Having had my week-long trip to Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains cut short by smoke, I wasn't really sure what to do with myself. Then, I realized that the answer was in my own backyard - or at least nearby! We've been lucky so far this year to not have a ton of smoke in Western Washington, so what better place to go hang out than the forests around Mt. Rainier. Great weather and clear skies would make it the perfect place to just go hang out and enjoy the outdoors!
So, after less than 24 hours at home - and luckily having not unpacked anything, including the fridge - from my previous outing, I was headed south for the much shorter drive to some hopefully great views.
It's at this point that I should probably mention - the photos in this trip report may be monotonous - or Mountainotonous . I had, after-all, only one subject in mind.
Initially, I'd planned to go back to the same camp site we'd found the previous summer - near Kelly Butte Lookout, as part of our Roaming Around Rainier trip - since I figured it would give me fantastic views and allow me a fun little hike up to the lookout in the morning. However, being that it was still very early in the afternoon when I passed through Greenwater on WA-410, I figured that I might as well check out a few other perspectives of the mountain first, so I headed south on ▮▮▮▮▮ where I knew I'd be even closer to the volcano.
Winding my way through Snoqualmie National Forest.
Pretty soon I was at ▮▮▮▮▮▮ Pass, and as I dropped down the south side, I couldn't help but get out for a couple quick shots.
Playing with perspective.
The mountain is just so huge.
One of the best views I've ever found of the mountain - with a fabulous little camp site that's well protected from the wind - was a little further along ▮▮▮▮▮▮ , and when I arrived, I wondered if I should just call it an afternoon and camp here, rather than trapsing all the way back to FR-70 and up to Kelly Butte.
What a spot!
I sat here, admiring the view, for more than half an hour. I probably decided - and undecided - to camp here about five times over that period.
A remnant of wetter times. Please, please, please heed fire restrictions.
Ultimately, I decided that I really should head back to my originally planned destination. Even though it was significantly further away from Mt. Rainier - and so the mountain itself would be a bit smaller in the frame - it was perched a little higher, allowing for an even greater sense of how the volcano rises up out of the lowlands. Plus, I really was looking forward to a hike the following morning.
On my way back however, I decided to explore a few side roads that we'd neglected to check out on our previous trips. I was pretty sure that they wouldn't really lead anywhere, given how they looked on my map, but I was in no rush and so followed my "I'm already in the area" mantra, full of curiosity.
Whoa! Wasn't expecting this view at all. Glad I took this side road!
It was on one of these side roads that I stumbled on a treeless cliff overlooking the mountain. I was giddy to say the least. In fact, I'm quite sure I was talking to myself as I pulled up to the edge of the cliff. "Wow." "This is crazy." "How can I be the only one here." - Probably only a few of the things that came out of my mouth.
A sweet reward for veering off of the known path.
On the edge.
For those who have followed for a while, you'll know that camping on cliffs with great views is sort of my favorite thing to do, and so once again I had a decision to make: I could camp here in this new-to-me spot that was pretty close to Mt. Rainier and had some of the best views I've found, or I could prioritize the morning hike and stick with the original plan.
I decided to postpone the decision and just enjoy the moment.
The perfect place to make a decision.
I think it probably took me a good 30 minutes to make the decision, but clearly, I opted to stay in this newly found site. The newness was a big part of it, and though I was going to miss the hike in the morning, I realized that I could - instead - go check out the road to Raven Roost that had been closed on our previous trip, due to fire.
And so, for the next six hours or so, I enjoyed a fantastic view and the changing light, from a chair on the edge of a cliff.
Decision made; tent deployed.
I'd brought along my laptop, and spent much of the time processing photos and writing up my previous trip to the Smoky Sawtooths, taking breaks now and then to just watch and listen to the world around me.
A Chinook helicopter is an enormous beast...
...until it flies in front of Mt. Rainier.
Things started to happen more quickly as the sun got lower in the sky. The atmosphere - and a bit of smoke - providing additional color, I wrapped up my writing and found myself dancing from place to place, snapping more photos than I could count. I had no idea how I'd choose to keep one over the other.
Evening. It's starting.
Orange rays into the valley.
Only the mountain illuminated.
For a while, I just let the camera do the work on the tripod while I soaked it all in.
Blue giving way to a nice purple hue.
It was 9:30pm when I finally turned on the lights and started getting ready for bed.
Before going to bed, I realized that it would be a great night to get a photo of the Milky Way, with Mt. Rainier in the background. Moonrise (of a quarter moon) was slated for 11:45pm, and that would do a great job of illuminating the foreground, but still allow for dark enough skies to capture the Milky Way as it passed over the mountain.
An OK shot.
Having gotten everything set up - the lens focused at infinity and set to manual focus, the intervalometer and settings all configured just the way I wanted them - I headed to bed and set my alarm for just a bit after midnight, figuring that I could make final adjustments then, and catch the Milky Way as though it was erupting from Mt. Rainier.
At the time, everything seemed to go off without a hitch. Foreground light was good, the Milky Way was right where I'd expected it, and it looked like I was capturing everything at the right light levels as the photos displayed momentarily on the camera's rear display. Only later would I realize that I'd somehow turned the focus ring - or something - causing nearly all the photos to be blurry. Only the few I'd taken at the beginning were clear enough to salvage.
Oh well, it was still fantastic to see in person!
The Next Morning...
I was up before sunrise to catch any colorful light display that might play across the sky. I find that the hour or so before sunrise is sometimes even nicer light than the hour or so after sunset - though the colors are a bit cooler I suppose.
The Mountain was right where I left it.
Not many clouds meant that there was just a little bit of color this morning.
One of the great things about this trip - in addition to the splendid surroundings - was that the temperatures were perfect. In the 90s °F during the day, and 50s at night, things were already starting to warm up when I got out of bed, so I just lazied around for a while as I watched the sun spill across the landscape.
Still a little purple left in the sky.
Sun just starting to kiss the top of Mt. Rainier.
A lighthouse in the new day.
First sun on the Tacoma, I too was pretty high up, apparently!
I made a quick breakfast, consumed as I stood as close to the edge as I could and decided as I was washing up that I should gather a few of the wildflowers that were so prolific so I could send a virtual bouquet to @mrs.turbodb with the three bars of LTE service that I was burdened with at this awful camp site.
Flowers with a view.
Picking up again after the riff-raff. Why is there always so much shooting litter?
With my belly satisfied and camp a little cleaner than I'd found it, the only thing left to do was to pack up the tent and get underway - so that's what I did - making my way back out to WA-410 and through the tree tunnels there to Mt. Rainier National Park and Chinook Pass, on the way to NF-19 where I'd once again find myself with new ground under my tires.
Incorrect ISO turned this into a cool photo; somehow the vanishing point remained in focus and stable!
There I am again, stopped in the middle of the highway!
This road was closed - due to fire - last time we were here.
The "Jeep" trail to Raven Roost reminded me a bit of the Naches Wagon Trail might have been, had it been newly created for 4WD vehicles and not as eroded - and therefore difficult - as it's become in the last decade or two. Originally created as a buried power line road, the trail forks from - and then parallels - the much more nicely graded NF-1902 road. Snaking through the trees - usually less than a hundred feet from the road - there's not much to see for the entire length, again, like the Naches Wagon Trail.
Starting up NF-1902, I wondered if the entire trail would be like this.
Found the fork to the start of the "Jeep" trail. The initial ascent was steep - though not the steepest section - and is starting to wear down into a trough a bit, just like the Naches.
A steep, loose, rocky section provided a bit of fun, especially since I was still fully aired up!
There were only a couple places - near the top - that had any sort of view. Southerly winds were pushing smoke from the Bootleg into Washington.
Climbing the last ridge.
The last half mile or so is the most difficult - the trail composed of river rock in the volleyball-to-basketball size range, and at a reasonably steep incline. This terrain is - as usual - not very intimidating in photos, so I just bounced my way through it and soon I was perched on the roost with a whole new perspective of the same view I'd enjoyed for the last 24 hours.
Well, hello again.
Almost Soviet-style in appearance.
There wasn't a whole lot more to look at up here besides Mt. Rainier and the two communication towers that looked over the surrounding terrain, and by this point I was getting hungry for lunch, so I sped down the mountain via NF-1902 on my way to some tasty tacos for lunch.
It'd been a short trip, but a fun one. More relaxation and sitting around than I normally do, but I found it quite enjoyable to take it easy and soak in the views. After all, we often take for granted those things that are right in our own backyards.