Rainier Redux

24-28 Aug 2023

random trip report

[Click images for large version and again for full resolution]

Some pics by David Gedye.

Ron, Dave and I decide to convene in Seattle for our yearly Old Guys Hiking Trip. Northern Cascade destinations are ruled out by wildfire smoke, so we decide to go to Mt. Rainier, which has lots of history for me, starting with trips in 1999 and 2000 .

Thu 24 Aug

After a bad-sleep night, I drive to OAK and fly to SEA. Ron arrives from the east coast at about the same time and Dave picks us up without incident. Chris greets us and feeds us dinner.

Ron, me, Dave

I inquire about dive bars, and we go to Leny's, up the hill in Tangletown, which used to be divey but is now kind of a sports bar populated by softball player bros. I get a Mind Haze IPA.

Leny's [sic]

We're immediately accosted by a young woman, Audrey from Georgia, who seems to be a bit tipsy and drawn to anything in pants. Her companions - several burly males - ask us to return her when done.

I talk instead to a fat older guy sitting by himself at the bar; he's the only divey thing around. He tells me about his son, who runs lots of marathons, and his own long-ago sports background. He's delighted to have someone listen to him, and gives me a big handshake when I leave to rejoin Ron and Dave.

The 'jukebox' is a video computer thing; they want you to download an app to use it. Dave tries to put in a dollar bill to play James Brown, but nothing happens.

Ron and I sleep downstairs. I use a noise generator to mask snoring, but am unable to sleep much.

Fri 25 Aug

We pack Dave's VW Golf to the gills with camping gear and drive to the Cougar Rock campground in Mt. Rainier, stopping at a grocery store for food. Road tunes: I play Creole Big Band and Liberty City, and Ron plays a cool song by Joni Mitchell and Jaco Pastorius. There's some rain, but it clears up.

We locate our campsite, on the back side of loop C. Dave has trouble with orientation and repeatedly goes the wrong direction.

C26 - home sweet home

We do a short hike, crossing the Nisqually river

... and going up to Narada Falls.

Narada falls

On the way back we stop for a wade and lie-down.

The ground has dried a bit, and we set up camp. Dave has brought lots of gear: 2 tents, folding cots, camp chairs, nice 2-burner stove, a picnic table cloth with clips. A bungee cord becomes a paper towel holder.

We drive c. 10 miles up the road to Paradise, the big park lodge and visitor center.

There's a nice view of cloud-shrouded Rainier. The scarcity of snow is a bit discouraging.

There's cell phone signal so we all read email. Ron and I check out the restaurant in the Inn. The androgynous person at the front desk strongly recommends the roast chicken and the Pinnacle Peak croquettes. An under-talented guy with a beard plays pop songs on an upright piano.

We make an excellent dinner of rotini with beef/tomato/onion sauce.

A rangerette comes around promoting the 8:15 ranger show about glaciers. We go. I'm irritated by a group of attention-grabbing blond kids at the front, and also by presentation, which says that the glaciers are melting faster and faster, but doesn't say much about root causes.

Sat 26 Aug

I sleep on a thermarest on a cot, under an unzipped sleeping bag. It's reasonably comfortable, but I don't sleep, I just lie there. Third bad night in a row.

We have oatmeal and granola for breakfast, with Starbucks instant coffee (not bad), and make ham/turkey sandwiches for the trail.

We drive a mile up the road to the Comet Falls trailhead. The weather is perfect, and the trail is rocky but pleasant, going up a valley to a spectacular 300' falls. We leapfrog with a group of 3 women hikers, and I chat with a woman who has an old-school flip phone that takes pictures but doesn't do apps.

Comet falls

Comet falls closeup

I describe my mind/body separation to Ron and Dave. When I hike, they're like two interacting entities. On days like today, my body doesn't feel like doing much. My mind has to trick it into moving, and then convince it that it has to keep going.

We continue up the trail, which is increasingly rocky, to the unfortunately-named Van Trump Park, an area of alpine meadows with bear grass and flowers, around the treeline and above.

Van Trump park

Bear grass

Small fire in distance, kinda near our campground

Ron stops around the last trees. Dave and I continue a ways further, turning around when the elevation gain reaches 3000'.

We descend, meet Ron, then descend a bit more to eat lunch and have a pleasant 30 minute lie-down in the grass.

We return to camp and rest a bit. We drive 3 miles down the road to Longmire (a visitor center / inn) in search of ice cream and mustard. The 'General Store' is actually a tourist gift shop, and has a poor selection of ice cream product.

We go for a late-afternoon stroll on the Wonderland Trail (a 90 mile trail that circumnavigates the mountain), which is just across the road. Curiously, I bonk (low blood sugar attack) and lie sweating by the side of the trail for a few minutes.

We dine on the tasty white bean / kale / andouille sausage mixture that Dave brought in a frozen state.

Ron and I attend another ranger show, this one about 'Change in Rainier', with a bit more content. In the early days of the park, people camped wherever they wanted, and alpine plants were decimated. Today there's an emphasis on preservation and restoration.

Sun 27 Aug

With 2 sleeping pills, I sleep a bit - maybe 2 hours. 4th bad night in a row. In spite of this, I don't feel that bad. Actually my lower back - which was sore yesterday - feels OK.

I make breakfast for the group: turkey bacon, omelets, and skillet toast.

Another perfect weather day. Our destination is the Tatoosh Range, specifically Pinnacle Peak. We drive toward Paradise to the trailhead, opposite Reflection lake.

Mandatory heroic poses

The trail climbs fairly steeply

... to a pass from which there's a spectacular view to the South, with Mt. Adams in the distance. Residual fire smoke creates a beautiful grayscale layering effect.

Mt. Adams in distance (click)

Pinnacle Peak is just to our left, looking discouragingly huge. There's no official trail in that direction. We follow a vague use trail, and head up a 3rd-class slope that immediately dead ends.

Dead end at edge of cliff

We see a guy on the correct trail and head in that direction. This is verified by AllTrails, which Dave has on his phone. The trail becomes more vague and steeper, requiring hands. Ron stops. Dave and I continue past the last trees. Dave turns around.

There's a large knob another 300' up the slope, and I decide to climb to its base. By this point it's kind of 4th class - easy rock climbing, but you have to be careful and precise, and do some route-finding. A large chunk of rock breaks off under my right foot, and I redouble my caution.

Pinnacle peak

From the knob to the top is more of the same, but I don't have time to do it, and I descend even more carefully, one slow move at a time.

We all descend to the pass, then take a trail to the top of Plummer Peak, which is a bit lower and less steep than Pinnacle. There's the usual swarm of flies at the summit.

Plummer peak

Pinnacle peak viewed from Plummer peak. I climbed to the top of the light gray area to the right of the ridge.

Today, my mind/body dialog is a bit different. My mind thinks I've done something big and manly, especially the rock climbing. My body laughs derisively, saying that it (the body) is actually capable of several times as much, and that this would be clear if I were doing something significant (like climbing Rainier, let's say). My mind meekly agrees.

We descend a bit and have lunch, then return to the car. We pass a group of 3 women with rock climbing gear; they've climbed Pinnacle and 2 other peaks with ropes.

We go to Reflection Lake, hoping to swim, but the short is entirely cordoned off because of the trampling tourist hordes.

We drive a mile down the road to Louise Lake, which has almost no tourists, and you can walk down to a sandy beach and swim. There are two groups. One is, bizarrely, having a picnic right in the middle of the trail. The other (young French people, 3 male and 1 female) is cavorting and swimming.

I walk up the beach, looking for a place where I can strip and put on my shorts. On the grass next to the beach is a pile of human waste, with flies and a couple of paper towels. People - especially Americans - are often thoughtless A-holes.

I take a short dip - the water is cool but pleasant. Ron does headstands and a partial handstand in the sand, and Dave gives it a try.

Dave takes amazing pictures

Ron sees a motorboat on the other side of the like, but Dave thinks it's just a couple of logs. We head in that direction to investigate. We pass the French people, who charmingly are all reading books. I chat with them a bit. Dave turns out to be right.

We return to the car and drive to Paradise, parking in the lower lot. We go to the visitor center, which is teeming with tourists. A couple of climbers with snow pickets and helmets sit by the wall. I notice an unusually tall rangerette.

We all get frozen yogurt in the snack bar - $5.00 a cup, no refills. Dave finishes first, and I point out that if he were to get seconds, no one would notice. We all get seconds.

We do a little hike on the tourist-infested paths above Paradise, up a route that Dave snowshoed recently. It's hot and dusty - the only hike we don't enjoy much.

We return to the Inn and get a beeper for the dining room when it opens at 5:30. We all get IPAs; I get roast chicken with mashed potatoes and broccolini. $28, just OK. Of course we get the Pinnacle Peak croquettes, which are actually pretty good. The menu includes 'garlic-infused tallow', which we can't quite figure out.

We go outside to hear a trial reading of Dave's Edward Weston epic poem.

It's about 8:00; we briefly consider sticking around for the 9:30 - 11:30 stargazing event, but decide against it.

View from Paradise parking lot

Sun 28 Aug

I take 2 sleeping pills but don't sleep - 5th bad night in a row. How can I even be functioning? Also it gets cold during the night and I have trouble staying warm.

We eat oatmeal, break camp very efficiently, and drive down the road to Longmire. Ron and I ask a rangerette (Sara Pigeon) for hike recommendations. She suggests a 5-mile loop up to a viewpoint, along a ridge, then down along a segment of the Wonderland Trail. This turns out to be perfect, especially the first mile or so through damp, lush, and silent cedar/pine forest - quintessential Pacific Northwest.

There's a cloud layer in the valley but we climb out of it, and get another good view of the mountain.

As often happens, after a few consecutive days of hiking I feel increasingly good. The mind/body dialog today is simple: my body says 'Oh boy - we're going on another hike!'. On the last 3 miles we shift into overdrive, partly jogging, averaging about 3.5 MPH.

We drive back, stopping at a Subway, and playing games of Vermicelli and Bratislava. I take the light rail from Roosevelt to SeaTac, enjoy a bowl of clam chowder, and have a nice flight back.


A perfect trip - amazing hikes, perfect weather, great company. I just wish I had slept better. Injury report: none.

Copyright 2024 © David P. Anderson