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jrmacd2
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PostMon Jan 04, 2021 2:14 pm 
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I take a while to get my trip reports together, and I'm long winded smile.gif. Gear List for those interested

The forecast is for clear skies and reasonably cold nights(lows in the mid 20s), ideal weather for my first snow camping trip in six years.  I work for a school, so I have the week of Christmas off, while my partner does not, so I decide it is time to get back out in the winter. After hemming and hawing and trolling for suggestions online,  I finally settle on Reflection Lakes on Mt Rainier.


I arrive at the Longmire Wilderness Information Center around 10am, an hour after the gates up to Paradise have opened.  Part of my hemming and hawing about going to Rainier was that those gates close at 5pm every day, to allow the snow plows to have free rein at night to keep them clear. Once they close, if you are on the other side, you are there until they open again.

The other was that there had been a significant dumping of snow two nights before, and while the roads are plowed, they are not salted, so a packed snow base layer can persist until the sun and enough traffic have melted it off. I carry the required tire chains, but have never had to put them on, and I wonder if today will be the first time.

I register with the ranger, who tells me that there will be one other party up at the lakes today, and Iím on my way.

Just before the bridge over the Nisqually River, the signs indicated that chains are required on all vehicles, excepting those with all wheel drive and the proper tires. I doubt my Honda CRV Zipcar has been equipped with mud and snow tires, so I pull into the parking lot, and to my relief, have the chains on in under 10 minutes.

The chains hum on the road as I cross the ice and snow coated bridge, but itís not much farther to the parking lot at Narada Falls.

I find what might be the last legal overnight spot in the parking lot.  Overnighters are required to park on one side of the lot, so snowplows know where to watch out for them when making their rounds, but those parking spots are not restricted to ONLY overnight parking, and so they are full of day hiker cars. If Iíd shown up much later, I might have been stuck waiting for someone to leave.

After using my Garmin Inreach Mini to send my partner a pin of my starting point,  I headed off on the trail from Narada Falls to Reflection Lakes. It is short, only two miles, well trodden(I could have booted it) and well marked.

All around me it sounds like rain as the suns warms warms the icicles clinging to the bows of the trees and the drips tinkle down through the branches.

I make the lakes in under an hour. I find a previous campers site right along the shore of the larger lake, fairly large, probably that group of adults and teens I passed pulling makeshift pulks on their way out. One towed a full size propane tank, and I saw the hole where it had sat in the middle of their snow kitchen.

I was tempted to set up here, or nearby, but it was nowhere near the required 200í from the road and the water, and I really do try to follow those rules.

A few snowshoers stand in the sun and eat lunch, and some skiers make their way down the road toward Louise Lake.  It was just past noon, and Iíd read that Louise Lake was a good beginners snow camp destination, so I head down that way myself.
It didnít take me long to realize that the ridge that ran above it would block any views of the mountain, so I turn around and head back up and begin circumnavigating the lakes, looking for a site with a view that met the setback requirements.  It is not easy.  Far enough from the lakes and the road puts you in the trees, which block views of the mountain.  After a trip around the larger lake, I return to a spot Iíd marked in memory(and with my snowshoe tracks) that is somewhere on the isthmus between the larger and small lake.  It is definitely 200í  from the road, and likely from the larger lake, but Iím not sure if it is quite far enough from the small lake.  Whatever.  Itís close(well, far) enough so I drop my pack and begin stomping out a platform for my tent.  (I check on Google Earth when I get home and while I was over 400í from the road and 250í feet from the large large, I fell short in being only 98í from the smaller lakes. I hereby confess my crime.)

I dig for 20 minutes with my snow shovel to level it out and create a bit of a snow wall, though it is utterly windless and supposed to stay that way.  I know from prior experience I need a specific pair of snow shoveling gloves that can get wet while my other stay dry and Iíve also packed along a pair of waterproof liner mitts. I get the tent up, and layer up my down jacket and synthetic insulated pants, and then itís about time to go back to the road with a proper view of the mountain and get set up for sunset.


I leave my snowshoes behind and boot it there, toting my camera and tripod, only postholing once.

If that other party is around, there are mute. I wonder if the group I saw on their way out had originally planned a two night outing, and bailed after one. The kids looked young, perhaps high school, and the overnight lows for the prior night had been predicted single digits up here.  So maybe one night was enough for them.

If it was summer, I can imagine I might be standing shoulder to shoulder with other photogs before getting back in my car and driving three hours home in the dark.

But now, here I am, alone as the alpenglow lights up the mountain face, five minutes walk from where I will spend the night.
I snap my photos in the cold silence. My feet grow cold, so I mentally note to bring my CCF pad to stand on for sunrise.


I try to zipper up my down jacket, but the pull breaks off.  Well, I can layer in under my soft shell then. The moon is out, stars begin to fill the sky,  I can still see the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter. Windless, the only sound is my own breathing, and the squeaky crunch of the snow as I shift my feet.

Back at camp the mountain catches the moonlight now and glows white above the trees as I prime the stove and set it roaring to melt snow for my dinner.

The temperature sensor clipped to my pack read 21F, but I am surprised how comfortable I feel sitting legs out on my ridgerest as I tend the melting snow.  I open the first of two 8 oz plastic bottles Iíve filled with Black Box Pinot Noir, while food rehydrates.
The food warms me further, and so I pull out my pillow, lay back and cross my arms across my chest and look up at the sky.  Itís 630pm.  I think my main anxiety about winter camping was; what do you do when you are alone and it gets dark at 430pm?  I assumed I would be lying in my sleeping bag, reading a book on my phone, trying to stay warm until time came to fall asleep.
But here I am laying out looking up at the stars as if it is a summer night.

I have to go take more pictures.  Iíd put down booties on at this point, and hiking back to the road would be putting my boots back on, which would mean taking off the rain pants Iíd layered on, but if I didnít Iíd regret it.
By the red light of my headlamp, tripod and camera in one and and ridgerest tucked under the other, I boot it back to the road.  My fingers become painfully cold as the carbon fiber legs of the tripod draw the heat out of them, trying to find equilibrium.  I wait slightly too long to stop and put on insulated mitts, but when I do, my fingers warm up, and I take comfort in knowing how cold I can get and still recover unharmed.

Iíd never taken long night exposures before, and I become absorbed in playing around with the settings, stopping every so often to look around wonder at the fact that I really am out here all by myself(though in truth, only two miles back to my car)and before I know it, itís almost 9pm.
Back to camp and more stargazing.  I wonder if I could sleep out here sans quilt and bivy sack, would the clothes I wore be enough?  Itís been an hour and I feel fine, but I know sleeping my metabolism will slow even more and it will get colder out(Itís 17F at 10pm) so I pull up my inflatable the Thermarest and quilt stuff bivy sack and make a cowboy camp and slowly fall asleep with the assistance of the second bottle of wine.

I wake an hour or two later and I realize I need to move in to the tent, as the clear skies and calm winds will lead to radiant cooling and Iíll wake up covered in frost. I leave the tent door open so when I wake up, I can sneak a peak at the mountain.

I rise at 445am with my usual weekday alarm. Using insulated clothes as part of a sleep system(my quilt is rated for 30F) has itís advantages in that it makes it a lot easier to crawl out of bed into what my watch is telling me is a 14F morning(inside the tent).

I trod over to where Iíve stored my bear canister(even in the winter hard sided canisters are required to keep out foxes and stellar jays jays) before melting snow from morning coffee and another rehydrated meal.

Then it is back to the road for the sunrise.  I have trouble getting the frost off my camera lens and realize Iím probably using it below is minimum temperature rating, but it works okay otherwise.


After the drama of the night sky, the sunrise feels almost anticlimactic, and so by 815am Iím heading back to pack up.  Iím in no rush, I canít hit the road earlier than 9am(when the gates open and the plows are on the lookout for civilians) so I heat more water for coffee and watch as a gray jay poked around for any dropped morsels.
It was around 10am when I started back to the car, and I run into a lot of people heading in, a Christmas Eve snowshoe on a quarantined Christmas.

The car is where I left it, and, as I see cars heading up the road chainless, I figure it is safe to take mine off before I head down. To my relief, they come up with ease and after sending out and A-Okay message to my partner, Iím off down the mountain toward home. 
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TheWanderingIndian
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PostMon Jan 04, 2021 11:15 pm 
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Awesome report man! Good to see another winter camper. Those winter nights can be cold for sure, but man were you rewarded with some gorgeous alpenglow! Gotta love rainier in the winter time!
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timberghost
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PostTue Jan 05, 2021 5:55 am 
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You might invest in a nice transistor radio. I find it quite comforting a good way to pass the time during the long hours of darkness.
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BigBrunyon
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PostTue Jan 05, 2021 11:58 am 
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Here's the deal with a snow camp. It gets cold so you need to ensure a Big Bag for sleeping. Ensure local restaurant options prioritize the big plate style. Big options for after.

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YOU NEVER KNOW!!
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williswall
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PostThu Jan 07, 2021 11:47 am 
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I miss The Angry Hiker

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Forum Index > Trip Reports > Reflection Lakes Snow Camp 12/23-24/2020
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