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A vacation to remember
Mount Rainier National Park is a spectacular place to visit any time of the year
There is more snow and ice on Mount Rainier than the rest of the Cascade peaks in Washington, Oregon, and California combined.
December 17, 2012
When trying to describe Mount Rainier, one word comes to mind — massive.
More than 35 square miles of ice cover the mountain, including 26 named glaciers. There is more ice on Mount Rainier than the rest of the Cascade peaks in Washington, Oregon, and California combined. It’s the largest single-peak glacier system in the U.S., south of Alaska.
It’s never too early to start planning for your next family vacation. Mount Rainier National Park is one of my favorites. I’ve been there in the summer when the wildflowers were at their peak and last September, my wife and I went there when the huckleberry bushes painted the hillsides red.
On past visits, we camped both inside and outside the park, but this last time, we stayed at Paradise Inn. I still like camping out, but it’s sure nice waking up in a warm, comfortable bed and starting a hike from the lodge. The ground definitely is getting harder each year — must be some kind of geological phenomenon.
Paradise is the most popular part of the park. A hike on the five-mile long Skyline Trail provides a Mount Rainier experience not soon forgotten.
The open trail has constant views of the mountain and leads through meadows that are carpeted with wildflowers in the summer and huckleberries in the fall. The Nisqually Glacier snakes its way off the higher elevations while countless waterfalls cascade over steep dropoffs. To the south, the rugged Tatoosh Range rises from the surrounding wilderness like the back of a stegosaurus. Farther south are views of Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams.
Some of the best views from the trail are at Glacier Vista (6,336 feet) and Panorama Point (6,800 feet). Through binoculars we looked up at Camp Muir, situated at 10,188 feet, which is where climbers begin their early morning ascent to the summit. The summit was first reached in 1870. Each year thousands of people climb the mountain, sometimes over 100 in a day. At 14,410, Mount Rainier is the highest point in Washington.
We could see and hear rockfalls and icefalls on the steep slopes. We also saw lots of hoary marmots either sunning themselves on rocks or gathering grass for their long hibernation.
Paradise is famous for its great views and wildflower meadows. When James Longmire’s daughter-in-law, Martha, first saw this site, she was said to exclaim, “Oh, what a paradise!” In 1883 Longmire built a 13-mile trail from Ashford to the hot springs where he built cabins in the area which now bears his name.
The park’s main visitor center, the new Paradise Jackson Visitor Center, is located in the upper parking area. Paradise is also the prime winter-use area in the park, receiving over 50 feet of snow per year on average. Winter activities include snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and tubing. The road between Longmire and Paradise is plowed throughout the winter.
“Obviously the outdoors, the mountain, is the main draw,” said Renee Rux, night manager at Paradise Inn. “Mount Rainier is immense, grandiose; it’s like nowhere else.”
Rux said the inn was built in 1916 and there was an extensive remodel in 2008. There are now 122 rooms at the lodge and annex building. Much of the original woodwork was saved along with the piano and clock. The lodge gets completely buried in snow every winter. Snow will sometimes even get into the lodge and has to be shoveled out.
The inn is a textbook example of national park lodges — rustic with large beams, fireplaces, comfortable places to sit. It’s like a sense of walking back in time, plus it’s a good place to unplug and get back in touch with Mother Nature and the simpler times in life.
The inn is open from mid-May to Oct. 1 but changes every year depending on snow depths. The park receives about 2.5 million visitors each year.
Another place worth exploring in the park is the Grove of the Patriarchs, which rivals California’s redwoods. Many of the Douglas fir, western red cedar and western hemlock trees tower over 200 feet and are eight to 10 feet in diameter. A 1.5-mile trail leads through the ancient forest and across the Ohanapecosh River to an island of giants. Other stops worth making are the Trail of Shadows at Longmire, 168-foot high Narada Falls and Box Canyon, a 100-foot deep gorge.
Geology and other interesting
facts about Mount Rainier
About 75,000 years ago, Mount Rainier attained an estimated height of over 16,000 feet. About 6,000 years ago, an eruption collapsed the summit, sending a mudflow almost 100 feet high all the way to Puget Sound. Known as the Osceola mudflow, it is one of the largest ever discovered. Geologists predict a similar event could occur in the future.
The mountain is still considered active and potentially dangerous. The last eruption occurred in 1894 when a small explosion laid down a layer of pumice. In the early 1960s there were a few steam explosions that sent debris down the mountain. Today, there are sections of the mountain where hydrogen sulfide gas can be detected. Steam at the summit keeps part of it snow-free. A system of caves over a mile long beneath the summit, snow and ice formed from the volcanic heat.
Columbia Crest is the highest point on the mountain at 14,411 feet. Glaciers coming off Mount Rainier stretched for 40 miles during the last glacial period, about 10,000 years ago.
In the winter of 1971-1972 Paradise received 1,122 inches (93.5 feet) of snow, a world record at the time. The average is between 15 and 20 feet. The Mount Baker Ski Area currently holds the record at 1,140 inches (95 feet) of snowfall for the 1998-99 season.
In 1792 British explorer Captain George Vancouver saw the mountain from Puget Sound and named the peak after his Rear Admiral Peter Rainier, who never even got close to his namesake. Many wanted to call the mountain by its Indian name “Tahoma,” meaning great mountain.
On March 2, 1899 Mount Rainier became the nation’s fifth national park.
Check the weather before you go and be prepared for all weather conditions. For more information call 360-569-2211 or go to www.nps.gov/mora.
Take I-5 out of Portland, then Highway 12 to the park. Or take Highway 97 north to Yakima, then Highway 12 to the south entrance or Highway 410 to the east entrance.