The specter of a cowboy materializes through the fog, first the hood of his low riding brown ford pickup, then the brim and bucket of his hat. With the light diffusing behind him he’s faceless, and rolling by me he’s vanished as quickly as he appeared. The fog rolls low, so low, that visibility is a wishful thing and it certainly adds an air of mystery to the most dangerous volcano in the Cascade range.
It’s 8:00am and I’m on the mountain. I’m here! I’m the first one here! The steeply sloped green roofs and narrow bodies of the Inn and guide buildings read like a wonderful Bavarian caricature. I imagine the new leisure class gentlemen bringing their dainty lady friends in droves up the mountain, and then 10th Mountain Division being very, very cold and very, very excited (is that the word?) about the ongoing of the European theater. And then I realized the visitor center doesn’t open for another two hours, I’m not exactly sure what I’m contending with, and so I begin to walk. Up.
To my surprise the trails are paved, meticulously groomed, and I read notice about guided climbs leaving from this same trail head. Ah, to go! Take me there. But for now, I zip my rain jacket to my nose and mosey along. I come to the end of the maintained trail and think yes, this is a good place to be.
I move down through a thicket of slender pines into a slope of rocks opening up into a ridge line, and then opening up view to one of Rainier’s glaciers. The finite silence strikes me and I can’t tell the difference between the roar of the glacier melt or the wind I imagine to be whipping up in and around the indiscernible peak. Settling onto an advantageously located rock (primo ridge line viewing real estate), I pull out what I affectionately call my ‘eight layer pb&j’ (two pb&j tortillas stale, folded, and smushed into plastic container) and start poking at it with a fork. Fog plumes play and ascend over the hills ahead and it seems that the sky is trying so hard to break. The alpine meadows, one of their claims to fame being one of the snowiest places in the world, are a bounty of crimsons and dark purples and mustards and all shades of burnt orange and sienna between. Beautiful, hearty stock, I think. The rain still comes but I couldn’t give less fucks. I haven’t showered in four days, I’ve been sleeping in the back of my mobile, and eating more reconstituted pea soup in parking lots than any human probably has before. And I’m so not mad about it. I continue to sit and ponder that yes, there’s a bit of solace to be found here up on my rock, up on Mt. Rainier in Paradise, Washington, elevation: 5,400 feet.