Thursday, July 12, 2012

Tiny Problem in Paradise

The 4th of July was a little strange this year, falling smack in the middle of the week. My sweetie had the day off so he suggested I take the day off too and that we head up to Mount Rainier for a hiking mini-vacation. Tuesday after work we drove up to the mountain to stay at Paradise Inn. The inn is a beautiful wooden lodge built in 1916, sitting at over 5,000 feet above sea level with a stunning view of Mount Rainier from the parking lot. I have a vague memory of being in this parking lot when I was about five years old, but other than that have hardly spent any time in the national park. We had been checking the weather for the past week desperately hoping that the clouds would pass in time for our ascent. After days of bad weather, we woke up on the 4th to sunny, blue skies and clear views!
The plan was to hike up to Camp Muir which is the basecamp for climbers attempting to summit the mountain. It's about 5 miles from the parking lot trailhead, and you gain 5,000 feet of elevation in the snow-covered hike. It was truly a gorgeous day, with clear views of Mount Saint Helens, Mount Adams, and Mount Hood to the south.
It was my first time ever getting up to 10,000 feet in Washington- I've been that high in the Andes in Peru and Ecuador, but never in my home state. We were super prepared for the day in what we had packed. We had the 10 Essentials for hiking, plus more snow clothes, trekking poles, and ice axes. I had slathered sunscreen on my face and arms and reapplied several times when we stopped for a snack.
We saw a lot of other hikers and skiers tromping up the mountain. We saw about 15 marmots which I thought were really cute. It's pretty amazing to see them appear out of nowhere and scurry straight up a vertical snowy bank.
As we got farther up the mountain, we had great views of several glaciers, namely Nisqually and Wilson. Did you know Mount Rainier has 26 glaciers, which is more than in any other single-peak system in the continental U.S.? In the hot, early summer weather things were warming up fast and more than once we heard loud cracks and saw an ice fall. You can see a little of the snow cloud here.
We made it to Camp Muir in the early afternoon and enjoyed lunch as we put more layers on. I looked out over the expansive view and felt so grateful to live in such a wild, beautiful place. This was my type of Independence Day, my own feeling of freedom and appreciation for this land.

Going down was much faster then coming up because we were able to glissade at least a couple thousand feet! If you've never heard of glissading, it's just a fancy word for slide down the snow on your butt. Since it was later in the day, there were some good glissade tracks already established. After we got below 8,000 feet or so, the snow started getting too soft to get much momentum so we had to walk. Then toward the bottom when we thought the fun was over, there were a few really steep, deep glissade runs.
By the time we got back to the parking lot, it was early evening. I was a little tired, but more just felt drained. I felt sort of dehydrated, even though I had been drinking plenty of water. It wasn't until I got home and felt my hot skin that I realized I was very sunburned in two totally new places. First was my knees, between my shorts and gaiters. I had forgotten to put sunscreen there, and now it hurt to bend my legs at all. Then there were my ears, which have never been sunburned in my life. By the next day they were completely swollen and forming blisters.
I realized that any time I'm ever in snow, I usually have a stocking cap on- not a sun hat where my ears are exposed. In all of our planning and preparations, I overlooked this detail.  I had to spend the next few days slathering on aloe and covering my burnt skin. Granted, it was a small problem in the overall scheme of things, and otherwise we had had a unique and incredible Fourth.


ElizaBeth said...

I am obsessed with sunscreening my ears! Sorry you had to learn the lesson the hard way but the day seems more than worth it.

AmberAnda said...

It's true, the sunburns were small prices to pay, and I have definitely learned my lesson!