Sunday, November 8, 2009

Off the Grid – Mount Rainier

“This greatest of American mountains with its living glaciers and magnificent forests.” -- Floyd Shmoe, A Year in Paradise

Thursday PM, November 5

After near a week of Microsoft SQLServer conferencing in Seattle -- a great conference, PASS, -- I went off grid. Drove down in the rain to Mount Rainier National Park. Renewed my annual Golden Eagle pass and drove straight to the end of the road, the Paradise area, base for climbing expeditions and the Jackson Visitors Center. The road beyond was closed due to snow and ice. My plan was to tramp about Friday and take a lot of pictures. This evening’s aim was framing, to get a feel for where the shots could be, to learn the lay of the land somewhat. It was beautiful. I did about 100 exposures in the half-light of late afternoon, with heavy overcast and light drizzle or wet snow.

I had thought to go down to Mount Saint Helens Saturday, on my way back to Seattle’s airport. But, I don’t know, Rainier is so extensive, so grand, I decided to stay in one place and go a little deeper. To hike and touch a glacier, many thousand-years-old ice, now dissipated due to global warming.

My lodgings were rustic, sort of. The National Park Inn at Mount Rainier (Longmire), an old place that reminds me of the Peruvian at Alta … shared baths, creaky stairs, good, hearty food, smoky fireplaces, red wine, no WiFi or cell.

Sat by the fire reading Tracy Kidder’s Strength in What Remains, about Deo, a survivor of Burundi genocide, medical student, and later Partners In Health acolyte (under Paul Farmer) and clinic founder. Fits with my Ethiopia healthcare work (EHN), inspiring, painful.


Woke early, about 5 AM. Raining out. Finished Kidder’s read. By breakfast, precipitation turned to snow, then back to rain. High at Longmire predicted at 39 degrees F. Wet, cold. Hiking today will be "manly."

Wake-up hike around Longmire and across Nisqually River. Pretty meadows, tall evergreens. Waiting for main gate up to mountain to open (following snow-clear operations). At ll:00 AM, main gate opened but restrictions set for tire chains, which I didn’t have, so out of luck. Drove instead a few miles up West End Road, caught some nice field/stream/rock images. On way back to Longmire, it appeared that tire chain restrictions were lifted, so I drove on up the mountain. Light drizzle at start, quickly shifted to heavy snow, about 4-6” deep on sides. Halfway to Paradise, I quit. Turned about and low-geared and white knuckled it slowly back to Longmire. Lunch then book-reading by the fire. No big hike.

Reading my book I looked out and saw snow had stopped. I grabbed my gear and ran to the car. Drove up to about 4,000’ and stopped at the “chains required” sign. Shot some nice pix at Nisqually bridge, very cool. Cold depth, glacial moraine, snow and fog. Headed back down to Longmire. On the way, light improved and I saw patch of blue sky. U-turned. This time, drove past chains-required sign, up until ice began to grip. Pulled into Narada Falls overlook and shot some nice pix. Retreated with a few more pix stops to Longmire. Hearty dinner – pasta primavera and white wine -- and off to read and write by fire, then bed. Forecast calls for much snow and cold, snow for next five days. Will work my way back to Seattle airport tomorrow. Awesome.


Looked out window, pre-dawn. Elk grazing in front of Inn, one rubbing antlers on tree, stripping bark with teeth. Lumbered down for breakfast. Steady rain. Read a bit more of Schmoe’s A Year in Paradise, about his post-WWI honeymoon over the winter as a snow-bound keeper with his new bride at Paradise Inn. Schmoe’s lifelong conservation efforts did much good, earning many plaudits, including nominations for Nobel Prize. Inspiring. Rain at Longmire meant snow higher up, mountain tops were glazed white, and unlikely success in my coaxing the tiny rental car past the chains-required zone. So I packed, loaded-up and drove towards civilization.

Stopped at an amazing art gallery outside park, Ashford Creek Pottery. Spent an hour talking with proprietor Rick Johnson, also a school teacher. Many interesting stories, shared interests. Famous climbers and artists had passed through, record holders for Everest ascents, survivors of high-altitude horrors, Mount Rainier naturalists, park founding activists, novelist Tom Robbins, poet Theodore Roethke, mountaineer, writer and humanist Greg Mortenson, many more. An intellectual and artistic treasure trove, not larger than my living room, but immense.

After cell phone signal came live, stopped in Starbucks to shuffle travel arrangements, rushed to airport, grabbed non-stop to Washington Dulles. Less than 48 hours at Mount Rainier loomed enormous, edging me closer to increased environmental activism.


Home safe Sunday and working pix on big screen Mac Pro. Uploaded original pics here. Facebook cross-posting with additional notes here.

Enjoy! (Christmas card photo below?)

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