Saturday, November 1, 2014

Mt. Rainier 2014: Exploring the Pacific Northwest

I knew last year that this summer I was going to be climbing Mt. Rainier, but come June, I did not have anything booked yet.  If I was going to go for it, my next biggest climbing goal, its simply up to me to just do it.  I watched as some of the climb dates with RMI slowly start to fill up.  It was mid-June when I pulled the trigger and booked a final spot on a Labor Day weekend climb with RMI.  Just like that, I was going to climb Rainier, and within a few short weeks I had my complete plan in place to fly out to the Pacific Northwest and join RMI for a 4-day program and 2-day summit attempt of Rainier.
(Click Here to read my first post and full adventure plan.)
This was the first time that I've ever flown alone, out of 4 round trip flights in my life.  It was going to be an adventure for sure.  I left Boston at 7:00am on Friday, August 29th, and enjoyed a nice flight into Portland, Oregon.  I flew just above the clouds for the entire route across the country, over the mountains of the mid-west, and saw Rainier and Adams just before landing.  It was pretty eerie going in for the landing through the clouds, the tarmac showed just a few seconds before the wheels hit the ground.  I don't know how the pilot saw the runway.  Anyways, and there I was in Portland, Oregon.
Leaving Logan
Sea of clouds
Mountain ranges
Rainier in the back, Adams on the right. 
After arrival, I retrieved my rental car for the week from Enterprise.  I was being offered a pick-up, a suburban, and a couple of others, but I asked about and retrieved a brand new GMC Terrain.  I drove a GMC Terrain when me and my brother went out to Mt. Whitney, so I lucked out, taking a car I've used before.  Although it would have been nice to see Portland a little bit, I drove right up to Ashford to the Whittaker's Bunkhouse.  That afternoon, I checked in and settled in.  I reserved a one-bedroom with private bathroom for 4 nights in a row, plus 1 night after my climb.  The room consisted of a double bed, two nightstands, alarm clock, ample lighting, and a full bathroom with a really hot shower.  Everything was clean, every day, and it was pretty much worth the $90 per night. That night, I did supper simple, and walked next door the Basecamp Grille and had a bacon burger, which was small but very good. 
GMC Terrain rental car
Whittaker's Bunkhouse & Motel - Ashford, WA 
Bacon burger from the Basecamp Grille
Although I did have most of the day after I arrived, I had decided to take it easy because of the cloudy, drizzly weather.  I basically settled into my little abode to plan out the next day, which I had a full day to do whatever.  I woke up the next morning (a Saturday morning) and enjoyed a coffee outside the bunkhouse cafe, not knowing what the day ahead really held for me.  All I know, was that I was going for a little road trip of exploration, so off I went.

I was eyeing a few possible hikes to do before I started the climb program.  One I was reading about is Mt. Wow (6,040'), which is a bushwhack from a nearby forest road.  The first thing I did this day was take a ride up the road to scout out the start of the hike.  The road was fine for a while, but it got pretty rough and steep.  At the end of the road, as I had read, I came to the spot where the supposed bushwhack starts.  Its kind of crazy being across the entire country, alone, at the end of and up a mountain forest road that's only wide enough for the car, and just drive-able enough. So I had scoped out this starting spot, but it certainly looked as if it was a bit too difficult to get into with my limited time the next day. Its cool to know for next time. Don't bother asking any locals about Mt. Wow, they have no idea where it is. Some info on Mt. Wow.

The start of the bushwhack to Mt. Wow, Goat Creek on left.
4 miles up a mountain road
I then drove the approximately 4 miles back down the main road, which goes into Rainier National Park.  Then I drove right past Whittaker's, and took a state highway north, headed towards Olympia, setting off on my road trip for the rest of the day.  I drove past the Capitol Building in Olympia and through the city, headed west.  Driving in the Pacific Northwest was amazing, with its super tall and straight pines.  When you see a logging area in Maine or something, it has nothing on the logging swaths which I saw while driving west toward the coast.    
Washington State Capital 
Typical highway in Washington State
I continued west and found myself in Aberdeen, WA.  At that point I was seeking a spot to take in the Pacific Ocean for the first time ever.  I seemed to notice that there wasn't really any beaches, so I knew I had to dive a little bit more south.  I looked at my navigation on my phone, and figured Long Beach would be a good target.  It took me about an hour or more to get further south, so it was interesting leg of the road trip.  I would later find out from talking to a few people that Aberdeen is considered one of the dumpier towns in Washington.  Nobody goes there. haha.
Long Beach, WA 
Long Beach, WA panorama
Eventually, I made it to Long Beach, which was a nice beach town.  It reminded me of Old Orchard, but without as much bustle and no attractions.  I parked as close as I could, and made my way out onto the beach.  The beach was beautiful and extremely large in size.  It was quite exciting, even by myself, to jaunt out to the water's edge, and step foot in the Pacific Ocean for the first time.  

The moment my feet were in the Pacific Ocean for the first time 

After spending at least a half hour or so out on the beach, I figured I would keep on trucking along my road trip loop.  I was 150 miles, and 3 hours away from Ashford.  I didn't really expect this, but as I head back out of Long Beach, I found myself at the Columbia Bridge and the Columbia River.  What an intense spot. 

Columbia River from the Washington side. 

Driving over the Columbia Bridge
I pulled off to the side next to the bridge to check my navigation, and to take a few pictures of the river and bridge.  Little did I expect, I was crossing back into Oregon, and almost near Portland again.  What a trip this was! I drove a little over 300 miles, all day long, and had quite an experience seeing some of the area.  It was a little cloudy that evening as I made my way back to Ashford.  I pretty much just missed everything nearby closing at 8:00pm, so I had to go back out about 7 miles to Pizza Express, where I indulged on a delicious large pizza to my face. 

Pizza Express 

The next day (Sunday), I had the climb orientation at 3:00pm in the afternoon.  I woke up, got some coffee and packed a super light pack for a quick hike.  I drove back up the forest road I scouted out the day before, but this time, I continued up a different fork in the road to the trail head to another peak, Mt. Beljica (5,475').  Looking for something short to hike to get in the rhythm, I had looked it up.  Again, no one around Basecamp had seemingly ever heard of Mt. Beljica (literally 4 miles away), so could not offer me any tips when I was asking for short hike suggestions. 
Whittaker's Bunkhouse & Motel Cafe
Mt. Beljica is just a short 1.4 miles  and 1,100 foot ascent from the start of the Christine Lake Trail.  There was a simple sign-in and forest permit form, which I attached to my pack.  I started up the trail, and began my first hike in the PNW, and right on the edge of Rainier National Park.
Christine Lake Trail 

Entering Glacier View Wilderness
The trees were huge, the trail was flat, and it was quiet and beautiful.  I entered the Glacier View Wilderness, and in just a few short minutes, came over a little bump and rounded the shores of a beautiful Christine Lake.

Christine Lake
Getting the heart rate up, I sped up the easy trail, hooked a left where there was a spur for Mt, Beljica,  The Christine Lake Trail continues on to the right for some distance.  I hopped up a rooty and eroded path, and broke out onto an exposed summit.  I head towards the highest point, and quickly realized I was on a dramatic summit with at least several hundred foot drop-off to one edge, and a pretty intense weather-y view out over the mountains near Mt. Rainier.  The cloud cover was too much to see Mt. Rainier or any glaciers, but it was an intense feeling of risk there up on the top rock of the summit, where there was a marker. A surprise for sure, and a tremendous feeling of excitement as I was back at home (over 4,000 feet) and in just a few short hours, I would be meeting my climbing team and guides.

Mt. Beljica summit marker 
Steep summit perch 
View from Mt. Beljica

The hike was a total of 2.8 miles, 1,100 feet of elevation in an hour and a half.  I drove back down the crazy mountain road, and got ready to go to the RMI climb orientation.  All this excitement, all this experience, all of which was going according to plan, and I had yet to set foot on the slopes of Mt. Rainier.  That would all start to take place shortly.  After meeting the team and guides for introductions, I decided on a solo full course steak dinner and local beer at the Copper Creek Inn & Restaurant.  The server was as friendly as could be and the food was simply excellent.  I even had their signature blackberry pie.  Feeling full, happy, and excited, I returned to my room for the night, as tomorrow, I would set foot on Mt. Rainier, and start preparing for the biggest climb of my life.

A narrow section along the forest road
Steak from Copper Creek Inn & Restaurant 

My next Mt. Rainier post will be the trip report on the mountaineering day school, and my experience climbing to the summit of Mt. Rainier with RMI Guides over two days.  Stay tuned!
Summit of Mt. Beljica (5,475')

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