We pull into a dark parking lot at 5:05 a.m. We are at the White River Campground at 4,232 feet on the northeast side of Mount Rainier. My mom and I put our hiking boots on, enjoying the last few seconds of comfort in the car. After a couple more sips of coffee, we hop out, fix our skis into A-frames, pop our ski boots into the bindings, switch on our headlamps, toss the keys under the tire, and head into the darkness.
I follow my mom, or rather a large pack with two little feet poking out from the bottom, as we meander through the forest up Glacier Basin. It is a quiet morning; the birds haven’t even started chirping. But as we turn a corner we hear the roar of the river of glacial melt cascading down the valley to my left. It’s a harsh reminder of the warm, dry winter we’ve been trying so hard to forget.
We’ve been walking for an hour, and still no snow. I am eager to put my skis and boots on to shed some weight for the major part of the ascent. We take a quick break and my mom hands me a peanut-butter cup. I perk up; at 20 years old I can still have my mood drastically altered by a piece of candy.
We hit snow just as the sun starts to peek over the mountain into the rose-colored sky. After a two-hour approach to the base of the glacier, we are both relieved to put our skis on. The light is starting to spread and I get into a rhythm, listening to the swoosh of my skins against the snow. I follow my mom’s zigzags up the glacier as it gets steeper, breathing hard to keep up.
Finally, at 11 a.m., after two and a half hours of driving, three hours of hiking, and what will be two lost toenails (one mine, one my mom’s), we reach our high point and rip skins. I let my mom go first—it is Mothers’ Day after all—and watch her carve smooth turns, whooping and hollering the whole way down. She stops and gives me a wave, and I push off, carving my own turns into the glacier, just like my mom taught me.
>Follow WA 410 E to Mount Rainier's White River entrance. Park in the climbers’ lot at the White River Campground. Call 360-569-6670 for conditions.
By Lily Krass