Day Seven: Comin’ Down the Mountain

Descent

We awoke early on our last day at Camp Muir. The temperature was 6° F (-14° C) with a light wind blowing from the northwest. The sky was clear and blue. The clouds and the tension of the last few days had finally lifted. We were heading back to Paradise on a beautiful day, Good Friday, according to the Gregorian calendar.

We dug our backpacks out of the icy snowdrift that had accumulated since our arrival. We packed our clothing, equipment, and trash. Before we could leave, we had to shake out the camping mats in the Box, tidy up, and sweep the floor to get rid of our dirt and a residual layer of accumulated ice. The guides oversaw our efforts. They ensured that we left the Box in proper order.

Closing Time

Closing Time

While waiting, a few of us climbed above the Public Shelter to take photos. We basked in a redeeming sunshine—one we had so sorely missed.

Taking Pictures in Front of the Cathedral Rocks

Taking Pictures in Front of the Cathedral Rocks

As the guides boarded the door to the Box and sealed it for the next group, we recorded our visit with a quick group photo. We were ready to leave.

All Work

All Work

All Play

All Play

We left Camp Muir at 10:05 am. Merrily descending into a bank of clouds, we followed the course we set the night before. Like anxious dogs on an invisible leash, we marched through the snow making swift progress. The mood was relaxed. A light snow masked various conversations between guides and participants.

Descent

Descent

We took our first break near Moon Rocks (2760 meters or 9055 ft). The weather had changed along the 1.2 km stretch so we quickly adjusted our layers putting on our soft shells and removing layers of insulation.

Taking a Break

Taking a Break

We passed Little Africa without incident. Well south of McClure Rock, we took our snowshoes off to get over an icy ridge. Crossing the Skyline Trail, we hiked with a trekking pole in one hand and our ice axe in the other. The powder snow was deep and wet. The temperature hovered around 40° F (4° C).

Downhill on Snowshoes

Downhill on Snowshoes

At one point in our continued journey, the guides, who constantly probed the snow, took what seemed like a detour. Along a 20 meter drop, we step-kicked, plunge-stepped, and self belayed down. The short workout was a great capstone for our trip.

A Workout in the Snow


P3250340 A Workout in the Snow

We hiked ten more minutes in the snow to reach Glacier Vista. We arrived at our former campsite two hours after leaving Camp Muir. We could barely see the tips of the wands that we had left to mark the site of our cache. In our absence, the cache was buried underneath two meters of fresh snow.


Digging Out the Cache Digging Out the Cache

We took a break at the site. While the guides dug out the cache, we joked and relaxed in the sunlight applying liberal amounts of sun cream to our faces. The temperature at the lower altitude (1930 meters or 6332 feet) was warm; the wind was breezy. We eventually put our snowshoes back on and loaded the cached equipment in our backpacks.

Taking another Break


P3250365 Taking another Break

To our surprise, the Mountain appeared behind our backs like a white ghost jumping out of a John Carpenter fog. We could see the summit we failed to climb in the distance. Awestruck by our first sight of the top, we quickly snapped pictures posing like tourists in front of a massive painted backdrop.

Eyes on the Unclaimed Prize


P3250374 Eyes on the Unclaimed Prize

Back in our snowshoes, we hiked the last two kilometers out. We crisscrossed the Skyline Trail running parallel to it at times. The route was easy. We passed a couple on the way down who was heading to Camp Muir the same day. They politely welcomed us back, and we wished them a safe trip. We passed a few other couples on the way back down. They were enjoying the beautiful day cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in the national park.

I took my time on the way down slope. I often fell back from the leading pack to photograph the winter wonderland. Fresh snow clung on Douglas Fir trees, and I could overhear the sound of melting snow dropping from tree branches. I was in no hurry to get back to Paradise.

Winter Wonderland


P3250385 Winter Wonderland

As Paradise appeared on the near horizon like a mirage, I realized that my thoughts were stranded at Camp Muir. Despite the gorgeous weather, my mood was still cloudy with disappointment and regret. I could not take my mind off the last few days. I didn’t want the trip to end without some sense of completion—a satisfactory ending.

Paradise by the Cloudy Light

Paradise by the Cloudy Light

25 meters from the parking lot, I met a volunteer park ranger. The pleasant, outgoing retiree asked me if I was a guide.

“Nein, ich bin nur ein Kursteilnehmer.” Having detected her German accent, I told her I was a participant in a seminar.

My reply caught her by surprise. We linguistically fumbled back and forth as we spoke in German and English. A gray blond, Bavarian beauty from Munich who showed no signs of aging or slowing down, she said she had lived in the US since the 1960’s. We spoke about the Mountain and laughed about our chance encounter. She teased me about traveling all the way to Rainier when the Alps were much closer to Berlin. Our conversation was short, but her unforgettable lightness brightened my day. We said our goodbyes (Heil und gesund ankommen!), and I continued hiking to the end of the trail. Along the last few meters, I had to dodge careless Chinese tourists who played underfoot in the wet snow, but I didn’t care. The trip was over. I was back in Paradise.

The Parking Lot at Paradise

The Parking Lot at Paradise

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