Panhandle Gap

August 15, 2015.

12 mi | 3000′ ele. gain | 6.75 hr

Rick wanted to go to Mt. Rainier National Park. For climbing, of course, but not to the summit of Rainier. Instead to a lesser peak, a jumble of rocks really, called Cowlitz Chimneys. Our chances of doing this in a day (on THIS day) was pretty slim, but we’d already committed to the dates so we were going. The weather was pure misery: rain, fog and rain/fog. It was summer. Or so the calendar said.

We started at o’dark-thirty to get the most of our day. Last night we camped in a cramped, flooded campsite and got okay sleep. At least now I was fed and on my feet.

We walked, mostly oblivious to our surroundings. At every vista, our faces were in the clouds. I appreciated the occasional splash of color from late summer wildflowers like fireweed. By 7:45 we reached Summerland, one of those awe-inspiring meadows that postcards and jigsaw meadows are made of. But today, the low fog bank cloaked its beauty. The vegetation was bogged down with moisture and the sky was dark gray.

Continuing to Panhandle Gap, the vegetation all but went away and we found ourselves on a Martian landscape. Glacial streams poured over slate gray rock beneath slate gray skies. Everything blended together. Patches of snow clung to the cliffs, providing a constant flow of water to the tarns and creeks.

At Panhandle Gap we sat and chatted about our options. It was plenty early to tackle another objective, but we couldn’t see anything. Hoping the fog would lift, we hung out a bit and watched and waited. Nothing.

Marmots teased us from the rocks as we retreated.

A long day in the mountains is never wasted. We made the right call. Mountain weather can be tricky to predict days in advance, let alone months in advance. So when trying to coordinate outings with certain people, sometimes it won’t go the way you’d hoped. I was happy to have had some time to hike with Rick and to see an unfamiliar place, in any kind of weather.

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