17 July 2016

Partly to Perfectly Cloudy

A misty morning on Rampart Ridge.
I've seen a lot more of clouds than of mountains this summer, and I couldn't be happier about it.

The Pacific Northwest is known for its clouds. Even the summers, which are normally pretty dry, typically see their fair share of cloudy days. Last summer, that wasn't the case though. The stifling heat that baked the region also burned off the clouds, making for a seemingly endless string of bright, sunny days and clear views of the mountains. Although those views were nice, the unusual weather grew old. That's why I have no complaints about my cloudy experiences with the mountains this year.

The clouds have defined my hikes at, near, and on Mount St. HelensMount Hood, and Mount Rainier in 2016. In fact, I'd go so far as to say they have made those experiences perfect. The most recent hike was on the Rampart Ridge Trail near Longmire at Mount Rainier. We had heavy cloud cover for the whole hike, but the trail and the conditions could not have been better suited for each other.

Rampart Ridge (the Ramparts for short) formed from a lava flow off the mountain, but it is below the tree line, so unlike some other hikes on Mount Rainier, it is covered by forest, including some massive old-growth trees at the lower levels. Even on clear days, the trail along the ridge has only a few clear views of the mountain. That's okay because the forest is the real show. Our cloudy day made sure we remembered that.

Within the trees, we found a lively, colorful ecosystem. The undergrowth, glowing green with moss and vine maple, housed Douglas squirrels and birds. We heard the haunting calls of varied thrushes and saw cute wildflowers and fungi. Then, there were the clouds. We hiked high enough to meet them and were fortunate to walk through their mist. At one of the open areas, we looked across Kautz Creek to see Pyramid Peak shrouded in fog. We also received a visit from a gray jay. As we moved through the old growth sentries near the end of the hike, we came upon a barred owl.

The clouds never let us see Mount Rainier. Instead, they helped us focus on the best of what the Ramparts had to offer, enclosing a magnificent world all its own.

All in all, it's been perfectly wonderful to have the clouds back in the Pacific Northwest this summer.

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