Adventure Log: Paradise on Labor Day

This post should start with 😳. It sounds insane for the solitary hiker who doesn’t hike on weekends and doesn’t go to Paradise in the summer at all. I got a wild hair. I didn’t get to hike last week—I got to host “Adrian’s own Camp Gigi,” and it was a blast. And I’m on my last Gigi duty for the summer this week. “The mountain is calling, and I must go,” holiday or no.

I’ve gotten pretty familiar with the habits of hikers. There are those who rise early and those who really like their beds on days off. There are those in the know and the many who seem clueless about things like parking in Paradise. There are the few on the trail early and the hoards at lunchtime.

I rise at 4:20, in the car at 4:40, at the coffee kiosk on Hwy 12 before the barista turns on the light. She’s a couple minutes late and looks like she would have preferred to be in bed, not making me a latte, no sleeve, no straws.

I knew I wouldn’t be early enough to see the sun come over the ridge (I’ll save that for next month); I just wanted to beat the crowd. I’m not really going to hike—I don’t even bring my water bladder or lunch— I just want to be on the mountain. I drive past the gate house at 6:10. Door to door in 90 minutes. There’s not another car in sight.

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I’m in the Paradise parking lot at 6:40 with a few other cars. There’s a pale pink glow on the mountain, but like the last time I was here early—to scatter some of my mother’s ashes—there aren’t any clouds to bounce light off and create a spectacle. The sunrise out my living room window probably has a higher gloriosity rating this morning.

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Still, I want to get higher fast. I slam on my boots and lace them up  quickly, stick my bagged poles in my knapsack (which I end up not using until the descent) with my knee bands (I never do put them on), and zip on my jacket over my layers. The temperature forecast for Ashford last night said, “Much cooler than Sunday,” and suggested a temperature of 31 at 6:30am and a high of 36. I know better than to think it will really be that cold; for one thing, Paradise is 5000 feet closer to the sun than Ashford, and fully exposed above treeline, but it’s chilly now. I hoof it fast up the paved Alta Vista trail toward the intersection with Dead Horse Creek trail as the sun rays reach the Tatoosh.

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My plan is to walk west, because everyone else—when they show up—will be going straight up or east. Because that’s what they do. I’m heading for the Moraine trail. Virtually no one goes there, and I love it. Largely because no one goes there. It’s a sweet little meadow and glaciers right in your face. But I decide to hike on up Dead Horse Creek first and then mosey down into the meadow on the return.

I wasn’t really planning to go to Panorama Point, but oh my goddess, it is such a clear morning! Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens (who has literally no snow on her to the naked eye other than maybe, with imagination, one small dot on her right flank) are clear as a bell. And then Mt. Hood comes into view. It’s been a wet, cool summer; no major fires that I’m aware of, as there have been in past explores up here, so no smoky haze. How can I not go on up?

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Besides, I’ve already done the steepest part. Also I don’t hike this trail any more, too many people. Since my favorite bit of Paradise is on the other less populated side, I have taken to going up the middle on the Golden Gate trail, skipping the people and going straight to where I left my mother’s ashes last October. It has become my traditional last hike of the season, when the vacationers have gone back their real lives and the huckleberry, Sitka mountain ash, and heather turn orange and red.

I meet three parties coming down the trail who arrived earlier than I did. There are three women ahead of me, and a few people across a meadow on the Alta Vista trail that runs parallel to Dead Horse. That’s it.

I arrive at Panorama Point and there is no one here. When I’ve hiked this route in the past, I haven’t stopped, it’s so jam packed with people who don’t go any farther. I sit for a bit. An Asian couple arrives—staying at the Inn, I suppose—and in hesitant English tell me yesterday was very hazy. Two European women come next and we trade photo shoots. I’ve said this before, but I love the babble of languages and accents at Paradise. When I go back down, I hear plenty.

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Mount Adams
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Mount Hood
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Mount St. Helens
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The summit of Mount Rainier

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In a bodacious show of restraint, I resist the urge to head to the other side; it is really hard to turn back in this bit of heaven, but I’ll come back for it next month. I head down after using the hobbit bathroom; telling the two women that yes, it’s worth a stop there if only for the photo op from the doorway.

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It’s 9:00 and the masses are on march up the Alta Vista and Dead Horse trails now. I know the flip flop and purse crowd are on Skyline to the east. I meet 178 people as I descend. Approximately. I may have missed counting some.

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And, finally, MARMOTS! I do not take pictures of all them. Maybe. Mostly the photos don’t turn out. Like the two who had a lover’s spat then hugged to make up. Or the one coming out of its den. Or the babies. I think next year I need to get another camera.

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I’m a happy hiker when I reach the Moraine trail and leave the masses behind. It’s one of the Park’s sanctioned but not maintained trails. I’ve never seen a single soul when I’ve been on this trail, and today is no exception. It’s a hidden door that bursts open into a secret world.

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The marmots here are surely hermits, away from the fray, living in the country instead of the burbs. I want to be a hermit marmot in my next life. I think this one might be my mother.

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And there are flowers here! Except for faded asters and seed stage anemone, the rest of the mountain’s flowers are gone. But here it’s like time forgot them and they just kept on keeping on. (Also there is water here, so there is that.) There are vestiges of frost clinging to them. They aren’t long for this world; maybe tomorrow, or the next day, they will be gone.

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I hike farther than I have before, because the blow down that has stopped me in the past has been mostly cleared. So I guess it’s a little maintained.

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I go pretty nearly to the end of the trail in both directions along the moraine. A moraine, by the way, is a ridge (along with other types) formed by debris previously pushed along by a glacier and left behind after it recedes.

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On the return, I keep hearing what may or may not be cracking ice on the glaciers. It’s a little freaky. It’s nearly mid-day, and it’s why climbers ascend early in the morning and are back down by this time of day.

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I arrive back at the populated Dead Horse trail, then the downright clogged Alta Vista and Skyline trails, the Inn and the visitor’s center. And the afternoon clouds are moving in. Herself can only take so much extroversion.

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I’m driving out of the full parking lot at 11:30 and down the car-lined road. The line at the entrance to the park is almost a mile long. People are insane. Oh, was that judgemental? Actually I’m glad, it leaves the quiet to the early risers.

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And the best thing, the Base Camp Grill is open in Ashford! They generally aren’t open for lunch, but it’s a holiday! I finish the day with a salmon burger and I’m  home in time to pick apples.

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2 thoughts on “Adventure Log: Paradise on Labor Day

  1. Good for you ! There is no measurable advantage in being predictable. In a month, those beautiful green meadows will explode in color and the sun herself will take a back seat. I’ll have to make a plan for Paradise this fall, though I’m laser focused now on making it out to Huckleberry Ridge before Sunrise closes the gate. So much to see, so little time. Thanks for this lovely glimpse. 

    Liked by 1 person

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