Coffee Is The Eleventh Essential
Day 1: Cam and Caleb stayed the night so we could get an early start. After a fantastic breakfast prepared by my mom and sisters at 5 AM (thanks!) we piled into my Suburban and headed for Mt. Rainier National Park, which is about an hour and a half from my house. We arrived to a low drizzle and low, dense, overcast skies which is a typical Pacific Northwest day, but still beautiful. We signed our permit at the Longmire ranger station and headed back down to the Westside Road and drove up it as far as we could. The park had closed it about halfway up due to some washouts and landslides, but they posed no obstacles to us hikers. We loaded up our packs and headed off down the decommissioned road. We followed a rushing and tumbling mountain creek through a returning forest before heading up into the hills, with the looming rocky slopes of Mt. Wow looking down over us. Cam and Caleb had just gotten out of school and I had been out for a while, so we all were enjoying our freedom.
After about 3.5 miles on the decommissioned road, we reached the trailhead for Lake George. This was a 0.9 mile climb, all uphill, through an old-growth forest of Douglas fir and Western hemlock. We reached camp and set up our tents, still embraced by a slow drizzle and cold mountain air. We then set off on a walk down the south shore of Lake George to look for some good spots to fish. We took a few casts but never caught anything, probably due to the cold weather. Lake George was beautiful, old-growth forest and rocky bluffs still patched with snow descending down to beautiful, calm, blue-green waters. The rain let up for a while and the sun peeked out for a few precious minutes. I could probably get a canoe in these waters by hauling it up on portage wheels and portaging it over the trail.
We headed back to camp and enjoyed a delicious lunch of ramen, Clif bars, Pringles, and instant coffee, followed by a game of hearts. Cam and Caleb settled in for a nap while Jesse and I went out to try to fish some more. We found some fallen logs to stand on and worked the shoreline pretty hard but never got a nibble. After returning to camp, Jesse went in for a nap also. I rode out the next several rain showers under the tarp reading John Muir and walking around camp between showers, enjoying the old growth forest.
Dinner was the same as lunch and every bit as delicious. The rain finally went away leaving an azure blue sky. Caleb and I blew up the inflatable rafts we had packed in and headed out into the lake (never straying too far from the shoreline) only to see Mt. Rainier peeking over the trees. We hurried back to camp and walked back down the trail to a spot to see Mt. Rainier, free of clouds and alight with alpenglow. After enjoying another cup of coffee we headed in to our wet sleeping bags. Jesse began to shiver so he ended up with me in my sleeping bag (thank you Slumberjack 20 Degrees!) which kept us both warm as the polar air rushed off the mountain and the temperature plummeted to around twenty degrees.
Day 2: The cold air woke me up at about six after a sporadic but refreshing night’s sleep. We enjoyed rolls, more coffee, and more Clif bars before heading up on a three mile loop from our camp up to an 1930s fire lookout and panoramic view of the mountain. The rain had completely gone away, leaving a perfect morning and all the birds singing for joy. The buzzy whistle of the Varied Thrush was never far from us. We hiked through a few snow patches, a quiet reminder of the winter that was leaving the mountain slopes, and steeply uphill to one of the most incredible vistas I have ever laid my eyes on. Mt. Rainier was right in our face, and we could see for miles all the way to Mt. St. Helens. We enjoyed the views before heading downhill.
We broke camp and headed back the way we had come for the car, which took about 1.5 hours and left us all exhausted and ready for the delicious lunch that was waiting back at my house. As we left, overcast skies quietly moved back in and once again hid the mountain from our view.
Although not a true backcountry trip, this hike to a quiet and very secluded National Park campground was one of the most incredible trips I’ve ever been on. I’m glad that the curtains periodically moved to reveal Mt. Rainier in her full glory. This trip definitely reinforced my disposition to prepare excessively for cold weather and most importantly to bring lots of instant coffee, which I really think made a difference in battling the polar vortex.
For a more technical report, see my other report here: http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/trip-reports/trip_report.2016-06-12.6687057831