Thursday, April 14, 2016

Trip Report: Snowshoeing at Paradise Mt. Rainier

"Oh no!" I exclaimed, as I stared in mock horror at my computer screen, "An avalanche just took out the road to Paradise!". The cries of woe this elicited told me that my “April Fool’s” joke had hit the mark.

The road was, of course, in fine condition, and we headed to Paradise for a spring snowshoe trip. The heat wave rolling over Western Washington had brought summer-like temperatures to Paradise, and the fresh powder of several days prior had turned to a thick slurry. However, the scenery was as breathtaking as always on the alpine flanks of Rainier, as we trudged up ever more liquid slopes. In fact, the beauty of it was so distracting that it was not until we reached our lunch site at Paradise Point that I realized I had forgotten to apply sunblock. Standing in a snowy mountain basin under a cloudless sky is essentially like being a bug at the focal point of a gigantic lens, and I had been burnt so red that I appeared more lobster than man!

Not even being slowly roasted by the inferno above could detract from the experience of seeing the high meadows blanketed in a gently rolling carpet of snow, the sharply defined ridges and glaciers of Rainier overhead, or the spires and basins of the Tatoosh Range across the valley. The intense blue of the sky framed the distant sisters of Mt. Rainier – Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams, with the interconnecting ridges of the southern Cascades all in their winter cloaks.

This was prime people watching territory, and it
was interesting to pick out the various types of snow-goers. There were the casual snowshoers like ourselves, skiers working their slow and arduous way up to the Muir Snowfield, and a few unprepared tourists in street clothes slogging their way up in soaking wet tennis shoes. The variety of skis was fascinating, too; there were traditional cross country skis, big fat skis, and downhill skis – all of which looked like a heck of a lot of work in comparison with our snowshoes! I guess the thrill of the ride down would be great, but the pain and suffering for that one run seemed awfully disproportionate.

On the way back, I discovered why skis might be preferable. Our progress was impeded badly by the cement-like slush, and if we had had skis we might simply have zipped down through it. We were grateful to reach the firm ground of the parking lot where we could walk freely, and were glad that we had not gone with our original plan to traverse Mazama Ridge. This would have involved not only ascending to the ridge, but, after dropping off the end of it, a long climb back up to Paradise.

On the drive down we spied something I had been searching for all day - clouds! We whipped into a viewpoint and I quickly set up my tripod to capture the play of shadows on the surrounding mountains. The fifteen minutes spent there were just enough to eke out a rather splendid timelapse compilation.

Despite slushy snow and getting boiled alive, I can think of no better way to spend a bright and sunny day in early spring!