To the Mountain!

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“The Mountain” in this case, is Mt. Rainier.  A powerful presence in the Seattle area, Mt. Rainier has an elegant silhouette that always turns my head. It rises on the horizon like a grandly elegant queen dressed in pale silk and dark velvet. Even for those who only see a huge dome of ice and rock, it’s a commanding feature of the the local landscape. Below, Rainier on clear days in June and November from Seattle.

 

The destination most people visit when going to the mountain is called Paradise, and for good reason. Paradise is stunning. It offers scenic trails that accommodate everyone; families, serious hikers, and people in wheelchairs can all wander together through mountain meadows and gape at breathtaking vistas.

But Paradise gets crowded.

Arrive after 10 am on a summer day and you’re probably going to park in a distant lot and then trudge uphill to the trailheads and lodge. We went to Sunrise, on the southeastern side of the mountain. It’s not as crowded, it offers plenty of spectacle, and at 6400 feet, it’s the highest place you can go on the mountain in a vehicle.  Rainier’s icy summit is much higher – over 14,400 feet – and getting up there is a whole different matter, best left to those in top physical condition.

As you switchback your way up the mountain towards Sunrise, Rainier is a formidable white beast looming overhead.

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Partly due to its abrupt rise from the foothills below, Mt. Rainer makes its own weather.  Air warmed by the sun rises up the slopes, then it cools and clouds are created. When viewed from Seattle and the suburbs, the mountain is often graced with a frothy, cumulus cloud necklace around its middle. Sometimes Rainier sports a stylish white cap of clouds, and once in a while a curvy lenticular (lens shaped) cloud parks over the summit. The mountain has many faces, many moods.

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When we arrived this time, the top of the mountain was draped in clouds.  I enjoyed watching them continually coalesce, dissolve and re-form in a mesmerizing, vaporous dance.

It’s all part of the pageantry.

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Above, Emmons Glacier (the largest in the continental US) can be seen coming down the flank of the cloud-covered mountain, with the White River at its base and Frozen Lake to the side of the river. Little Tahoma, a satellite volcanic remnant of Rainer, is the craggy peak to the left.  Tahoma was the native name for Mount Rainier before British Captain George Vancouver named it for a friend, Rear Admiral Peter Rainier. I won’t go into my opinion of naming places after powerful friends instead of choosing a name that describes the place itself. Or how about honoring the name already given to the place by earlier inhabitants? You can guess my feelings on the matter.

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Above, the White River braids through the valley. Originating from the Emmons glacier, the river flows 75 miles before meeting the Puyallup River, which empties into Puget Sound. The sound’s tidal water flows through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which empties into the Pacific Ocean.

I imagine that a fist full of ice on Rainer’s summit at 14,400 feet might eventually become water deep in Puget Sound, perhaps 900 feet below sea level. The locations are only 75 miles apart as the crow (or raven) flies: over 23,000 feet difference in elevation, in just 75 miles.  Imagine Pacific Ocean water evaporating into clouds that drift east and eventually fall as snow somewhere up on Mt. Rainier: the circle is complete.

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For a moment the clouds drift away and the summit emerges. The air is crisp with breezes that seem to emanate from the purest places. Butterflies float across my path and sip from lavender alpine asters. I hear a raven croak, it appears overhead a minute later, then disappears in silence. I peer at the mountain’s surface, fascinated by the glacier’s curved fissures and cracks. They look tiny from where I stand, like wrinkles, but these are the deep crevasses that form as glacial ice glides over the mountain’s rough surface, and they claim lives. Just days before we came to gaze at this glacier a climber fell into a crevasse while descending from his summit climb, and was killed.

Great beauty, great power.

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The Silver Forest Trail at Sunrise is well named. The area saw a serious fire years ago; now, tree skeletons are scattered about the terrain like giant beasts and sculptures, some still upright, others long since collapsed. Each one nourishes the flora and fauna here, as it slowly decomposes.

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It’s sad to see the mountain disappear in the rear view mirror. I want to go right back up! Until next time……..

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68 comments

  1. All the years I lived in Seattle, I never went up to Mt Rainer (went once when I was a kid living in San Diego), probably because it was so close, one just thinks next week, next month. I remember one day crossing the Aurora Bridge on the way to work after a long period of gray overcast and being jolted back in awe seeing it crystal clear in the horizon.

    • That sounds like what New Yorkers say about the Empire State Building, or the Statue of Liberty. 😉 But your Aurora bridge memory is beautiful. I love that jolt, it’s a kind of coming home.

  2. Awesome photos! I was there two years ago in late September, and did not spend enough time exploring because of the weather. Your post makes me to definitely want to go back there.

    • If and when you return to this area, it’s certainly worth the trip. Having places like this accessible is the main reason I moved here. I used to love the Adirondacks, but what a long drive!

  3. You brought a breath of much needed fresh air with this post! Here, we’re living in a thick cloud of smoke (I know you’ve experienced that), but the added anxiety of having the evacuation zone edging ever closer to our ‘new’ home isn’t helping. sigh…

  4. Such a wonderful article ! The pictures are gorgeous, and the story that comes with them is giving them life. How lucky you are to live near such an amazing place. I’d trade Paris and its Eiffel Tower a million times for this. Thanks for taking the time to share this beautiful experience with us !

    • Yes, I’m lucky to live here, but I moved here for this reason…it was a big move,but worth it. My son moved here too, from the east coast, also because he loves being close to such incredible places. But you’ve shown that your Lyons is a very beautiful place as well, of a different kind.

      • Thanks ! I hope you’ll visit it if you ever come to France. And if you like good food, let me tell you this is one of the best places to eat nice French food. And the Alps are not that far (actually, we can see the Mont Blanc from Lyon when it’s sunny and not too polluted, unfortunately for the latter).

    • I’ve been thinking about you, wondering what you were up to….yes, it’s a gorgeous place, very moving to be there, and we’re lucky it’s about two hours away. I’m happy you like the photos, and as for the light, it’s not something I’m very good at, so thanks! I’d like to stay overnight nearby so I could get there in the early morning…maybe one of these days I’ll do that.

  5. How fabulous to come along on your hike at Mt. Rainier. I love the tree skeletons in the Silver Forest Trail and all your views of the famous mountain and its vaporous clouds, always shape-shifting and ephemeral. Thanks, Lynn, for bringing us along. 🙂

  6. Impressive pictures of an impressive mountain !! I like the first picture with the two trees in front of it very much. It emphasizes the seize of the mountain. But also the photographs with the details are marvellous. It must have been a wonderful visit. Your pictures are inviting ! Thanks a lot 🙂

    • Thank you – I’m glad you like that first one, I was pleased with it. Details have always been a focus for me, since I was a child, so there is never a question about photographing what’s close up, but being on the mountain, I focus more on the distant view, which is refreshing. Yes, it’s always wonderful to go up there – I don’t go often enough! I’m glad the images feel inviting.

    • It’s one of the reasons we moved here 5 years ago – we came out to take a look around the Seattle area in October, 2011, and on that trip we went up to Paradise, and were smitten. By the following February, we were moved. The photos take themselves up there, to a degree, because the scenery is so stunning. But hopefully, each time I go I learn a little more about what to do.

  7. I really enjoyed this post. Incredible pics. Between the arrangement of images and your meditations, it gives the sense that we’re walking along with you. I do find it humorous that the consolation prize for missing out on Paradise is a trip to Sunrise. 😝

    • 🙂 thanks for that! Yup, those are the two main destinations. But here’s another for you – Ohanapecosh. Isn’t that beautiful? It’s much lower, and is the site of a wonderful old growth forest. As you’d guess, I worked a while on the post, so I do appreciate your thoughts.

    • It’s as easy or difficult as you want to make it – there are many trail choices. But it IS a day trip, with the drive back and forth from Seattle, or just about anywhere else. Well worth it though! Thank you, Tina.

  8. Thank you so much, dear Lynn, for this marvellous travel. I’m reading and enjoying your poetic, at the same time informative words and beautiful images while sitting in the fresh morning air warmed by early sun. Dreaming to walk through great Mt.Tahoma’s nature.

  9. Beautiful pictures, my friend, and what a stunning landmark. And I’m 1,000% right in there with you regarding naming places after powerful friends – yes, let’s have the names given to places by the earlier inhabitants, definitely! A 🙂

  10. What an incredibly beautiful part of the world you live in Lynn. Stunning and stunning photographs. There’s a place I’d love to spend some time in winter. Really beautiful and I love the dead wood.
    PS Sorry about the politics on your last post. Think I got a bit carried away.. :-/

    • I know what you mean by wanting to see a place like this in winter, but winter is unbelievable up there. Most of the mountain is inaccessible. They do keep the road to Paradise open much of the time (Sunrise is only open 2 -3 months in summer). The lodge at Paradise gets covered, snow drifts tower over cars. We went up there on 6/30, after a lot of snow this past winter, and couldn’t really walk around because we didn’t have snow shoes. One has to monitor snow and road conditions – they have webcams up. Here’s a google image search showing typical winter conditions:
      https://www.google.com/search?q=mt+rainier+paradise+winter+snow&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiF06WUkv3VAhURz2MKHeNkCv8Q_AUICigB&biw=1920&bih=940
      Please don’t worry re politics – I appreciate your strong feelings very much actually. It’s difficult to look at everything that’s happening in the world and not be despairing. We live with this clown on our airways every day. It’s been quite an adjustment, getting used to it. Sometimes i just think it’s bizarre.

  11. Absolutely awed by your capture of Tahoma’s different moods, especially the glacier photo. I have only admired this mountain from afar, but your post has me excited to explore it in the summer for all that delicate wildlife.

    • Thank you so much for stopping by and for commenting. As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s a hundred times more wonderful in person, so I hope you do get up there. If you can stay at one of the lodges and get an earlier start in the morning, you’d have a better chance at seeing wildlife. We ran into hikers who had just finished a 10 day round the mountain hike, the Wonderland Trail, and they had a nice encounter with a marmot. On a previous trip we saw a bear family from the trail at Paradise, and we had a Clark’s Nutcracker perch on our rear view mirror in the parking lot, looking for peanuts.

  12. That was a lovely departure. Your essay whisked me away from my desk and I could almost feel the alpine air. I often go to Mt. Baker but haven’t been to Rainier in years. Thanks for sharing the beauty with us! I love what you see and the information you give along with it, too. Glad you had this gorgeous getaway!

    • Interesting! For you and me, Mt. Baker is farther – I’d like to know where you go, and why you prefer it (if you do). I only went once, a year ago, and broke my arm badly in a fall on the trail – I tripped on a rock. ) -: We decided to drive back down here and go to Evergreen instead of going to a Bellingham hospital. Crazy day! My shoulder is still stiff. I am ambivalent about Baker! Help me! 😉
      Re the information, as you probably know, it’s hard to figure out what to include. There’s so much I’d like to convey, but typically I write, then go back and delete a lot, to get a balance. I figure people are here more to look than to read, so I’m glad you enjoyed the info. And yes, the weather was great – we went to Paradise on 6/30, just to see the snow and gape. I’d never been up there when it’s snowy. As you know, the snow stayed late this year. (Imagine how much worse this drought would be without that winter we had).

      • Yes, I was thankful for the snow pack this year too.
        My favorite part of Mt. Baker is Artist’s Point at the very top. It can be crowded but there’s so much space that it’s not too hard to get away from others if you pace yourself between groups.
        I like Artist’s Point because every view is stunning. You can walk right to the edge of the mountain top and feel like you could almost step across into Mt. Shuksan’s glaciers and you can walk across to the other side and see the astounding grandeur of the snowy top of Mt. Baker. The valleys on either side are gorgeous. You can hike down into the one toward the Baker peak side. And the rocks and alpine plants at your feet are intriguing and beautiful too.
        Just before you get there, a stop at Heather Meadows is recommended as well. Gorgeous immediate hikes with grandly wide vistas all around. On very snowy years Heather Meadows is as high as you can go, and you won’t be able to reach Artist’s Point, so you may want to check conditions before going. We usually visit in August.

  13. Granted, I haven’t seen that many photographs of Mt. Ranier, which I wish we still called Tahoma. But even if I had, it’s doubtful they would have equaled what you show and tell about this mountain. As I scrolled down your post, I couldn’t believe you’d made yet another stunning photograph, and another and another and another . . . And while pure information about this mountain and park would be interesting, it’s so much more interesting with your “feelings on the matter” and personal observations interspersed. Specific things I love in the photos (besides the overall compositions): the POV and flowers in Number 8, the lines in Number 10, the POV and the way the old log points toward the river in Number 11, the sky in Number 12, the flowered path in Number 17, and that curve of tree trunk paired with the evergreen in front of it and the flowers behind in Number 18.

    • I have to say, many, many photographers have photographed the mountain with far more professional results than mine. But everyone has their own view, and that’s what counts in the end. I’m glad you mentioned hearing about the personal feelings vs. not – I was just saying exactly that to someone yesterday. The photos – the 8th – trails here really are edged with wildflowers! And they meander in the most beautiful way, just point and shoot. Those crevasses in the glacier are something it would have been nice to have a longer lens for. The sky was changeable that day, as it often is up there. I just listened to a Creative Live free (today) Photoshop class where replacing skies was discussed…I’d really rather not do that! It’s such a common practice. I love looking for subjects like the old, weathered trees, and how they relate to what’s around them. All it takes (as you know) is pausing on the trial and looking with curiosity. I make horribly slow progress on the trail that way, and always am letting people walk by, but the reward is better than getting farther. Preaching to the choir, I know.

      • Yes, I understand that many photographers have photographed Mt. Ranier/Tahoma, but so many of the “professional” photographs—of that mountain and many other landscapes—look canned to me. Yours never look canned. They look personal but escape looking amateurish and snap-shot-like. I don’t know your secret, but keep photographing the way you do. And don’t replace skies. I once went out with cameras with an old college friend who wanted to show me the Blue Ridge Parkway, which was near where she lived. She kept saying, “There’s so much to see; we have to hurry along.” And I kept thinking, “There’s so much to see; we have to slow down.”

  14. Of course, Mount Rainier is the mountain in western part of Washington. Nothing beats the view of it from Seattle and down south to the border of Oregon. Your photos shows its majestic look and really how gorgeous the mountain is. As always I enjoy how you switch between overviews and catching the telling details in and around the mountain.

    • You have known Rainier longer than I have so I appreciate your thoughts, Otto. We had a great day – and I hope to get back up again before the road closes for the season but there’s a fire on that side of the mountain (near Chinook Pass on 410). We’ll see…

  15. stunning, painterly, beautiful, delightful, always interesting the first one seems like a group of 7 painting…i can revisit your photos and feel the power of the rocks…i find after 5-7 days i’ve had enough energy from the rockies that i crave flat land…and the squirrel i think about the totems and meanings they bring to us…i’m having a second coffee and enjoying your work Lynn…i must see Mount Rainier yet! smiles hedy 😀

    • 🙂 What a compliment, Hedi, thank you so much. I don’t go back and forth the way you do – it’s not really flat where I live, and the mountains are, when I go someplace like Rainier, usually a one day trip. But what you say makes sense – I know when I drive north to a flat agricultural plain, I love the way it all spreads out, it feels so good. Rainier is blessed with an abundance of “pretty pretty” – some mountains are higher, but I think many are more rugged, and this one seems to have an appealing balance between rugged and comfortable.

      • here we say female and male mountains…the rocky rough are in Banff and Jasper areas and then Revelstoke we see more space between and somewhat softer edges so more feminine…i do love the rock though! have a happy weekend Lynn 😀 ❤

  16. Lynn, Your terrific post is chock-full of interesting facts and fantastic images. The range of subjects from landscapes to nature’s details is beautifully done. Your Emmons shot is fab along with your opener, the one with the lenticular clouds and your close-ups of the cool butterfly. Too many to name! You’ve whet my appetite to hike there someday.

    • So glad you liked the post, Jane, thank you. I like to know which photos grab you, too. 🙂
      The places where the public can easily go happen to be really, really scenic. Yes, go the next time you’re up here!

  17. For me, a mountain is the best thing on this earth. The higher one goes, the more are the chances to discover the self. I love the coniferous forest which I can see in your images. This reminds of my amazing time in Nepal. And you also represent the mountain ecosystem beautifully. In the last image, in which mountains start to disappear, you get the very right words.

    • What an interesting thing to say – “The higher one goes, the more are the chances to discover the self.” The trees up there are quite beautiful – many are very narrow, tall, and symmetrical, and one common species tends to grow in groupings, with the largest trees in the center – a very pretty effect.
      Yes, I wanted to go right back, but couldn’t, and then we had some serious wildfires that are affecting the area. You could still go up but you’d have to drive through terrible conditions to get there, including ash in the air. It will clear soon though, and maybe I’ll get back up this month. Thank you so much for your comments.

  18. That side-mirror shot was perfect for the finale! I also appreciated the full-circle concept. You are definitely in touch with the planet.
    When you are away for a while, and return, does the sight of Mt. Rainer affect you on a primal level? I notice that whenever I return to the Deep South and see the Mississippi River…

    • I do love seeing Rainier from the plane when we land (and take off!) but I can’t say it’s as deep as your connection to the river is. It’s different when you’ve grown up somewhere, don’t you think? And we’ve only been here 5 years. The west isn’t the landscape I grew up in. Maybe I’ll have that tug when I see the NY skyline, but I do hear what you’re saying. You’ve conveyed your connection to the deep south on your blog, and I feel like I know that about you.

  19. Pingback: HIGHS & lows « bluebrightly


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