Tag Archives: snow

From Summer to Winter in 6000 easy steps

Looking up towards Sourdough Ridge, at Sunrise, Mt. Rainier National Park.
Looking up towards Sourdough Ridge, at Sunrise, Mt. Rainier National Park.

So. A week and a half ago, we were having temperatures in the 80s here in the Puget Sound lowlands. We’ve had a summer for the record books — the most 90 degree days in one year, the most 80 degree days in one year, the hottest June, July, and August on record… The weather forecasters were beginning to sound like a broken record (and far too chipper for their own good, given the circumstances).

Then, a week ago today, the switch flipped. The temperatures dropped to the 60s, the wind picked up, and — you guessed it — we had the biggest August windstorm on record. All of a sudden it was October (the main harbinger of autumn here is wind — google Inauguration Day storm, Columbus Day storm, and Hanukkah Eve storm if you don’t believe me).

I’ve already got a second quilt on the bed, too, because the nighttime temps have started dropping to the 40s.

And then, to celebrate completing my new novel Reunion (the second Tale of the Unearthly Northwest), my friend L and I drove up to Sunrise today, on the eastern side of Mt. Rainier, and were greeted with this beautiful sight:

Low 40s, with snow-covered picnic tables.  Suffice to say, we ate our lunch in the car.
Low 40s, with snow-covered picnic tables. Suffice to say, we ate our lunch in the car.
The trail was a bit icy and slushy, but the walk was wonderful.  The air smells absolutely amazing up there.
The trail was a bit icy and slushy, but the walk was wonderful. The air smells absolutely amazing up there.
Not all was black and white and gray.  Mountain ash foliage in full autumn color.
Not all was black and white and gray. Mountain ash foliage in full autumn color.
Looks like some kids were having a good time!
Looks like some kids were having a good time!
There really is a mountain up there.  Looks like the bottom of the cloud deck was at about 12000 feet.
There really is a mountain up there. Looks like the bottom of the cloud deck was at about 12000 feet.

Oh, and the 6000 steps? Sunrise is at 6300 feet. We hit snow at about 6200 feet (Sunrise Point, about a mile from Sunrise proper, is at 6100 feet, and there was no snow there).

What a day. And I have the wet shoes to prove it!

From autumn to winter back to autumn again at Mt. Rainier

Frosted trees at Paradise, Mt. Rainier
Frosted trees at Paradise, Mt. Rainier

This past Monday my friend L and I decided to take advantage of the clear (if rather chilly) weather and make a jaunt up to Mt. Rainier. Our goal was Paradise, at 5400 feet, but that depended on how clear the roads were, it having snowed up there the day before.

The roads were only a bit icy in spots (we only slid once, and that for a few inches), and the rewards were spectacular. Six inches of very sticky snow coated everything, from the Inn to random plant stems. It was clear when we arrived, but the clouds did start building up while we were up there, which is why I have no pictures of the actual mountain from this trip.

Paradise Inn, boarded up for the winter.
Paradise Inn, boarded up for the winter.
Frosted bushes
Frosted bushes
There *is* a Mountain behind those clouds, honest.
There *is* a Mountain behind those clouds, honest.
Nice tall snow sticks so the plows can find the parking lot.
Nice tall snow sticks so the plows can find the parking lot.
6
Nevermore in the almost-deserted parking lot.

It was cold. 31dF, to be precise, with a bit of wind. So we didn’t stay up there long, just enough so my friend could try out her new snow boots, so I could accidentally step in a plowed pile of snow up to my knees, and to eat our picnic lunch in the car.

Then we headed back down, stopping at Narada Falls (where the trail to the falls viewpoint was completely iced over), and at Longmire (at about half the altitude of Paradise), where we walked one of my favorite trails in the park, the Trail of the Shadows.

The Trail of the Shadows leads around the edge of a meadow dotted with hot springs and partially filled with a pond. It’s also the site of the first settlement in what is now the park, where, in the 1880s, James Longmire discovered the hot springs and decided to build facilities so that people could come and soak in them (and drink the water, although its reputation is foul-tasting).

This time of year mushrooms are quite abundant and varied. But the trail wasn’t underwater, which parts of it can be in late fall.

Two of the many, many mushrooms/toadstools/miscellaneous fungi we saw at Longmire.
Two of the many, many mushrooms/toadstools/miscellaneous fungi we saw at Longmire.
Across the golden meadow to the rain forest.
Across the golden meadow to the rain forest.
One of the springs the Longmires tamed for their resort.
One of the springs the Longmires tamed for their resort.
Plenty of running water, but none over the trail.
Plenty of running water, but none over the trail.

It was my first real outing since recovering from pneumonia last month. I’m quite pleased to report that I made it all the way around the mile-long trail without getting tired, as well as doing all the driving on the 3-hour round trip. I must be well!

Three weeks ago, Day 15

Snow, blast it!

So.  Five days before today the temperature was 99F degrees.  Today I woke up to snow.  Not horrendous amounts, but enough that I had to scrape it off of my car before I could set out for the morning.  I won’t tell the story about snow on July 4th in the park when I was small, or mention that I have now been snowed on in the park at some point in every month from May to October, except August.  Which is sort of ironic, because Repeating History‘s hero Charley got snowed on in the park in August.  Very late August, but still.  Anyway, I just won’t mention any of that now.

By the time I left West Yellowstone and headed into the park it was more sleet than snow, and it was blowing sideways, but the roads remained clear and just a bit wet.  In spite of the weather I decided to get out and walk the boardwalk at the Fountain Paint Pots, where I saw yellow monkeyflowers blooming along the edge of the boardwalk, as well as perpetually spouting Clepsydra Geyser and lots of paint pots and pools.  My jeans were soaked on one side and dry on the other by the time I got back to the car due to the wind, but it could have been worse.

I skipped Midway Geyser Basin, because when you combine two hot springs the size of Excelsior Geyser Crater and Grand Prismatic Spring and weather in the forties, you basically end up with steam thick enough to cut with a knife.  For the entire length of the boardwalk.  Besides, my jeans were still damp.

The weather seemed to be improving slightly by the time I got to Biscuit Basin, however, so I did get out and walk there, in the company of a group of tourists who sounded eastern European of some kind to my ears — Russian, maybe?  One of the young women was wearing a t-shirt, leggings, and sandals, along with a Jayne hat.  I shivered just looking at her.  The snow was beginning to collect on the boardwalks, and I’m not sure there are many surfaces as slippery as jugwalk (planks made out of wood pulp and recycled pop bottles) with snow on it.  But I it was nice to see Sapphire Pool again, especially since every mention of the park during the 1959 earthquake that I’d seen in my research was replete with its magnificent eruptions in the aftermath.  I’d have loved to see that.

So I finally wended my way to the Upper Geyser Basin, aka the home of Old Faithful (the link goes to the live, streaming webcam).  I had been planning to spend this day out in the geyser basin, but I was cold and damp and needed at the very least to warm up and dry out before I went walking outdoors again.  The snow had warmed up just enough to become a cold, penetrating drizzle, but it was still pretty miserable.  So I bought a cookie in the lodge and ate it while gazing wistfully out the big windows, then headed over to the bright shiny new visitor center that opened in August of 2010.

It’s about time that the Upper Geyser Basin acquired a decent visitor center.  And it has a virtual version, too, if you’re interested in checking that out (the introductory video is a hoot).  The old visitor center dated from Mission 66, I think.  At any rate, its amenities included a ranger desk, an auditorium, and a small bookstore.  Not a single exhibit.  The new visitor center has a whole enormous room full of exhibits, many of them interactive, telling all about how thermal features work and why they are where they are and, well, let’s just say that both my museum curator persona and my inner Yellowstone junkie were vastly impressed.

So that gave me time to dry out.  Lot of good it did me.  I went out walking around Geyser Hill, and about half an hour into my stroll, slipped and fell flat on my tuckus, and covered myself in the sleet/dirt/etc., that was on the jugwalk.  At least I didn’t fall off the jugwalk.

I decided enough was enough, and took my cold, wet, dirty self off to the showers at the lodge, then to the laundromat at the Snow Lodge (two different places), and got me and my stuff cleaned up.  That was the first time I had to wash that coat.  I’m glad the manufacturer meant that “machine washable” tag.

After that, I checked into my lodge cabin and holed up, hoping for better weather the next day.  It was my last day in the park, after all.

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If you like my travel writing, you might enjoy my fiction set in Yellowstone:

Repeating History, “A GRAND yarn you can’t put down.” Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures
http://mmjustus.com/fictionrepeatinghistory.html