Mount Rainier is a big mountain. At 14,410 feet it is the largest mountain in the Cascade Range and one of the largest in the U.S. outside of Alaska. What makes it look really, really, big is that the base of the mountain is at under 2,000 feet unlike the Rockies which start at around 6,000 feet or more.
Paradise is the Mount Rainier climbing center in the southwest corner of the park and home to the famous Paradise Lodge, one of the great lodges in the park system. We are camped at the Cougar Rock Campground, about 8 miles from Paradise…not a bad place to be, eh?
One of the major climbing routes to the summit of Mount Rainier begins here on the Skyline Trail. Much of Paradise is still snow covered (not what some call paradise, but we like it), but the trails are accessible if you have the right gear and we do. We were lucky to meet up with a group of climbers heading for the summit and they were willing to share lots of info about the mountain. From Paradise, most people take 3 days to summit. One day up to Muir Camp at the top of the John Muir Snowfield, a rest day at Muir, then up at midnight to ascend to the summit and return to Paradise in one day. Sounds grueling to me.
With our limited equipment (no ice ax, no ropes, no avalance probes, shovels, or beacons, and no skill) we decided to follow them to the base of the Muir Snowfield then back down. It looked to be about a 3 – 4 hour hike up and an hour or two back down. Since it was mostly on snow we could speedily glissade much of the way down. [Glissade – sliding down a steep slope of snow or ice, typically on the feet with the support of ski poles or an ice ax] We had traction devices, ski poles, and hiking boots along with lots of warm gear so it should be a fun hike.
Paradise is famous for its wildflower meadows and while we were a bit early there were still lots of blooms to see. In high summer, which in these parts is a couple of days in early August, the meadows will be clear of snow and filled with flowers. Mount Rainier is a very intimidating mountain, covered with glaciers and exceedingly steep and rough higher on the mountain not to mention riddled with very dangerous crevasses. Rainier was used for training the 10th Mountain Division troops during World War II and is still used as a training ground for those planning attempts on Denali, Everest and other major peaks around the world. We would not be climbing this summit.
Mount Rainier is so big that it creates its own weather, often going from clear, to surrounded by clouds, to invisible in a few minutes. Its weather is part of what makes it so dangerous for climbers. Being this close to the Pacific Coast means the mountain has lots of moisture to work with and the many glaciers surrounding the peak attest to that.
On the way down we caught sight of the kind of weddings that happen here in mountain country. Notice the mountaineering boots and decorated Ice Ax. Delightful, we wish them many happy years, mostly in the mountains.
After the hike we took a tour of the Paradise Lodge, wishing we had made arrangements to stay there.
Tomorrow we will search out some of Mount Rainier’s fabulous waterfalls.