Return to Flight

I got to listen to the liftoff of the space shuttle Discovery this morning on the drive in to work. I'm really glad to see that the wait is over and that NASA is back in business doing what they're supposed to be doing – scientific research in space. Hopefully everything else in this mission will go as planned.

Kudos to everyone at NASA involved in the return to flight effort!

Mt. Rainier – Alta Vista

Hiked On: July 24, 2005
Weather Conditions: Approximately 70°F, partly-clear skies
Elevation: 5480-5950' at Paradise, 6400' at Sunrise
Distance from Seattle: Just over 90 miles
Pictures: Here
National Park Service: Mt. Rainier National Park

When it's sunny in Seattle in the summertime, you head to Mt. Rainier. We had a new batch of folks start at work this week, and some of them aren't from western Washington, so I invited them to Rainier for a day of easy hiking. One of them actually took me up on the offer, while the others carried on with apartment hunting, etc. We decided to take a quick jaunt down to Paradise and hit up the Alta Vista trail. The hike is detailed in the book Day Hike! Mount Rainier , ISBN 1570613141). We started at the Paradise Visitor's center, at 5480'. We hiked up the (really steep!) Alta Vista trail to the Alta Vista summit where we had a really good view of Rainier and Mt. Adams to the south.

We hiked down the backside of Alta Vista trail and intersected with a portion of the Skyline Loop that we hadn't hit yet. The flowers were still out, but we could tell that they are already fading this year – far fewer wildflowers out this week than there were when we hiked last week.

On the way down, we were able to spot a little bit of wildlife – two fawns (I think they were mule deer) munching on wildflowers. Nice to see. Total distance hiked: 1.6 miles, total elevation gain: 670'.

After having a quick lunch, we hopped in the car and drove around to the Grove of the Patriarchs, an easy 1 mile loop (at 2200' elevation) into an old growth forest, where we were met by huge Western Red Cedars that were easily 20' in diameter. According to the signage on the trail, some of these trees were over 1,000 years old. If trees could talk, they would make good history teachers.

Our last journey took us around to the other side of the park to Sunrise, where we mostly enjoyed the view from 6,400' at the parking lot and visitor center.

Mt. Rainier – Paradise

Hiked On: July 17, 2005
Weather Conditions: Approximately 75°F, clear skies
Elevation: 5480-6430'
Distance from Seattle: Just over 90 miles
Pictures: Here
National Park Service: Mt. Rainier National Park

With the sun shining, we decided to put down the latest Harry Potter and head towards Rainier. Diann wanted to see the wildflowers at Paradise, so we decided we'd take a second attack at the Paradise Glacier (we had a failed attempt just a month before when we started getting hailed upon and the trail was covered in snow crossing the 6000' mark, pictures from that are here ). The hike is detailed in the book Day Hike! Mount Rainier , ISBN 1570613141). We started at the Paradise Visitor's center, at 5480'. We hiked up the east side of the Skyline loop until the Paradise Glacier trail split off to the northeast. The early part of the hike brought us tons of wildflowers and the occasional Marmot sighting.

Overall, the hike was pretty tough on us; hiking in elevation without being accustomed to doing so took a lot out of us, and I suspect my Indian food dinner the night before wasn't helping, as I had some serious stomach discomfort on the way up. Took many more breaks (rest breaks, not those kinds of breaks) and drank a lot more water than usual (thanks to new hydration packs, see below). Just before we split off towards Paradise Glacier, we turned around and I forgot about my stomach pains. Visible to our south were Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams, both 50 miles away. Both were clearly visible, and we were able to see the periodic steam plumes coming from Mt. St. Helens. Definitely an amazing view, but better was coming up.

We continued our hike up to the glacier (peaking at 6230'), and then headed back down towards the Skyline Loop. Rather than hit the Upper Skyline, we cut across the Golden Gate Trail to the west side of the Lower Skyline Loop. At our high point here we crossed 6430', we could clearly see Mt. Hood, 100 miles south in Oregon.

All told, we hiked total elevation gains of 1991' (yes, I know the peak of 6430' minus the start of 5480' is less than 1991'. But, when you're hiking, you go up and down. A lot.) The total length of the hike was 5.42 miles, according to Rainier maps. Definitely a serious workout at elevation.

Incidentally, on this hike we were using some new gear for the first time. We had gone to REI the day before to get new daypacks with integrated hydration (a la Camelbak). I got one from The North Face called Megamouth. I really enjoyed it, it's definitely worth have a backpack that correctly distributes the weight of your load. Diann ended up with the REI Runoff. Having the hydration packs is also changing the way we re-hydrate – we used to carry a total of 2L of water for the both of us, but now each of our packs holds around 1.5L. Before we ended up back at the bottom with about .75L of water left over, but this time we drank almost the whole amount. Pretty amazing what difference just having the water handy makes.

I also had some new convertible pants that were a little more problematic, purely due to my own stupidity. About 30-45 minutes into the hike, I decided I could convert them to shorts, which wasn't a problem. The fact that I forgot to put sunblock on my legs, however, was. I've spent the majority of the week in serious pain because of the sunburn on the backs of my knees. Ouch.