I woke up Sunday morning to Chuck struggling to get out of his sleeping bag. I felt well-rested, and so I decided to get up as well. I slept like a baby, although Chuck says I snored loudly enough to keep him awake. For future reference to anyone who reads this and sleeps in the same room with me, wake my damn ass up if I do that. My sleeping bag was toasty. I also have the ability to sleep on uncomfortable surfaces, although the thermarest pad pretty much made the ground comfortable.
It was at this point that I had a decent sunburn. I had asked Chuck the night before if I was developing one, but he thought not. I suspected something more than wind burn, but without a mirror I couldn't really tell. I never really feel sunburns anymore. I've had so many of them that short of putting me in the hospital, it's not really a problem. But I could feel this one coming on and knew that it would be bad, even by my standards.
After waking up, I pretty much did nothing for an hour or two. Just sat outside and enjoyed the view. For a few minutes even, the clouds broke almost completely, and we were treated to a wonderful view of the top of Rainier swirled in clouds. The wind was blowing primarily toward the southwest. But near the top of Rainier, the wind appear to come from the west. After the clouds blew around the mountain top, they merged into the wind traveling toward the southwest. The obstruction of the wind by Rainier made for interesting cloud patterns, like mixing cream into pea soup and watching the swirl.
Breakfast for most of the group was tea or coffee and instant oatmeal. Personally, if I was hiking up a mountain, I probably would bring instant coffee instead of coffee grounds, but this was not really a mountain climb. This is where I went "gourmet." I brought some breakfast sausages. Chuck had brought eggs, cheese and bacon bits. We cooked all of this together and threw in the leftover mushrooms, and we had the tastiest egg scramble you ever had. Plain food pretty much always tastes better when camping. Several campers back in the trees of the campground proper came out at various times to tell us that we were being extremely unfair to them by cooking sausage and eggs; they could smell it far back into the trees.
Although the snow was soft, Eddie decided that we really should get a chance to try on and use our cramp-ons. In a real life climb, cramp-ons are not used in soft snow like this, because the snow balls up between the teeth of the cramp-ons and prevents them from being used properly.
After that, we packed up our backpacks for the hike down. Eddie and William got into a "discussion" about how I had packed my shovel. On the way up, I was unsure how to pack it well, and William advised me to strap it on upside down in the middle of the pack. I strapped it on the same way for the trip down, but Eddie advised against it. He thought I should attach it to the side underneath the compression straps. THe two discussed the various "sail" properties vs. the use of additional straps needed for attaching it in the middle.
We headed down at a brisk pace. Eddie pointed out where he had fallen through the snow a few years ago. The White River runs under the snowfield, and there is a danger of falling through when the snow pack above the river grows thin. Eddie wanted us to maintain the fast pace to get used to walking quickly over sloppy snow. I did not have poles, and so this was difficult for me. Neither did I miraculously gain a lot of stamina overnight, and so I again fell further and further behind the group. This time I didn't fall quite as far behind, because we were going down and that requires less effort. Still, it wasn't unusual for the person in front of me to be leading by 20 or 30 meters.
On the way down, the trail was a lot less snow covered than on the way up. Friday night Mt. Rainier had seen fresh snowfall. The trail had now been through two days of sun, and many places were bare. There were also rivulets coming off the side of the ridge that crossed the trail under the snow. Mud was everywhere. I walked along following where Eddie had led us, but the weight of the people in the group in front of me was enough to weaken the crust. I fell through twice, although since these incidents were not in the main snowfield but much further down among the trees, the ground was only 12 to 24 inches below the snow. Still people have broken legs and ankles in just such conditions. I was lucky and was not injured. However, I had to be helped up, as I could not pull my leg out of the snow with my pack still on my back.
The trip down took a little over an hour. The same trip up had taken almost three. I went through two bottles of water on the way down. My conditioning is not good.
Then we were in the parking lot of the White River Campground. Officially, the trip was over, according to Eddie, we were free to go our merry way. However, it was a tradition to have a beer at the Naches Tavern on the way home. Most of us headed there after pulling off our gear. Or at least I would be headed there if I could find my car keys. Yet again, I could not find them. I thought I had placed them in the pocket of my fleece pants, but they were not there. I checked the pocket of my shell, where they were when I climbed up the trail. The keys weren't there either. Neither were they in either of the side compartments of my pack. As a last resort I tried the top compartment. Amazingly enough, there I found them. (Of course, you always find your keys in the last place you look. If you kept looking after you found them, you would be missing a flavor of cheese in your three cheese ravioli.
Having found my keys, Christian and I loaded up the car and headed to the Naches Tavern. Arriving there, we headed to the couch in the back next to the unlit fireplace. With us were Cory, Brendan, Sarah, Eddie, William and Chuck. Eric went his own way after the mountain, and Leslie stayed at camp with someone she knew who had been hiking around the mountain that day. Since this would be my last trip with the group, I decided to buy the first round of beer for everyone. I wanted to make my "going away" fun at least. That scored major points with the group.
Next entry, Things I didn't tell you along the way.