Sunday, June 27, 2010

Partway to Mount Beljica

June 27 - The first hike I planned at Mount Rainier was actually outside the park, a steep hike up Mount Beljica. It would be a two miles each way (four miles round trip) as an out and back. I studied the route on my topo map and in my guidebook, and wondered it I would run into snow. I finally decided that there was no way there would still be snow up there this late in June, and a lot of the trail seemed to be south facing. I've been wrong before, and could not have been more wrong this time.

I should have turned back on the drive up to the hike along very steep, very narrow, very rutted and potholed gravel roads. I was driving a small rental sedan with low clearance, and went very slowly. When I finally got there and an SUV pulled in next to me, the driver said "I didn't think if was possible to get such a low clearance vehicle up here. You must be a very skilled driver." I think that was a nice way of him saying "you must be out of your blooming mind!"

But I was there, the trail conditions looked great, and I started hiking. Two miles ahead, and 1,100 feet up lay the summit of Mount Beljica. If I were lucky, I would have great views of Mount Rainier at the top. The trail climbed steadily through the woods.

I came on a pretty trillium...

And a while after that, something not as pretty but very interesting: mountain lion scat!

I came on a really pretty view at a switchback, back to the west. It was a little reward for all the climbing, and so far, there was no snow to be seen. I was feeling hopeful about doing this hike. I bet I was right about the south facing slopes clearing off.

But when I caught up and passed a party ahead, I began to get nervous. They were crossing a very steep and deep patch of snow. "Well," thought I, "I can get across this OK."

I continued hiking up the path, running into more and more snow patches to cross. Then, as if a switch had been thrown, I walked into a winter wonderland. Back in Ole Virginny, it was 100 degrees F. and here I was next to a partially frozen lake. My destination, Mount Beljica, loomed high above the lake in the distance:

The woods all around were covered in deep snow. It looked like Maine in February, and the evergreen trees were so pretty against the snow.

I trudged through the snow for about 5 minutes, trying to figure out which way the trail went. It wasn't clear to me. I knew that I still had to climb 600 feet, part of it a scramble up and over a very rough and steep mountain according to the guidebook. The snow would only likely get deeper as I climbed. I was by myself, and totally dependent on myself alone in a very rugged near-wilderness. I had run a half marathon just the day before, at a personal best pace, and my legs were feeling the effects of that. After thinking about it, common sense - not always a trait I am accused of having - won out over the desire to press on. I reluctantly decided to head back and find another hike.

As I mulled this over, the party that I passed caught up to me. I asked them about a route to the top, and they told me that they didn't know, and were turning back as well. They had not expected the deep snow either. They kindly snapped a shot of me with Lake Christine and Mount Beljica in the background, then I turned around and headed back the way that I came.

Here is a topo map with my out and back route, represented in 3-D, as captured by my PN series DeLorme GPS and mapped by DeLorme Topo USA. My route was about 1.6 miles and I climbed just about 500 feet. The blue pushpin represents the approximate location of Lake Christine as I mapped it back home before going to Washington. I think I was pretty close.


  1. Its amazing you can find snow when it's 100 degrees here!!
    Looks and sounds like a great hike!!

  2. I was thinking the same thing. People back east were sweltering and I was walking in snow. And I really wasn't all that high up.

  3. i'm impressed you know what moutain lion scat looks like. i must show you my photos from yellowstone and jackson hole sometime. the great american west is just nature at its best. i must get back there.

  4. Hi Faith - Well, I knew it was a big predator and it didn't look like bear or wolf (which don't live in that area, anyway). Then I asked the group of hikers that I ran into when they reached the frozen lake, and that is what they said.

    Yellowstone and Grand Tetons are so gorgeous. We can share pictures of those places! Just beautiful. Art