At the Bottom of The Mountain

A Winter Day Trip to Mt. Rainier in the Throes of Climate Change,

Monday 29 December 2014

Morgan (L) & Anne outside the Nisqually Entrance to Mount Rainier National Park.

Morgan (L) & Anne outside the Nisqually Entrance to Mount Rainier National Park. Normally the snow is deep and there isn’t much frozen snowmelt on the road. Not the case here this time nor up around the bend.

On the last Monday in the Year 2014 Common Era, I drove three of us to Mount Rainier National Park. The other two were my oldest daughter Morgan, a few months shy of turning 21, and her maternal cousin, Anne, of about the same age but a little older. Morgan had recently moved back to Seattle from Bellingham to prepare for her journey along the Appalachian Trail. Her mother Gwen Hughes, Anne’s auntie, and now my ex-wife tho still dear friend, and I had thruhiked the AT once upon a somewhat long time ago back in 1991. Gwen and I, originally from Virginia, still lived in Seattle, Washington. Anne was from Florida, and had not ever been to Seattle or Mt. Rainier before, and wanted to go. Woo Hoo, Mt. Rainier! Off we went. We didn’t make it past the bottom of The Mountain.

We determined to have fun anyway.

Global Climate Disruption with oscillating weather extremes and a so-far steady tho jagged march up the scale of increasingly hotter temperatures overall disturbed our trip.

Aye, we determined to have fun anyway.

The Mountain, as we Cascadians often referred to the Rainier stratovolcano, loomed into the sky as a vast bludgeon of ice and rock.

After two hours or so of driving we arrived at the Nisqually park entrance not far from Longmire about 13:45. When the roads were clear, it could take 20-30 minutes to drive straight thru to Paradise, a national park village about half-way up The Mountain. With stops here and there to soak in the views and explore about, the drive took longer. In Winter conditions, ahh, Hell freezeth over so bring out the toys.

After a quick exploration of Ashford, a little town outside the park entrance and one of the climbing capitals of the region, we stopped outside the famous park entrance framed by gigantic timbers from The Mountain’s forested slopes. The old tree trunks used were massive in girth and stood as a fitting entry monument alongside the deceptively ferocious Nisqually River. There we took pictures outside the entrance, and then pushed on into the park. We didn’t get far.

Morgan the Washingtonian and Anne the Floridian. It's Anne's first time to The Mountain.

Morgan the Washingtonian and Anne the Floridian. It’s Anne’s first time to The Mountain.

Map of MRNP showing the Nisqually Entrance and the road towards the Kautz Creek Trailhead.

Map of MRNP showing the Nisqually Entrance and the road towards the Kautz Creek Trailhead.

A few cars were already slipping around on the ice slicking up the pavement. Damn if I didn’t have to break just to avoid idiots going too fast and almost ended up spinning around into the ditch, too. Darn. Chain time, and I hate putting on chains. I also take great pride as a Southerner who knows how to drive in the snow and even on ice. Sometimes. Driving in snow, however, is easy, like driving in sand if one is careful and slow. Driving across ice, however, is terrifying and nothing really works except testosterone-induced denial, estrogen-induced screeching, and, well, psychobabble pseudo-courage. I know, as I’ve been guilty of all of the above.

Hesitation was … brief!

I put chains on my car for the first time ever at Mt. Rainier. I’ve been to The Mountain in Winter or in snowy conditions in Spring and Fall many times. I was last up at Rainier in early July with a Japanese friend of mine. It’s been years for Morgan, and for Anne of Florida, of course, this icy shit was pretty darn exciting. It wasn’t too difficult to put chains on. The task is a lot easier these days than it was even 10 years ago. I still had to lay down in frozen slush to make it so, tho.

How in Hell will robot cars ever put chains on cars? Perhaps wheels will be so redesigned different kinds of external surface-facing materials pop out, slide back in, or Rubik cube themselves about to deal with changes in terrain including road surfaces. Hey, should I patent that?

Looking south down Kautz Creek where many a flood has ripped thru in bygone years. Wished I'd took a few pics of cars spinning around on the ice and people putting on chains, too. I felt dismay at the lack of snow and the bounty of ice.

Looking south down Kautz Creek where many a flood has ripped thru in bygone years. Wished I’d took a few pics of cars spinning around on the ice and people putting on chains, too. I felt dismay at the lack of snow and the bounty of ice.

We crept into the Kautz Creek Trailhead parking lot and lined up with all the other giddy-lookit-all-the-snow people. We were glad to behave like properly attired outdoorsy bozolicious travelers to The Mountain, too. I reminded myself I was once a Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician once upon a very long time ago, so there. Even if I couldn’t remember anything much but how to clean and dress wounds and broken bones and suckholes in chests and stuff. My certification had long since expired. But I had a beefy first aid kit in the car with me. Especially with my daughter and niece with me.

Kautz Creek in late December 2014.

Kautz Creek in late December 2014.

Gazing northwards up Kautz Creek.

Gazing northwards up Kautz Creek.

Along the banks of Kautz Creek at the Bottom of The Mountain.

Along the banks of Kautz Creek at the Bottom of The Mountain.

We couldn’t wait to get out the car and go waddle around in the snow. We wandered along Kautz Creek and explored in the shadows. I really enjoyed hanging back to watch Morgan and Anne reconnect in deep cousin friendship. Those two young women were so much alike. They could almost be twins. Certainly sisters. Cousins, for sure. Delightfully quirky cousins. Their conversations roamed all over in bursts of chatter madness, creative quirkiness, and as deep as the abyss below the dazzle of coral reefs. The ocean blue turned celestial, however, and I gazed up into the sting of white diamond sunbeams. Blue sky and sunshine shone with intense late December brilliance until plowed over by blundering masses of clouds threatening more … something. Please, more snow!

Kautz Creek Trailhead not far from the Nisqually Gates.

Kautz Creek Trailhead not far from the Nisqually Gates.

Along the banks.

At the Edge of Light & Darkness along the banks.

We were in a drought, and precipitation levels were low. The Mountain was normally cloaked in snow this time of year. We would’ve been driving in snow or across packed snowy patches with aplomb. All the way up to Paradise, too.

But the drought was on with warmer than normal temperatures, too. So we had little snow mixed with rain, and then sunny days were the snow melted enough for water to flow across the downhill side of the mountain roads. Then ice as the fanned-out water froze into sheets of dark ice across the hard asphalt. Global warming. Aye, maybe the damn ice age was on the way a few centuries from now, but for now the Anthropocene Warming was well underway.

Skeletons of Winter.

Skeletons of Winter.

Bones of the Dead rest in Shadow. Life lives in Light. Even during the long winter night.

Bones of the Dead rest in Shadow. Life lives in Light. Even during the long winter night.

Even if weird science is correct in claiming spooky energetic outbursts from the galactic core of the Milky Way to the churning insides of Sol were really the culprits behind heating up our planet, our human industrial pollution was clearly making it worse and pushing it quickly over the edge. Besides, who really wants to breathe and drink all the shit our species soils our biospheric nest with? We already share it with our children and grandchildren. There’s nothing left for Seven Generations in the wake of Instant Gratification and World War Now.

Maternal Cousins giggling soberly over images captured on camera.

Maternal Cousins giggling soberly over images captured on camera.

Morgan & Anne.

Morgan & Anne.

Sunshine in the Trees along Kautz Creek.

Sunshine in the Trees along Kautz Creek.

Anne y Morgan.

Anne y Morgan.

After taking pictures and watching the two cousins delight in the snow, we crunched out of the parking lot in my old car. Everyone else also had on chains except a small number of cars spun out sideways here and there. Almost all of the people in those particular human-operated motorized horseless motor carriage automatic mobile machines were dressed in thin, urban street clothes as if gallivantin’ in downtown Los Angeles or Miami or someplace sunny wet. Come on, People! Global Warming is making it hot, yes, but not THAT hot and not so fast. Maybe, aye?

Around the bend we crunched. I was so glad we had chains on our car. Anne was spellbound at Nature’s beauty. She understood it wasn’t a normal year, and the national park was gorgeous to behold just as it was. Morgan was in awe. She felt happy to be back and was excited to point out landmarks to her cousin even if she didn’t know their names. She recognized them from so many long ago trips before hard times gripped our family.

Nisqually River from the side of the Road to Longmire.

Nisqually River from the side of the Road to Longmire.

We pulled off the side of the road to see more of the Tatoosh peaks above the winding sinews of Nisqually whitewater. Oh, the river was a tiny, threadbarren twist of streams, rocks, and logs, but the scars of past cataclysms were still visible. Back in November 2006, about 8 years ago, Mount Rainier National Park flooded with 18 inches of rain in 36 hours. It tore out the Nisqually River campground; one Morgan has camped out more than once during different family trips to The Mountain. We shot more fotos of the surrounding scenery as we marveled in how rapid change can be. We often underestimate how rapidly Nature can change, has changed, and will change again. Nature is often absolute and always without emotion in transformation.

Pulling over in the bend of the road bent between mountains and a twisted river. Right near the edges of the Map.

Pulling over in the bend of the road bent between mountains and a twisted river. Right near the edges of the Map.

Looking up into the western edge of the Tatoosh Range.

Looking up into the western edge of the Tatoosh Range.

Above the Nisqually along the ridges of the western Tatoosh.

Above the Nisqually along the ridges of the western Tatoosh.

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Where water runs.

Where water runs.

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I could paddle that. Just a little more water for my kayak. But wouldn't wanna race those logs, no thank you. Beautiful, tho.

I could paddle that. Just a little more water for my kayak. But wouldn’t wanna race those logs, no thank you. Beautiful, tho.

We pushed thru Global Warming to Longmire. There we mingled with tourists just as addled and excited as we were to finally play in a little bit of crunchy snow. The road to Paradise was gated shut at Longmire Village, so there we stayed. Explored both sides of the Nisqually River area. The three of us admired both the jagged peaks of the Tatoosh Range and the cliffs of Rampart Ridge. The Sun was already slipping down across the early winter skies of late December. The New Year 2015 was right around the corner.

Cliffs of Rampart Ridge.

Cliffs of Rampart Ridge.

The Ramparts along the Ridge across from Longmire Village.

The Ramparts along the Ridge across from Longmire Village.

The Ramparts up close.

The Ramparts up close.

The Ramparts, the Nisqually, & Longmire Village.

The Ramparts, the Nisqually, & Longmire Village.

Rampart Ridge.

Rampart Ridge.

A robust new bridge stretched across the Nisqually from Longmire Central to a cluster of old national park buildings, an abandoned campground, staff housing, and trailheads into the Tatoosh. Temperatures continued to drop as the Sun slid behind more clouds, but we were lost in exploration.

Hard to believe a century ago the Nisqually Glacier once stretched nearly this far. Well, not to Longmire, but back in 1913 as far down as where today’s Nisqually-Longmire Road crosses high above the gorge near Nahunta Falls. Wow. In the distant past, of course, the glaciers of The Mountain spread an even vaster expanse of ice with glaciers dug into the rock of the planetary crust as the giant talons of a leviathan bald eagle.

Bridge over the Nisqually connecting the two sections of Longmire Village.

Bridge over the Nisqually connecting the two sections of Longmire Village. Flanks of The Mountain loom in the background.

As late afternoon darkened into dusk, however, and with two to three more months of Winter still ahead, we squatted down in the snow to shoot close-ups of twigs and stuff. I laid down in the darn snow. I wanted pictures! Light was a bit off, tho, as shadows fell gray from high Tatoosh peaks. We never got a clear view of The Mountain.

Nisqually Blues.

Nisqually Blues.

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I had to take more pictures, tho.

Snow, crucified.

Snow, crucified.

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Twilight Snow.

Twilight Snow.

So little snow, so many tears, no river, all cry, even the deep blue sky.

So little snow, so many tears, no river, all cry, even the deep blue sky.

“Time to go, Dad!” Morgan declared. The trip had been in part her idea. I offered up a few day trip suggestions, and Morgan help made this one a go. A wonderful go at that.

We chose to scoot on back down the mountain, exiting the park boundaries sometime around 18:00, and headed back to Seattle.

Farewells shared at the bottom of The Mountain.

Farewells shared at the bottom of The Mountain.

Mount Rainier is a crown jewel in America’s and the world’s national parks. The three of us quickly agreed with the multi-ethnic movement to restore The Mountain to its Native name, of which there were several. As much as Rainier was a strong-sounding word, it’s also the name of a British admiral who later fought to crush the American Revolution. It sometimes takes what seems like far too much time to right old wrongs, and still we must do so. Not renaming the peak, but restoring it to its rightful place. Local geopolitics, if you will. Tahoma or Takoma have been put forth as proper names among others.

A group of Elders pulled from a number of local tribes came together under the senior Robert Satiacum to form the Alliance to Restore Native Names. After much prayer and contemplation, they arrived at a powerful name for a mountain they considered sacred as well as majestic: Ti’Swaq’, the Sky Wiper. Ti’Swaq’, the Mountain that Wipes the Sky. Ti’Swaq’! These Elders and their allies still struggle to restore The Mountain to its proper name.

Tired, we finally arrived safely back home in Seattle; itself named after a locally famous Native American chief, Si’ahl or Sealth, i.e. “Seattle.” It had been a robust and enjoyable family day trip with three wonderful and eccentric personalities.

Yep. That's me. Yours truly the Author taking a daggone selfie. :-)

Yep. That’s me. Yours truly the Author taking a daggone selfie. 🙂

Mount Rainier is a crown jewel in America’s and the world’s national parks. The three of us quickly agreed with the multi-ethnic movement to restore The Mountain to its Native name, of which there were several. As much as Rainier is a strong-sounding word, it’s also the name of a British admiral who later fought to crush the American Revolution. It sometimes takes what seems like far too much time to right old wrongs, and still we must do so. Not renaming the peak, but restoring it to its rightful place. Local geopolitics, if you will. Tahoma or Takoma have been put forth as proper names among others.

A group of Elders pulled from a number of local tribes came together under the senior Robert Satiacum to form the Alliance to Restore Native Names. After much prayer and contemplation, they arrived at a powerful name for a mountain they considered sacred as well as majestic: Ti’Swaq’, the Sky Wiper. Ti’Swaq’, the Mountain that Wipes the Sky. Ti’Swaq’! These Elders and their allies still struggle to restore The Mountain to its proper name.

Tired, we finally arrived safely back home in Seattle; itself named after a locally famous Native American chief, Si’ahl or Sealth, i.e. “Seattle.” It had been a robust and enjoyable family day trip with three wonderful and eccentric personalities.

 

William Dudley Bass
23-24 November 2015
Seattle, Washington
U.S.A.
Cascadia

Aye, it's just a map! Woo HOO!!!

Aye, it’s just a map! Woo HOO!!!

Note: See also another one of my foto essays, “Hiking & Climbing up Mt. Rainier to Camp Muir: Foto Essay of a Day Hike & Climb Up thru Global Climate Disruption & the Movement to Restore Native Names to the Mountains,” here On Earth at the Brink @
<http://williamdudleybass.com/slopes-mt-rainier-camp-muir>.

Curious? Check this out: “November 2006 Flood Damage,” Mount Rainier National Park, < http://www.nps.gov/mora/learn/news/upload/flooddamagev3.pdf>.

 

Copyright © 2015, 2016 by William Dudley Bass including all fotografs. All Rights Reserved until we Humans establish Wise Stewardship of and for our Earth and Solarian Commons. Thank you.

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