Yesterday I hiked to what, I believe, is the highest elevation any Cronkright has yet hiked, a staggering 7500 ft. above sea level. I could be wrong though on holding the record (how high was that trail in Hawaii?), but I certainly achieved a new personal best. In fact, I achieved that when I stepped out of the car in the parking lot!
Where, do you ask, was I hiking? Well, I'll tell you. I was trekking up the Muir Snowfield on the flank of Mt. Rainier. I'll post a full description of my adventure in an upcoming post. But for now, I'd like take a moment and give some appreciation the pursuits of altitude.
The more I hike trails and climb mountains, the more I discover what my favorite types of trails are. I'll hike just about anywhere, but Alpine hiking is definitely the pinnacle experience for me. And, while I enjoy climbing all manner of peaks, I find the most excitement climbing the ones with snow on top. For some mountains, this means climbing them only during late fall through early spring. In fact most guide books specifically tell you to only tackle some mountains from June to August (usually to protect the unprepared, but not always). But for other mountains, like where I was hiking yesterday, the snow can always be found if you just hike high enough.
There's just something about suiting up with snowboots and snowpants, and then strapping on crampons (or in my case, YakTrax, the poor man's crampons) and gaiters, and taking on the extreme terrain of the alpine trails. Its magical and charming, yet extreme and adventurous. To feel your feet sinking in the snow, and to experience the radiant wonder of the mountain views, is incomparable. The Muir Snowfield is like the bunny hill of mountaineering, but for me its a place to imagine I'm ascending Mt. Everest, or tackling the Vincent Massif. I feel like I'm a part of some great expedition. Its a taste of whats to come.
In fact, I got a great taste of the future when I reached a certain altitude where the flora disappeared. For the first time ever I had climbed high enough that I was above the treeline. There was nothing around me but snow and a few exposed volcanic rocks. The treeline is what separates mountaineering from traditional hiking. It really was a special moment.
As I said, I'll post a full report, complete with pictures of my climb, and either before or after that I'm going to write another musing on the significance of altitude. But for now, I'll leave you with a little teaser.