Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Hike

This was taken from some writing I did the evening of 9/9, the night of my Rainier hike.

Got a late start today, and had a bit of a wrangle with the GPS, which took me through a bizarre maze of suburbia before finally leading to the highway, then led me to do some truly inexplicable things like exit the highway only to re-enter it immediately. And it was really unhappy with me about the route I chose to take and kept chirping at me about it, so - "F you GPS, you're going in the glove compartment." Which actually felt kind of good.

As I approached Rainier, I realized that I might not have enough time to drive down to the Paradise trailhead, and so made the impromptu decision to hike Sunrise instead. The drive itself was pretty incredible - I'd round a corner to face what appeared to be a vertical wall of evergreens. The road is carved into some truly fantastic landscape.

And the hike was awesome, of course. After a small inner debate, I opted to go for one of the "strenuous" hikes: not too long, distance-wise, but pretty steep at parts, with 1000 feet of elevation handled in just over 5 miles, and starting at 6,700 feet. After the first half mile or so, which was one of the most sustained steep inclines of the whole hike, I got over my "man, you haven't hiked at altitude for a while!" feelings, found my rhythm, just took in the landscape and communed with it.

Met some kind people - a senior citizen in the parking lot who was fascinated by my camelback; a father and son who make annual trips to Ranier from Seattle (credit the father for that photo of me); a through-hiking couple whom I was able to help with directions (!) and a couple of guys who may or may not have been stoned whom I wasn't.

Faced a couple of along-the-way decisions of the "do I take the short route back? do I extend this hike"-variety, and one or two "wait - am I still on the right trail??" moments. I was on the right trail, I kept going, and I did extend the hike a little, though not by much. The most significant crossroads came at the spot where I met the couple I was able to direct. Could have gone with them through the backpackers' campsite, which would have been a fine hike, if slightly foreshortened. Or I could make what was visibly a pretty steep ascent and continue around the Burroughs Mountains. I went for it, and it was definitely the most challenging & rewarding part of the hike. The landscape was tundra, very rocky and rugged, only the hardiest vegetation. Very very cool, but this was when I started really feeling it in my legs. It was an almost 3/4 mile climb, followed by a mellow stretch and then by a not-quite-as steep descent. The views all along were spectacular and stunning, but this was also the part of the hike where I felt the solitude the most. This was by far the rockiest and most hazardous part of the trip: a good chunk of the descent was a narrow (3'-4') path bordered by loose rock and leading to an extremely steep decline of nothing but jagged rock. Not good for those suffering vertigo: "one false move could really ruin your day" territory. Slipped on a loose rock and realized that I'd be in for a rough time if I had a fall or even pulled a muscle at this point.

Looking up from the trail:

Looking down:

Knocked- down sign:

Greenest lake ever:

I reached a spot with a short wall built on a curve - fantastic view/photo op. So, shoot I did, including a timer shot of moi.

When I got going again, I checked the time. Holy crap! 10 to 5. A good 20 or 30 minutes later than I'd thought it was, and I still had... well, I wasn't quite sure how much longer I had. But I knew I wanted to make it to the campsite well before sundown, as I'm not exactly the most experienced camper out there.

Number of times I've gone camping alone: Zero.

So I picked up the pace (easier once I got to some more earth-like ground) and kept the camera shouldered. May have missed afew good shots along the way, but I got plenty of images. The final what turned out to be about a mile & a half went very swiftly, and I came into the parking lot feeling very alive.

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