Thursday, January 5, 2012

Our Mountain

On sunny days throughout the greater Seattle area, we all look east toward Mt. Rainier for a peek “Our Mountain”. When the weather is good, locals say “the mountain is out”, as if it hides from us or has to stay inside on rainy days. In a way it does, but as reflected in our daily local colloquialisms, Mt. Rainier is special and treated as such every day. From Olympia, I look at Mt. Rainier daily, and while my attention also focuses on the Olympic Mountains, Mt Rainier rises from nothing, piercing the eastern horizon.

Mt Rainier is recognizable around the world, used as a coffee marketing name in Japan, and also placed on incense packets in rural China. Travelling around the world, places may not know my city of Olympia, but when I show them a picture of Mt. Rainier, they know what I am talking about. Mt Rainier is also, obviously, the tallest place in the state, and draws tourists year round from all over the world. In fact, it was climbed by Al Gore in the summer of 1999. I would be impressed, but my grandfather climbed Mt Rainier a few years back, so make what you will of it. With a visitor center at the aptly named Paradise area, one can see hikers,
climbers, foxes, coyotes and Clark’s nutcrackers. Also, don't get me started on JZ Knight/Ramtha (who lives near Mt Rainier) and her belief on the Lizard People.

At 14,410 feet tall, Mt Rainier looms over the Pacific Northwest, calling to all of us to go to her and experience winter year round. Hiking on her trails, seeing the wild flowers bloom in early summer, she never ceases to amaze. This is why, before taking people to the Olympics, I always want to take them to Mt. Rainier. Before Christmas, I took a trip up to Mt Rainier with my girlfriend, and for a few hours we traipsed around in the snow, me encouraging her to do silly things, like climb up hillsides without snowshoes and go on trails that were slippery (some would say dangerous) with ice. We had a blast and she experienced the park the way I know it. Wild, crazy, full of snow and impossible to walk around without proper equipment, Mt Rainier was a good day trip.

With over 12 feet of snow so far, trees are covered and walking around paradise is difficult without the right gear. Cassy seemed to enjoy herself, and getting her into experiencing nature with me has been fun. She has been a trouper, making sure I stay safe while still letting me talk her into doing silly activities, like walking up a steep hillside with no gear and tons of snow, just to see who can make it further up the hill. Without going into sappy things, she has made areas more exciting, new and fresh, and you will probably start to see her in pictures soon.

Despite all the good that I just mentioned, a week after we experienced Mount Rainier National Park or MORA as I call it, a man fled from a shooting in a Seattle suburb and killed a park ranger who was trying to stop him. I knew this ranger. She was cool and her family was always one of happiness, laughter, creativity and love. New Year’s Day should have been a gorgeous, fun, relaxing day on the mountain for all the guests and rangers, and it ended up being a life changing event for a family, a community and for the park. MORA, for the first time in my life, has been closed all week. The park will bounce back, and soon only small mentions of this day will last in the park. Like everything in nature, the rain, snow, moss and natural events will soon cover up a day we all wish never happened. The mountain will live on, showing us what true resilience in the face of adversity is.

I must admit, and I am sure I am not alone, but on New Year’s Day, when I was looking at Mt. Rainier, listening to the news tell me about how a man was on the mountain with guns and ammo, the mountain didn’t look the same. Mt Rainier had claimed lives before, but usually only those who were taking risks. The natural environment had resisted modern society and remained natural and pristine. Fitting though, that in his last hours, the gunman, who was ill-prepared for the elements, died from the mountain. He was shoe-less on one foot, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, the elements draining his body heat until he could walk no more. He slid, fell into a creek and drowned, unable to move because of the stifling cold that the mountain was giving him. I think, in a way, that this is true justice. The mountain protected one of her own, and made sure that the man responsible for tainting her image died at her hands. Mt. Rainier, our mountain, remained silent that day, doing what she normally does in the winter.

Until we meet again, Good Hiking from Exotic Hikes.

RIP Ranger Margaret Anderson

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