A completely unplanned solo hike to the top of Mt. Rainier. Full disclosure, I didn’t make it to the summit. However, I did safely(ish) make it back down to the bottom with some damn good stories. Sharing a sunset with a goat 9000' up the tallest peak in the continental US surely qualifies.
Let’s start from the beginning.
I worked Saturday, teaching a large group how to properly install Christmas lights at residential homes. It was a blast, but it put a dagger through the heart of my prior plans to camp over the weekend.
When I got home I went full-on lazy mode. Ordered a pizza, had Uber deliver some Emerald City, and spent the rest of the night playing Paper Mario and Wind Waker. Twas quite nice.
Continuing the lazy bum theme, I woke up Sunday at... 11:00am. Showered, grabbed the bear essentials for adventuring, and headed out with no destination in mind. And promptly turned around because my ticking time-bomb of an engine sounded like it had a lit fuse. Topped the oil off with some 5w-30—not quite the 0w-40 that was already in the engine but it was all I had on hand and it would have to do. Drove around a bit and the ticking faded, which was good enough for me to award the Miata with a “seal of roadtrip worthiness”. We were off, adventures awaiting.
Aside from the oil leaks alluded to above, the Miata is currently in rough shape mechanically. Which is why I decided to drive it 300 miles round-trip to a mountain with zero cell coverage. But you know what? Not a single issue was experienced. I’m starting to think the Miata will run forever on *trust*, *friendship*, and a bit of oil here and there.
This roadster is the best adventure car in the world, in the sense that it will increase the fun-factor of anything you do tenfold.
It’s the WORST adventure car in the sense that it assaults your body on multiple fronts during the drive, each attack growing stronger and stronger as the miles add on. Let me explain.
Hearing. From the outside, she sounds good. Surprisingly good. Miata’s are not known for a pleasing tone, but then again most Miata drivers don’t have the combination of Japan-sourced Fujitsubo exhaust, and multiple fist-sized muffler dents from offroading. All I’m saying is it works. Loud but not obnoxious. I’ll pass 5-10 Subaru’s a day much louder than me. From the inside however... Good god. It’s a constant drone not helped by the fact that highway cruising brings you past 4k rpm. The wind noise is monstrous with the top down and damn near unbearable with the top up. Road noise is equally invasive, due in no small part to the budget winter tires still going strong. Drive thirty minutes and you’ll have a slight ringing in your ears. Drive an hour and it will take 15 minutes for your hearing to recover. Drive three hours and you’ll stumble out of the crazy-kart sized door—exhausted and in pain—needing a day spent laying around at home in a dark room to recover.
Space. With the cramped quarters inherent to Mazda’s design you’d think space would be a real killer, causing you to cramp up and curse the woeful ergonomics you’re forced to endure.
That’s not really the case though. Sure, things were tight, but Mazda did a good job making sure you were comfortable. Clearly someone with an understanding of the human body helped them choose their interior layout.
Now, my particular car... Is a bit different. The Bride bucket seat actually gains me about 5 inches of legroom and 2 inches of headroom, which sounds fantastic right? Problem is, I never stopped to consider the effect messing with the height of the seat vs the length to reach the pedals vs the angle of your knee vs the level of recline, etc. Would have on overall comfort.
I fucked up. Sure, I’ve got more space, but it puts my body in a position that becomes quite painful over time. With the current seating position, my natural relaxed lower body wants to have the gas pedal pegged to the floor. To keep that from happening, I have to keep my right leg muscles tight. After three hours of that I’m begging to get out. In addition, despite a very pleasant clutch, after about half an hour my left knee starts to ache. That one is probably 50/50 bad seating position and prior injuries. Lastly, because of the space constraints, I couldn’t get the seat mounted on-center with the wheel. It’s about an inch closer to the passenger side than it should be, and rotated slightly towards the driver side. The slight twist just adds to the issues above.
I’ve managed to fix those problems, though not without tradeoffs.
For the sound, I’ve been rocking noise-canceling wireless earbuds. Truly a gift from God. I can drive hours on end—listening to some sweet tunes—and arrive at my destination feeling fresh. The con is I lose audio cues from the environment.
For the seating position I tried something new. I didn’t use the clutch. At all.
300 miles of driving, and I didn’t step foot on the clutch a single time. Instead I kept my left foot tucked up UNDER the clutch, resting against the firewall. This let me fully extend my left leg, and brace in such a way as to allow my right leg some relief too. Took a minute to figure out rpms to shift without a clutch, but once I got it down it was about as smooth as normal shifting and only a bit slower. Cons, I would imagine this introduces more wear to something, right?
So, earbuds in, Clutch off-limits, it was time to pick a place. I saw a corner of the Mt. Rainier map peeking out of my glove box and made my decision. Fuck yeah.
It’s a bit of a drive to get there, but only a small portion of it is on the highway. The rest is going through fun back roads and semi-rural towns until you hit the Mt. Baker National Forest that precedes Mt. Rainier.
My first rest stop was at Skookum Falls, where I learned the origin of the word! Neat!
The water is white from mud and clay, quite different from the other bodies of water in the area... #foreshadowing
Next stop was Lake Louise. Breath-taking, and my panorama taken from atop a 50 foot rock scramble hardly does it justice. Seen from the road, it’s the most beautiful emerald color you could imagine. Trees on three sides, a small sandy beach, and a massive cliff with a Marmot-infested rock garden at the bottom. Despite being only a short walk through the woods, it’s incredibly easy to miss and as such is almost always empty.
You really do meet more friends when you’re alone. This little guy not only hammed it up for the camera, he also brought a buddy!
After lake Louise I drove up to Paradise, where I would abandon ship and test out my own drivetrain for awhile. But first... Snack break!
End of August/early September is a great time to hangout on Rainier. The snow line is relatively high, the temps stay above freezing until you cross 10,000', and the wildflowers are still in bloom. Wind chill is still a bitch, but you can’t escape from that.
Made it to the trailhead and found this handy little sheet telling me what I needed. Let’s see how many I’ve got.
Map of the area? Yes. 1/1. The Mt. Rainier map is the best map I’ve ever seen for a state park. Easy to read, fully featured, beautiful.
Compass? No. 1/2. Genuine question. In this day and age do people still use a compass on hikes? Between your phone and and a standalonesatellite GPS for the truly hardcore, does the compass still hold a place in a hiker’s gearbag?
Extra food and water? Yes. 2/3. 64oz of water, and a protein shake with 60 grams of protein and about 8 grams of carbs.
First aid kit? Yes. 3/4. Electrical tape to close wounds. Good enough.
Flashlight? Eh... We’re calling this a “no”. 3/5. While I did have a phone with a flashlight, I spent so much time taking pictures that my battery was too low to use my flashlight by the time the sun went down. Fail.
Sunglasses and sunscreen? No and no. 3/6.
Pocket knife? No. 3/7. I haven’t had a good edc pocket knife in years and I reaaaaally need to fix that.
Extra clothing and rain gear? Yes! 4/8. I started the hike with Keen hiking boots, thick wool socks, basketball shorts, cotton t-shirt. At 6400' I added a down vest as I entered a cloud. At about 6900' I added a thick rain jacket to keep the brutal winds at bay. Another hundred feet or so I put the hood up, sinched the straps tight, and stuffed icy hands in pockets. I normally do winter hikes in a thin underlayer and a down vest. I was honestly surprised at how cold it got up here.
Emergency shelter? No. 4/9.
Matches in a fireproof container? No. 4/10.
So... 40% prepared? Meh. I had food, water and clothing. Those are the important ones. I’ll take it!
I made it to the trailhead at 5:00pm. After consulting with my map, I drew out the route I wanted to try, tightened my laces and set off. Hit Myrtle falls first, then continued up the Golden Gate Trail. That intersects the Skyline Trail, and after following that for awhile I turned north and continued up towards Camp Muir. Camp Muir isn’t on this trail map unfortunately (I didn’t have the full Rainier map with me), but the section in orange is where I started the Camp Muir trek. About 7:00pm at that time.
Hiking pictures. So many beautiful hiking pictures.
Pictures near the top are nonexistent as I wanted to keep hands in pockets. That wind chill was brutal. From a casual stroll in a T-shirt to “one. More. Step. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. Keep going. Keep going! KEEP GOING.”
Made it back down to the bottom at 10:00pm. Had a three hour drive home, hauled ass and chopped off half an hour. Passeth the fucketh out upon arrival. Not a bad day. Next time I’m here the roads will be snowy, and the Miata will be lifted.