When I first woke up I almost second guessed my game plan, as one does when warm and cozy in their bed. The covers seem extra heavy…Should I stay in bed awhile longer, then head to my friends’ house to watch my team’s first playoff game, or stick with my original intentions of getting up early to head to the mountain for a day of sunshine and exercise? Summoning every bit of resolve I could muster, I got up and double checked the previous night’s forecast with a peek outside. Looking back at me was the mountain, gilded in blushing pink morning light with nary a cloud in sight. My decision became obvious.
Prior to my early morning wavering, I had decided to take my newly-minted teenager and her best friend up to Mt. Rainier for a ranger-guided snowshoe trip. Both girls are gymnasts and have been known to possess the energy-level of highly caffeinated puppies, so exercising them regularly is essential. However, being teenagers, they do like to sleep in. Since these guided trips are first-come-first serve, I wanted to make sure we got to the mountain in a timely manner. I rewarded their early rising with 16 ounces of sugar and caffeine, hoping I’d not come to regret it.
Mt. Rainier National Park offers two scheduled ranger-guided snowshoe trips per day on weekends in the winter. These excursions take place at Paradise, include snowshoes, and are free to the first 25 people who sign up.
We arrived at 10:20 a.m. with hopes of joining the 11 a.m. trip. I dropped the girls at the entrance of the Jackson Visitor Center to get our names on the list while I parked. A few minutes later they appeared wide-eyed at the door of the truck to tell me to hurry up, there were only five spots left on the register.
We met our guide, Ranger Curt, in the lower level of the Visitor Center near the topographical map, for a briefing of our trip, and some Q & A prior to departure. How cold does the weather get here? How far are we from Mt. St. Helens? The snowfall record is 93.5 feet. Questions answered and statistics given, Ranger Curt deputized us ‘Superintendents for the Day,’ and we headed to a back room in the Visitor Center to grab a pair of snowshoes.
“If you can walk, you can snowshoe,” Ranger Curt assured us. We took the 1.8 mile Nisqually Vista trail. “Try not to step on the back of anyone else’s snowshoes,” he cautioned and recommended that siblings not follow one another. I made sure to give the girls a knowing look as we took off.
Along the way, our group of honorary superintendents learned about some of the decisions we would have had to make about the previous visitor center, and what to do about the pesky persistence of begging Cascade Red Fox. We saw the weather station that has been recording the mountain’s climate activity for the past century and stopped at various viewpoints to learn about the topography, flora, and fauna of the area.
Fully sugared and caffeinated the girls traveled at the front of the pack, hot on Ranger Curt’s heels. Along the way, they managed to augment their experience with snowball fights, snow angels, snow blowing and snow consumption, despite advisement against the latter. At our final viewpoint, they even read aloud some of the poetic verses and proverbs Ranger Curt had brought for the occasion. “Can I please read it in a Brit’ish accent Mummy?” Oh, please do.
Back at the Jackson Visitor Center, we ate lunch in the cafeteria, taking the sugar level down a notch and warming ourselves with soup and chili dogs.
Ranger guided snowshoe trips are offered on weekends between December and March, as weather allows. Each excursion lasts about two hours. A $5 donation is appreciated to help offset the cost of snowshoe purchases and repairs. Don’t forget sunglasses, sunscreen and layers of clothing. Snow or hiking boots are recommended footwear. Organized and school groups can arrange a private tour with reservations. For more information, call 360-569-6575 during Jackson Visitor Center business hours.
Find more information on Ranger-Led Snowshoe Tours at Paradise.