Not a Goodbye, But a See You Later

Not a Goodbye, But a See You Later

I didn’t realize how much I would miss the mountain until I left for a few days. The quiet, the green, the omnipresence of the mountain watching over us even when we can’t see her. The people, the simplicity of the daily routine, the distinct lack of parking garages. This summer, living and working at Mount Rainier, has been magical.

Working on vegetation monitoring and science communication has been exciting and interesting at every turn. Having never done field work or botany before, I was thrown into a world I am thrilled to keep exploring beyond this summer. The last couple weeks have been all about our subalpine meadow monitoring field work, and there’s something so rewarding about bushwacking your way up a social trail, down a boulder field, and across some snow to get to some plots that could outlive you. The plots are nestled in hidden backcountry corners of the park, which means I’ve really gotten to know the wilderness around me, and each one has been a treasure to find and study. Puzzling over strange leaves, hiking under hot sun, dodging wasps and bear scat – it’s been hard work, but I’ve felt so lucky.

How many species can you see in this picture?
Backcountry work means stunning campsites all to ourselves every night
Our pretty subjects: fields of lupin, paintbrush, and bistort in bloom

Translating pages of data sheets into exciting and accessible stories for the public has been equally rewarding. I practice my science communication every time I go on about white bark pines or meadow diversity to friends and family, but being able to present my writing in a polished and official capacity, complete with fun pictures, is a new experience.

And having passionate people to work with, who will dissect a seed pod for half an hour or rant about butterflies or rocks, has made the work so wonderful. My supervisor Beth has been a pillar of support, a wealth of knowledge, and a delight to work with. Doing field work involves a lot of spending days with only your coworkers, and I got so lucky with mine: I’m so grateful to Erik and Claire for making me feel like part of the team, teaching and encouraging me so seamlessly, and being fun hangs while we were putting in the miles. They made this internship what it was on a daily basis. And my dear roommates, I would take you guys over the internet any day – I’m not surprised that we managed to entertain ourselves for a whole summer, and I’m going to miss the happenings of this little town we’ve made.

Getting to our plots is (sometimes) a walk in the park
The best sunset of the season, and a friend to share it with 🙂
No offense to other crews, but we get the best views from our plots for sure

A week before the end of my internship, on a day off, I went on a solo adventure to Camp Muir. One of a couple “high camps” at Rainier, Camp Muir is the highest point one can get to on the mountain without a climbing permit. Perched at 10,000 feet, on a rocky ledge between the Nisqually and Cowlitz Glaciers, the camp is a journey in and of itself, as well as basecamp for those hoping to summit the mountain. A hiker slogs up a snowfield in quickly thinning air, climbing almost 5,000 feet in four miles, to reach the collection of bathrooms and stone huts at the base of Gibraltar Rock, two thirds of the way up Mount Rainier. As I was putting one foot in front of the other, digging my microspikes into soft snow and pausing to catch my breath, I thought about the often unexpected but incredibly fortunate series of events that brought me to this moment. And at the top, drinking a Capri-Sun and admiring the glacier crevasses around me, I felt so grateful for each one of them. Here I was, so intimately familiar with this massive mountain that had been my home for the past summer. Whether by myself or with my inimitable team, I have explored so much of this park and the unique world it creates. Many people climb up to Camp Muir every summer, and many people live seasonally at the Mount Rainier, but regardless, it feels so special to be one of them.

In June, a twelve-week internship felt like ages, but it’s been so brief, as all these stretches turn out to be. What a beautiful summer.

A peek at the summit from Camp Muir
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