windblown on mazama ridge
It was ferociously windy on Mazama Ridge early Saturday morning. The only bad thing about being the first person on the ridge was eventually I was breaking trail for myself. And even where there were old tracks, the wind had basically filled them in and I’d still sink up to my shins in the snow. At one point on my way up the ridge I made my own route to make things more interesting and was sinking mid-thigh into the snow. So if you followed my snowshoe tracks on Saturday, February 4th, you have me to thank (and I know you thank me, because I’m such a lard butt with no flotation whatsoever, walking behind me is like walking behind a mini Snow Cat machine). I always forget how utterly exhausting traveling through untracked soft snow can be. It’s like walking with oversized sofa cushions attached to your feet. Luckily, further south on the ridge the wind died down and there was frequently a firm track to walk in.
The trouble with day-trips at Paradise and shooting sunrises or early morning light in the middle of wintertime is the road opens too late in order to arrive before or right after dawn. I got to Longmire Inn at 7:00 AM hoping the gate to Paradise would be open early because the night before had been clear with no trace of snow- and found it still closed. The front desk agent inside the Inn called someone for me to find out when the gate would open and she was told it would be anytime between 7:30 and 8:30. I stood on the front porch for awhile watching guests of the Inn take pictures of the dawn light. Wispy clouds over Mt. Rainier reflected pretty oranges and reds but I wasn’t in the frame of mind to shoot by the side of the road. I was antsy to strap on my snowshoes and leave everyone behind (as much as you can leave everyone behind at Paradise).
Luckily, the NPS officers showed up right at 7:30 to open the gate. I was the first one through! It was a lot of pressure because by now there was a conga line of a half dozen pickups behind me and every single one of them seemed oblivious to the fact the road was periodically coated with ice and one of the NPS police trucks was waiting somewhere ahead on the road to intercept early morning speeders. At Paradise, after the customary five minute staring-at-The-Mountain-oh-my-god-it’s-so-huge trance I changed into my gear as quickly as humanly possible to avoid frostbite, the wind was vicious. After taking a few pictures of Mt. Rainier looming over the lodge, I set off for Mazama Ridge.
Remember the picture I posted a couple days ago from Mazama Ridge, my loopy snowshoe tracks? Here’s a bigger perspective of that bowl earlier in the morning, with the rugged Tatoosh Range in the distance.
I wish you could stick your head into a deluxe virtual reality machine and feel the stiff, finger-frostbiting cold wind I was subjected to when taking this picture! The two pointy peaks on the far right (separated by a gentle saddle) are Pinnacle and Plummer Peaks. The hike to the saddle is an excellent one, the views of Mt. Rainier are some of the most classic in the park. I’ve even scrambled up Plummer (the peak on the right of the saddle) with Adam in the backpack carrier.
For a little perspective, here’s Adam (before he lost all his babyfat….this obviously is an old picture) taking a break on a snowfield on the side of Plummer. Mazama Ridge is the green, meadowy expanse right over his head. Paradise Valley is to the left of his head. And if you look closely, you can see Paradise Lodge to the left above the valley (i mean it this time, Bruce).
From this summit view on Plummer, you can spot Mazama Ridge through/to the left of the silver snags in the background.
There’s a lot of gentle, rolling terrain on top of Mazama Ridge: