darkness fell; in fact, I didn’t have to use my torch until the last 30 minutes, arriving at my vehicle at the adjusted “fall back “ time of 6 PM. Since this entire day was on foot, It was a bit more grueling on my bod, covering 25 miles and 5600’.
Despite spending 36 years here, it’s only been the last 10 years or so where I have ventured off trail to explore and tag some of the listed 100 summits in Mt. Rainier National Park. In the process I have explored new areas (to me), gained different vantage points for views, and traveled for hours or days with no other people in sight. To bag a few peaks this late in the season doubled the pleasure with different problem solving, crisp air, short days, lake “walking” and isolation. Despite my deflated steed, just two perfect days.