2015-08-07 - Northwest Road Trip - Mount Rainier - Part I - Skyline Trail
On Friday morning, my brother and I packed up our things into the rental car and started the drive towards Mount Rainier National Park. We lucked out with fortuitous weather, a clear sky that showcased the eponymous mountain in the distance. After a brief stop at Alder Dam for photos and another just outside the park for food, we drove to the Longmire Museum Visitor Center. This location was previously the park headquarters since its founding in 1899 and the home of James Longmire and his mineral springs resort before that. The small Longmire Museum building was a delightful introduction to the area. My brother and I would also return here a few times to eat at the restaurant nearby.
After the visitor center, we decided to take a short hike on the neighboring Trail of the Shadows, a 0.7 mile loop around the Longmire hot springs, homestead, and surrounding forest. The muddy "hot spring" did not look too inviting but with a few views of Mount Rainier in the distance, a few preserved structures beside the trail, and the beautiful trees above, we greatly enjoyed the warmup hike.
Continuing our drive towards the main Henry M Jackson Memorial Visitor Center at Paradise, we first made a few stops at several overlooks as well as Christine Falls and Narada Falls. I found Narada Falls particularly admirable, the way the cascading waters would split and flow like pulsating veins upon the rock to crash, rainbow-colored unto the ground below. Clouds had gathered for a meeting with the mighty weather-inducing mountain as we arrived at the visitor center. This one was larger and had more models and informative exhibits. A nice place to buy food and gifts was also incorporated into the large log structure.
Video of Narada Falls
Embarking on the clockwise Skyline Trail involved a gradual incline to start off. The paved, rolling trail had attracted many visitors on this fine day. The going was slow and I delighted in both the scenery as well as the children running up the slopes. It was here that I first felt connected to Mount Rainier and truly felt what the place was all about. Walking up, the mountain slowly becomes bigger and bigger. Instead of realizing the size though, you instead recognize the increase in detail. A white blur from a mile ago not shows itself to be ice or snow or glacial runoff. On the way, we also saw a black bear in the distance eating some vegetation with a school group nearby, taking photos.
Turning, the trail led us upwards to the higher rockier portions of the 2000 feet elevation gain trip. The air was cool and crisp and the greenery spread out below us as we labored upwards. My brother took a break at the Panorama Point as I continued upward and waited for him a bit above. One section of the trail was closed so we had to take a higher route that involved more elevation gain and mileage. But if the cute pikas could survive up here, so could we.
Snow in August! In the cold shadows, the snow would not melt, perhaps all year as multi-year ice. Continuing down we made good time trudging in the icy waters to get back into the grasses and the sun. We spotted three Hoary Marmots along the way, including one that came within a foot or two of me in its incessant hunt for greener grass. For minutes I observed him, greatly cheered by its efforts and lack of fear. Near the marmots, I also spotted two pikas run up a bushy tree to avoid us. There are few easily accessible places in the US besides National Parks where animals can live without fear of humans.
My tired brother fell behind a few times but we were close. We stopped briefly at Sluiskin Falls before heading back to the parking lot. The sun was setting and we were tired. Taking a break, at the full lodging in Paradise Inn, we decided to sleep in the car that night instead of driving an extra hour out and back into the park the next morning from campgrounds much further away. Picking a long-term parking spot, we ate and prepared to sleep. I fondly remember waking up to a binding coldness that night. While going to find another layer in the trunk of the car, I saw a dense cloud of thousands of stars above, glittering overhead like light shining through a multilayered forest grove.