Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier is not just any mountain it’s The Mountain! At 14,410ft it dominates the skyline for over 100 miles in all directions. It’s the icon of Washington and an active volcano currently at rest since its last eruption in 1894. Hopefully we are far from the next eruption because days with The Mountain out are the absolute best! Not only is it the highest mountain in Washington but it’s also the highest in the Cascade Range (Cascade Volcanic Arc) which stretches from southern British Columbia to Northern California. Rainier’s 13,199ft of prominence ranks 4th in North America and 21st in the world! That makes it slightly more prominent that the 2nd tallest mountain in the world, K2. Lastly it’s the most glaciated peak in contiguous US with 26 major glaciers. The accolades are very impressive and so are the views!

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In 2017 I took three trips to Mount Rainier National Park and they were all glorious! Crystal Lakes, Spray Park and Paradise. With big travel plans to start the summer I didn’t get to Mount Rainier until late June. For that first trip a few friends and I took the Crystal Lakes Trail for a spin. On the way I picked up a permit to camp at upper Crystal Lake. My friends would only take a day hike so I’d be solo for the night. It’s 3 miles and 2,300ft of gain to get to Upper Crystal Lake. The first mile is heavily forested but offers a few views of Rainier.

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Here it is up close and personal.

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Soon we’d run into the smaller Lower Crystal Lake.

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A half mile further is Upper Crystal Lake in the center of a beautiful open basin.

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After relaxing and having some lunch my friends took off and I looked to set up camp.

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The designated camp spots were clear but I was happy to setup on the snow.

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I was eager to get another view of Rainier but wanted to save the hike up along the East side of the lake for sunset so I set off along the west side to climb as high as I safely could. You know it’s a perfect day when someone can paddle board the partially frozen lake!

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I made it up to a little notch on the ridge line before turning back and doing some glissading.

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The scene was pretty but Crystal Peak still blocked my view of Tahoma. Tahoma is Rainier’s original name given by the Salish people. It translates to ‘The Mother of waters’ which is appropriate since six major rivers spawn from it.

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Back at camp I collected water and met three guys setting up camp close by. They were all strangers to one another who coordinated the backpacking trip through some app. One guy was couch surfing from Austria and they were all interested in hiking up for sunset so we all went together! They were great hiking mates and in no time we got the view we were looking for!

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In addition to the pure beauty of Rainier was a gorgeous view of Mount Adams, Washington’s 2nd tallest peak.

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We could also just barely see the tip of Mount Hood.

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We’d go back and forth between vantage points until the sun had set. The lighting was magnificent and with every passing minute brought more color!

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It was nothing short of magic!

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After that incredible experience we worked our way down the sketchy slopes to our nylon homes.

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That night the stars were out in full force as was the Milky Way! One of the guys (Leo) had my same camera (Sony Alpha a6300) and showed me what kind of night photography I could be capturing.

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In the morning I had breakfast with the guys before slowly hiking out. It was a real pleasure to share this experience with them and I’ll never forget it.

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“Just remember when you’re passing by try to smile at everyone you see! Cause we could all be friends by tomorrow, maybe that’s the way it ought to be!” – Cas Haley

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What better way to end the trip than to see The Mountain out and shinning again!

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Mount Rainier actual has three different summits. The highest is the Columbia Crest followed by Point Success and Liberty Cap. Below is Little Tahoma Peak which is a gnarly remnant of what Mount Rainier use to be and if on its own would be considered the third highest peak in Washington at 11,138 ft.

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Fast forward a month Ellie, a few friends and I looked to the northwest corner of the National Park for a walk around wildflowers at Spray Park.

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This is another 6 miler but only gains 1,300 ft. We had an epic view of Rainier to start but it didn’t last long.

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With Rainier cloaked in clouds we focused our attention to the stunning sub alpine meadows covered in wildflowers!

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Everything was covered in life!

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We crossed a couple creeks but one really stood out from the rest. It was Grant Creek were we witnessed a wild Grant reading about Ulysses S. Grant!

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From there we hit a series of steep switchbacks which brought us to the most vibrant collection of flowers. Here’s my favorite, the Avalanche Lily plus my favorite person:

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There was also some Bear Grass.

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Lupine.

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And much much more including some great views of Mother Mountain, Sluiskin Mountain and beyond.

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On the way back we took the short spur trail to Spray Falls. There lies 350 feet of beautiful flowing water!

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This trail is an excellent choice for all those in search of wildflowers! I’ll be back in the area to hike up Tolmie Peak! Sadly it took us until the end of October to get back to America’s 5th National Park. This time we’d explore the most popular region aptly named Paradise! Gotta give a lot of respect to the snowplow crew for keeping the roads open to an area some consider the snowiest place on Earth!

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It’s hard to argue with John, this place in unreal! Both Ellie and I want to climb to the summit one day so it was wonderful to get a taste of it by hiking the Skyline Trail.

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This is how you start the approach up this glorious beast. It’s pretty difficult to walk with your jaw dragging on the ground.

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Pictures certainly don’t do it justice. I’ve never seen a more massive thing so close. As you know there are many glaciers hanging on to this volcano but the Nisqually Glacier is the king of the Southside.

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Rainier is ever changing so each glance feels like a unique experience that I must hold on to.

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It just makes you want to jump for joy!

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The spot above is named Panorama Point so in addition to the absolute best views of Rainier you’ll also have incredible views of Mount Adams, St. Helens and Hood!

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Ellie has stood on Mount Adams aka Baby Rainier!

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Mount St. Helens too!

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Hope to capture Mount Hood’s summit this year!

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The afternoon blues reminded me of my home back in the Blueridge Mountains! Everywhere we looked was a scene I could only dream of. As I was taking close ups of the Columbia Crest I noticed a plane in the distance. It really sparked my imagination. I thought to myself that after a successful summit the only logical thing to do would be to launch into outer space right? That or drink a Rainier (beer).

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The wind was wicked so we didn’t stay here too long. We continued the loop and found a wind blocked area to wait out the sunset.

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This trail is gorgeous but it sure had me itching to put on my crampons and start climbing.

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The first section of the trail is paved so everyone can experience this ant like feeling.

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Like John Muir said the flowers are unbelievable even in October!

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If you can only make one visit to Mount Rainier this is the spot! What could be better than Paradise? With that said you really can’t go wrong when it comes to hikes and sights around Mount Rainier National Park. There’s so much to do to keep one busy for a lifetime!

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It’s really hard to not wanderlust over Mount Rainier when you can see it from everywhere you go. The best views are always from other mountains. Mount Adams:

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Mount St. Helens:

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Granite Mountain:

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Mount Ellinor:

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The city views are also pretty crazy.

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Even the rooftop shots are mind blowing. Here’s the view from my first apartment in Capital Hill.

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Second in Cap Hill:

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Although I only see the top half of Rainier from my new place in Ballard, it’s the best view yet. The reason is accessibility. To see if The Mountain is out all I need to do is peak out the window! This place is worth every penny!

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Thanks for being you Mr. Volcano!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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