Last weekend I had the privilege of spending a night snow camping with the Pacific Northwest Outdoor Women group (PNWOW). PNWOW is “an inclusive community of passionate, adventurous women from the PNW”, and they plan adventures, provide a community for women to share stories, seek advice and discuss outdoor issues. One such event is the Beginning Level Snow Camping at Paradise, Mount Rainier National Park. This event promised to teach those with minimal snow camping background how to survive, and enjoy a backcountry winter camping experience.
We met at 9:30 on Saturday and left the mountain by 11:00 on Sunday, providing for a full 24 hours at the national park. The road from Longmire to Paradise closes nightly at 5:00 pm, effectively closing us in overnight. It was the perfect scenario to test my gear kit, learn some pivotal skills and meet a ton of wonderful, supportive and engaging women. Part one is below, covering Saturday and part 2 is soon to follow!
PNWOW: Facebook | Instagram
Meeting at Longmire
Juvenile elk sparred over perceived slights in a golden field, as we waited for our coffee at a small stand outside of Eatonville. They disappeared into the mist and we continued driving through sleepy towns, waking in the morning light. We were getting ever closer to our destination, yet still had not managed to see two rather pivotal features: snow and Mount Rainier herself. Given that this was supposed to be a trip to learn about snow camping on Mount Rainier, this was a little concerning. The ranger waved us through the soggy entrance and we sped through the evergreen forest, desperately peering out for a glimpse of the mountain.
You may recall that my last trip to Mount Rainier was in a cloud bank. And the most recent trip, and the one before that too. In fact, only one snowshoe so far has had more than 100′ of visibility. I am all for hiking in variable weather, but I was really hoping for a dry day with some views.
Unfortunately, the Longmire parking lot was coated in a wet, drizzly haze. 30 women ready to learn and 6 ready to teach huddled under Subaru liftgates, umbrellas, and Goretex, as we tried to keep our layers dry. After discussing the plans for the next day, gathering permits and figuring out parking, we began a caravan up to the lower overnight parking lot at Paradise, Mount Rainier. We slowly gathered our gear, hoisting 45lb packs onto our backs and waddling up the paved road. As soon as my car was locked and ready to be abandoned for 24 hours, the clouds parted, the sun pushed through and the misty morning was all but forgotten as we continued to have an absolutely incredible weather window.
I felt a tremendous sense of power knowing I had everything I needed to survive a night in the snow on my back (hopefully). I did prepare an oh shit kit in my car, including my Fairbanks parka rated to -40°F, an extra sleeping bag, down blanket and about 40 hand warmers, in case I grossly miscalculated my gear needs. While the forecast was 44°F during the day and 37°F at night, which is very warm in the winter, for those of you keeping track, I was really unsure about how the cold, wet snowpack would factor into it all.
This was also the first time I was camping solo. Of course, I was not alone at the campsite, rather the opposite, sharing a field with 35 other women. This was the first time I was not sharing gear with anyone and needed to bring everything on my back. When Michael and I backpack, one of us usually carries the bear can and food supplies, while the other carries the shelter. I found I was stretching my pack’s capabilities as I struggled to fit a bear can, 9lb tent, stove system, shovel, microspikes, and snowshoes into every little pocket. First lesson of snow camping: someone to share a tent with is a really nice thing.
Setting up camp
When we arrived at paradise, the rain stopped, clouds parted and sun pushed through. As we waited in the parking lot for the rest of the group to arrive, Mount Rainier revealed herself in all of her splendor.