We left our house Friday afternoon and drove to the South West corner of Mount Rainier National Park. Along the way, it came out that Parker only brought a pair of Crocs and that he didn't go get a pair of shoes when I inpsected his gear. We got to visit a Super Wal-Mart to buy him some shoes. As we got back in the car, Alec pointed out that he had shoes on the floor. Ugh. So, we were back on the road and finally got to the park after dark (there are hardly any times recorded during this adventure; I really did unplug). We stayed at the Cougar Rock campground, a few miles up the hill from Longmire.
Cougar Rock was an alright campground. It was a little close to the road (lots of big trucks with the construction at Paradise and Park reconstruction going on) and the sites were located close to each other, but it was still a nice place. The ampitheater has programs Friday night, which we just missed and firewood is available for purchase there. The rules of Supply and Demand push the cost up; outside the park firewood costs 2 - 4 dollars, inside, where no gathering is allowed, $6.25!
It was great for several reasons. First, I enjoy camping, hiking and being in the outdoors. Second, I really love the high country, when you get up close to the tree line. Third, there was no cell phone coverage, and as much as I live the digital lifestyle, it was great to unplug. Finally, and most importantly, I got to spend time with my family and enjoy some of our summer vacation.
Saturday morning, I got up, made hot water for shaving and coffee and didn't have to wait long for everyone to wake up. Heather stuck her head out of the tent and asked what time it was. I looked up, saw some daylight and said, "Daytime." I think deep down inside, she didn't mind my sarcasm because I was so unplugged. I have been working a lot lately (in fact I had to make some coverage plans so that I could go camping on the weekend). We had bacon (1 1b) and eggs (7) and a double batch of buttermilk pancakes for breakfast and then got ready to hike.
Heather made lunch and with the kids, she mixed trail mix. I bought lots of different dried fruits (craisins, apricots, mixed fruits, golden raisins) and nuts (smoked almonds, mixed nuts) and large M&Ms (not the large bag, but large M&Ms - which haunted me later). While the trail mix was really good, I didn't buy enough chocolate.
Heather wanted to see waterfalls to take advantage of her new camera, so we decided to hike the Wonderland trail from our campground, along the Nisqually and Paradise rivers to see Carter, Madcat and Naruda Falls, and then push to Paradise and take the shuttle back down to Cougar Rock. The views along the way were beautiful, although we couldn't see the mountain for the forest (and clouds). We had to cross several streams where they had repaired bridges and at lunch on a bridge abutement that was under construction. We were able to see lots of the flood damage, especially as we crossed the Nisqually River.
Carter and Naruda Falls were beautiful, but we missed Madcat Falls, as did a group of hikers that came up on us while we were eating lunch. It was a really nice trail and a really nice hike. The total hike was about 5 miles, with about a 2000 foot elevation gain. I would characterize it as a medium intensity hike, primarily because of the elevation gain. We only saw 4 or 5 other parties, except at Naruda Falls, which can also be accessed off Paradise Road. We then finished off with the mile or so up to the Paradise visitors center. The hike from Naruda to Paradise moved into mountain meadows with lots of wild flowers. We were lucky to still see them blooming. In early spring, I bet it would be beautiful.
We spent some time at the visitor center and just before we caught the shuttle, the clouds broke and we were able to see Mount Rainier. It was beautiful. The glacial ice was so blue, it was just a great sight. I'm glad we were able to see the mountain. Then the clouds closed back up, the bus departed for our campground and it started to rain lightly.
We returned to our campsite and prepared dinner. Dinner was supposed to be spicy chicken skewers, but our fire didn't get hot enough. I did have a contingency plan and we just stir fried the pieces on the griddle. The people at the next campsite asked if I was a chef, because they had never seen anyone stirfry while camping. As cases of mistaken identity go, this one falls in the most cool in my book. We made s'mores for dessert and then went to check out a night ranger program (not the band, but a ranger program, at night). They had park rangers acting as key people from the park's history (John Muir, the Longmires, the first Park Superintendent, Fay Fuller, the first woman to climb the mountain, etc). It was interesting, but if you paid attention in the visitor center, you learned all the same things.
The rain continued through the night, but I don't think anybody noticed, because everyone was tuckered out. We stayed dry (the puddle went underneath my sleeping mat) but Heather's clean clothes got dripped on and wet.
Sunday was our last day, so we made breakfast and went up to Paradise to hike the Skyline trail to the Glacier Vista. The kids didn't want to hike anymore and I don't think Heather's heart was in it, so we headed down the mountain to go home.
I think it is really cool that we have such a nice National Park so close to home. The farside of the park is only 2 hours from our house! I really would like to spend more time there. As I said before, I really like the high country and I think that Mount Rainier was nicer than the Yosemite valley. It is so close, we can go for day hikes and I hope to do some light backpacking in the near future. Heather even suggested a guy trip - so guys lets start planning something!
I was a little concerned about the campground, as the National Parks are often over-crowded but it was a nice campground. It wasn't the middle of nowhere, but it wasn't elbow to elbow either. I would stay at this campground again, but I want to stay at a back country campsite next time.
All in all, it was a great weekend. Nice enough weather, nice company, beautiful scenery. You can see more photos in my Flickr photo stream.