Mt. Rainier: snowshoeing ‘take three’

I’d been snowshoeing twice before today. The first time was at Paradise, Mt. Rainier. My buddy and I drove my ancient VW bug up there, without chains, and proceeded to strap on my parents’ long wood and rawhide snowshoes from 1960 and go snowshoeing.

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We were kids. We didn’t know that didn’t work. At all. Those long shoes are old tech for flat terrain and powder. We were on 30-degree slopes with icy slush. No matter. We took off the behemoths, walked around in our equally giant pack boots, throwing snowballs, making snow penises.

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THEN: posing with ice penis in giant red parka, packs

The second time shoeing was far more successful, due to having the right equipment for the terrain, provided by a guided Ranger-led snowshoe at Snoqualmie Pass. Stubby plastic and metal ones with claws work best in the PNW, where snow is crunchy, and terrain is steep.

Today marks the third time. I still have my original red ski jacket and pack boots. The jacket is trashed–only used for camping. And this. The boots are like new, owing to being used once or twice a year. Incomparable when needed, they’re like giant, warm slippers with great tread–no matter how cold it is.

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NOW: Same coat, boots, no ice penis

Meeting up at a transit center, we glide to our destination in a new SUV, arriving around noon at Paradise Lodge, Mt. Rainier NP. Sky is cloudy with patches of cerulean poking out occasionally. Time to strap on a borrowed pair of snowshoes. They’re sturdy, complete with flying penis-stickers from the owner. I’m not sure what that signifies: a good omen? Or bad? I’ll soon find out.

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Inn at Paradise

They work like a champ, though I’m told they’re also outdated, as they don’t have step-up clips for hills. If not handled correctly, mine can cause toppling. Meh. Borrowed equipment is better than no equipment. We won’t be doing much steep up- or downhill, where accidents can happen. And I finally get a chance to use my $15 garage sale ‘hiking poles’ for their intended purpose: snowshoeing.

We blaze down the marked path after getting specific trail data from the Ranger station in the lodge. Except we’re going the wrong way, heading downhill a half mile. Oops.

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Recheck map; we’re back on the right trail. Moving away from the parking lot, then down a turn into a veritable winter wonderland. I can hear snow melting, dropping off branches nearby. We’re advised to take an alternate route due to avalanche danger. We shoe to Reflection Lake, 3 miles away, almost all downhill. Steep downhill. Hmmm. I’d prefer not to die today. Accidents have been taking an increasing death toll up in Canada under similar circumstances. To add punishment to fear, it’s almost all uphill coming back when we’re tired. For now, it’s time to explore this snowy eden.

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Trekking through subalpine fir and Alaska yellow cedar, I see various animal tracks. Fox? Bobcat? Snowy hills are rolling mounds of marshmallow with sugar crystals sparkling in the sun, which shows its face several times.

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Arriving at the lake, we take a short break to fuel up. It’s spectacular: snow covers ice, with mighty Tahoma (original name for Rainier) in the background of almost black conifers. Huge, lenticular clouds. Beautiful.

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My group wants to get going. I’m happy to stay longer. Time to trudge back up, gaining 900’ elevation. Yay.

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My heart almost explodes several times on the way. I find myself panting and searching for breath. Oh, right. I’m almost a mile high at this spot. Noted.

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The giant parking lot emerges as sun sinks low on the mountainous horizon, temp dropping. Time to skeedaddle. Back at the SUV, sweaty gear peels off, and stretching for the long drive commences. It’s been a great day for snowshoeing, and I realize I can do this regularly, with chains and snowshoes. Or, just ask my community.

IF YOU GO
Mt. Rainier National Park has many trails perfect for snowshoeing. If not Rainier, here’s a plethora of snowshoeing options in most of Washington’s mountains. If a guided trip is your speed, myriad options exist. No need to be a pro. Just get out and explore the winter wonderland. Always carry the Ten Essentials plus whatever mountain gear is appropriate, and leave no trace.
All images and content copyright ©2018 Eric Schadel. All rights reserved.
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