Friday, August 25, 2017

Eclipse 2017: In Celebration of a Family Farm, Friends, and Pure Awe

The "diamond ring" emerging from totality. Photo by Allen Denver.

In today's hyper-speed news cycles, the 2017 total eclipse that sliced across the USA on August 21 is old news. But in the days since, I've been replaying that amazing 1 minute and 48 seconds in my mind, lingering over the too-brief spectacle.

It was the most thrilling, mind-bending, magnificent natural event I've ever experienced.

The bonus? It capped a wonderful weekend on a family farm in the Willamette Valley filled with happy, interesting people, great food, and kick-back fun.  Life doesn't get much better.

Over 40 people and 7 dogs converged on the farm situated conveniently in the path of totality. We ranged in age from 6 to almost 80. Many of us pitched tents in the orchard, some slept in RVs and campers, while others lodged in the barn.

As people arrived over several days from Seattle, Portland, and even Santa Cruz, California, it was fun to meet old friends and make new ones. As Tonia said, it was like "a family reunion with the people you like even though some of us had never met."

Some went hiking and exploring in this beautiful, pastoral patch of the valley near Silverton, and some stayed close to relax, cook, or read. Several kids picked fat, sun-ripened blackberries for pie, which hostess extraordinaire Mary Lou helped them make.

The taste of late summer in the Pacific Northwest.

Although there was a possibility of clouds, I awoke before sunrise on Monday morning and peeked out of my tent to see sweet clear skies. As fast as possible, I threw on a fleece sweater and jeans, grabbed my cameras, and ran out in the morning quiet to shoot the sunrise, my favorite time of day.

Eclipse day sunrise - minus 4 hours.

After another hearty breakfast of farm fresh bacon, eggs, fruit, pancakes, and more, the anticipation edged up several notches.  We spread out in a couple open fields and patches with good views to the east, set up chairs and cameras, got out our eclipse glasses, and watched as the moon slowly crept across the sun in tiny but increasingly large increments.

Sheet spread out to catch the post-eclipse wave shadows.
About half an hour in, the light started to visibly dim, the temperature dropped, and a slight breeze picked up. I reached for my jacket and put it on.

As the moon encroached more over the sun, the light was unlike anything I've seen, as if someone turned down the dimmer switch in the sky.

Shortly before totality the roosters started crowing, and I heard what sounded like an owl hooting from the patch of woods behind the field. A short hush fell while the last sliver of light faded from view, as if everyone held an intake of breath for an extra second.

When I could no longer see any light at all through the eclipse glasses, I tore them off.

That first stunning glimpse of a big black circle in the black sky, surrounded by the white glow of the sun's corona shimmering outward in delicate filaments of light, will forever be seared in my mind. 

(For you art history types, it reminded me a bit of the dramatic crown of thorns in Grunewald's famous Eisenheim alterpiece, only more exquisitely gossamer.)

All the photos I've seen don't quite capture it. But they're close.

Totality. Photo by Allen Denver.
People whooped, I heard what sounded like a bomb or fireworks go off in the distance, and I found myself bouncing around, saying to no one in particular, "THIS IS SO AWESOME!!"

I'd heard people say to look around, so I did. In this instant predawn/dusk, there was a tinge of red on the horizon in every direction. 

Then I grabbed my camera and snapped some shots, put the camera down, put on my regular sunglasses and gazed up at that wondrous sight above again. I remember thinking, if this was a few thousand years ago and I didn't know what caused this, it would be a fearsome sight indeed.

Far too soon totality was over. I wanted more.

Some of us drove away quickly to try and beat traffic (no such luck) and some people stayed another night at the farm. I waited until after dinner and headed north at 6 pm. After 8 long hours on the road without a break, I pulled up to my home in Seattle at 2 a.m.

Of course I want to see another total eclipse now. Next time I wouldn't try to take any photos and would instead focus more on the sun and surrounding sky during totality, without sunglasses. I'd heard conflicting things about the safety of viewing without any protective lenses during totality (consensus: it's safe). As a result, I missed seeing the stars in the background around the sun.

So how about you? Did you make it to the totality zone and see this spectacular phenomenon? If so, how did you react or feel? Would love to hear about your experience in a comment below.

And perhaps Chile in 2019?
Photo by Allen Denver.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.

Thanks to Allen Denver for letting me use some of his great eclipse photos. And extra special thanks to our generous and gracious hosts Mary Lou and Ben.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Hiking Mt. Rainier: Burroughs Mountain

"It's a five-wow day!" says my friend Mark as we're pulling into the Sunrise parking lot on Mt. Rainier. With blue skies overhead, a pleasant 70-ish degrees, and a day of hiking ahead, it doesn't get much better.

For maximum wow-ness, hiking up Burroughs Mountain on a bluebird day is ideal. This is my third time hiking up to Third Burroughs (beyond First and Second Burroughs to the trail's end), and each trip has been equally brilliant.

At elevation 6,400 feet on the northeast side of Rainier (which reaches 14,410 feet), Sunrise is higher and less visited than Paradise on the other side of the mountain. While several trails start and intersect here, the Burroughs Mountain trail goes the highest and closest to the jumble of crevasse-riddled glaciers on the mountain's flanks.

Even views from the parking lot are spectacular. A few weeks ago there, a visiting monk from Asia asked a friend to snap a shot of him sitting cross-legged on the pavement with Rainier in the background.

"If you don't have an ice axe and can't self arrest, the park is telling people not to hike up the Burroughs Mountain trail," says the friendly volunteer at the main trailhead. "There's snow on the trail and the potential for a dangerous slide down onto rocks."

I know they're being extra cautious. However, a couple minutes later we ask some hikers coming down the trail if they went up Burroughs.

"Yea, it's doable."

As we head up the dusty trail from Sunrise towards Frozen Lake and Burroughs beyond, we're definitely not alone. On a beautiful summer weekend, people from all over the USA and the world are out there with us Washingtonians.

Pretty much the whole trail beyond the initial stretch from Sunrise has sweeping, panoramic views. In about 1.5 miles we reach a junction just beyond Frozen Lake, and follow several other hikers on up First Burroughs.

When we arrive at the first patch of snow across the trail, it does indeed look a little dicey. I intentionally don't look down as I carefully tread on the slick, narrow track. I'm glad for my hiking poles, even though they mark me as a terminally unhip oldster.

The second and third snow crossings are shorter and easier, and soon we're atop the table-like summit of First Burroughs, with Second Burroughs not far ahead.

Atop First Burroughs

On a brilliant day like today, there's a festive atmosphere atop Second Burroughs. Everyone stops here for a break to revel in the splendid views, maybe snack and sip more water. At 6 miles roundtrip back to Sunrise, this used to be the turnaround point for most hikers, but today a steady stream is continuing on toward Third Burroughs.

Atop Second Burroughs, with Third Burroughs in the distance to the right.
After reaching elevation 7,400 feet on Second Burroughs, the trail drops about 500 feet down to a short plateau before the final, much steeper slog about 900 feet up to Third Burroughs at 7,820 feet. And today there's a significant snowfield over the trail. Onward.

Reminds me of trekking in the Himalayas
Slip-sliding up the steep snowfield is not fun. Some people were smart and brought slip-on traction for their boots. I'm lagging on the last few switchbacks before the summit, partly due to the intense sun reflecting off the high elevation snow (which gives me a bad sunburn on the back of my knees). Have I mentioned I'm a total heat wimp?

"Do you want to stop?" says Mark, being solicitous.

"I'm NOT coming this far and stopping," I shoot back, trudging up.

And then suddenly there we are, on a ridge that looks like you could hop and skip on straight up the mountain.

Which makes me feel like this:

Surprisingly, the crowds dissipate pretty quickly when we continue on a ways along the ridge. In about 30 minutes of lunching, gaping at the massive mountain/glaciers in front of us, and snapping photos, we only see one other guy up here.

On the back side of the rocky summit, the ridge drops precipitously, with a dramatic view down to the toe of Winthrop Glacier hundreds of feet below.  It has definitely retreated quite a ways since I was first here in the 1990s. (Yes, climate change is happening, and our glaciers are fast receding.)

Coming down the snowfield is much more fun than going up.  Mark zooms down in big leaping-sliding steps. So I follow, jamming my heels into the snow and sliding too.

Despite the 500 feet back up Second Burroughs, which is pretty mellow as far as climbs, the trip back is smooth sailing. We're not in a rush, so take a leisurely break on Second Burroughs again to soak it all in--this day, this hike, this massive volcano with impressive glaciers, dormant for now. Soon enough, we'll both be office-bound.

Snowfields across the trail on First Burroughs.
By the time we get back to the car, almost 7 hours have passed, about 2 hours longer than the same hike 2 years ago. We took lots of breaks, took lots of pictures, the snow slowed us down, and  I'm admittedly not in as good shape as a few years ago due to knee and foot issues. Mark's GPS indicated that we had hiked 9.9 miles.

"Do you want to walk to the end of the parking lot to hit 10 miles?" I joked. Nope. Both of us just want to liberate our feet from boots and get something cold to drink.

After Hike Eats
On the way back to Seattle, we stop at the classic Naches Tavern in Greenwater, the first town on the drive back down the mountain on Highway 410. Yea, the food is so-so (I got a grilled hot dog because they were out of veggie burgers and Mark got a cheeseburger), but the drinks are cold and there's great outdoor seating in the shade. It's worth a stop just to step inside this rustic old bar and grill, which was originally built in 1919. In the winter, it's hopping with skiers from Crystal Mountain.

Personally, I find hiking at and around Mt. Rainier exhilarating. Do you have a favorite Rainier hike?

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.  

When You Go
Although Mt. Rainier is only 53 miles from Seattle as the crow (or raven) flies, by car it's closer to 90 miles. There are a few different routes, but we took I-5 south to Auburn and cut southeast through Enumclaw and up Highway 410 to the White River entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park. We left Seattle around 7 am and got to the entrance around 9, by which time we had to wait about 15 minutes in line to enter the park. It was a sunny summer Saturday, and they restrict entrance when the parking lots fill up, so go early. Entrance to the park costs $25 for a single car, but it lasts for 7 days.

Here's a link to a map of the park and vicinity on the park's website. When hiking on the mountain, be prepared for changes in weather, even if it's a warm sunny day when you start. Now go have a wonderful hike!