Mount Rainier stands like a grand sentinel guarding Seattle. It is an active volcano that together with other spectacular volcanic peaks like Mt. St. Helens form the towering Cascade Range that extends from northern Washington to central Oregon. Mount Rainier National Park incorporates a vast expansive wilderness area 60 miles southeast of Seattle that has glacier-capped 14,410 Mount Rainier as its spectacular centerpiece. It is every bit as beautiful and iconic as Mount Fuji near Tokyo Japan.
When I visited Mount Rainier National Park with my daughter Katie in early spring 2016, I found an alpine wonderland full of dense forests, fields of snow-covered ground with bright daffodils and other flowers poking through, and higher up massive snowfields and rugged glaciers. Here and there one finds beautiful old rain forests that are said to be teaming with bears and other critters that wisely decided to stay out of view. I took a long hike on snowshoes with incredible views of surrounding peaks and the deafening sounds of silence broken only by the cries of hundreds of blue jays searching for their next meal.
The Cascade Range due west of Seattle captures the vast amounts of moisture coming in from the Pacific. The warm moist air travels over Seattle before hitting the high peaks of the Cascades. The air cools rapidly as it rises by places like Mount Rainier and before long it drops huge amounts of precipitation. Precipitation amounts at Paradise Valley half way up the slope of Mt. Rainier average 126 inches each year. Major snow storms each winter drop many feet of snow that feed the twenty-five glaciers that cap the mountain. When we reached Paradise Valley we found the ground covered with ten to fifteen feet of snow although it seemed to be melting fast in the warm April sunshine.
As an active volcano Mount Rainier reminds us all of both the power and beauty of nature. The Cascade Range, part of the “Ring of Fire” that extends across the Pacific to Alaska and Japan, has been volcanically active for millions of years thanks to its location on the western edge of the North American tectonic plate. The mountain itself is relatively young in geologic terms having been formed about 500,000 years ago. Like Mount St. Helens which erupted in spectacular fashion in May 1980, and other Cascade volcanoes, Mount Rainer has the potential to erupt yet again. The last eruption came in 1894 and another one could come at any time in the years ahead.
Mount Rainier National Park was established by Congress in 1899, making it one of the oldest parks in the system. Visitors can find ample camp grounds and hiking trails that take one through dense woods with great views of rushing rivers, ever-shrinking but still impressive glaciers, and impressive waterfalls. The main visitor center at Paradise serves as the base for many hiking trails and is certainly worth a visit. Sunrise at 6400 feet above sea level is the highest point that one can reach by car and already in April allows one to see meadows teaming with mountain flowers.
I have visited many of America’s National Parks including Shenandoah National Park right here in Staunton Virginia. Each one of these parks possesses some aspect of natural beauty, but if one is looking for a real wilderness adventure, there are few that can give one as great a natural experience as Mount Rainier.
Copyright © 2016 Daniel Metraux