Mount Rainier calls to every visitor who walks out of Seattle airport. You only have to lift your eyes to the horizon to see it looming over the city, in the distance.
Its presence, however, is reassuring, friendly and very welcoming. Make no mistake though; the glaciated peak is an active volcano – the steam that escapes from its core attests to this fact. Mt. Rainier lies in the Cascade Mountain Range and rises to 14,410 feet above sea level. Like all natural wonders in the United States, this one too is thankfully protected by a national park, namely, Mt. Rainier National Park. The routes, views, safety measures and all amenities are therefore mapped out for the visitor by the NPS (National Park Service) authorities.
We rented a car from ‘Dollar Rent a Car’ at Seattle Tacoma International airport (their office is on the basement level) and drove to Mt. Rainier, taking the north-side route, known for its scenic vistas of valleys and peaks. The drive is about 70 miles and it took us about two hours to get there. We were lucky that it was a bright sunny day with no fog marring our views. However, it was the 4th of July holiday weekend so we started out very early to avoid the rush of visitors. As the day progressed, we realized what a good decision that was.
Mount Rainier National park is open all year round on all days of the week. Entrance fees are $25 per car, which we bypassed as we had an annual national park pass.
Our drive through the park entrance and nearer to the mountain took us through such breathtakingly beautiful views that we were only too happy to stop and enjoy them. There are many lookout points along the route, some of them overlooking dangerous ravines. It always pays to heed the warning signs placed at the spots.
Flowing streams, waterfalls, and thickly wooded forests form the base of the vistas; while snow-capped peaks rise above in an undulating up and down landscape. Douglas Fir, Hemlock, and Cedar trees line the mirrored lakes forming a barrier against icy winds and snowfall. Mt. Rainier reigns high above them all.
The Park has a Visitor Center and information for trekkers who want to experience the various trails that lead up to the mountain and alongside it. We stopped at the visitor center eager for a look at the much talked about Meadow of Flowers. Unfortunately, due to icy slopes, there was not much opportunity for trekking and not many flowers to be seen.
We took the advice of the park ranger on site and decided to skip trekking up the slope. Information gleaned at the visitor center suggests the best part of the year to see the subalpine flowers in bloom is early to mid-August, thanks to the pollinating insects that abound during spring. It is not known as the Paradise Meadow for nothing.
As we drove along, we stopped at the Cristine falls for a brief look but our first really long stop was at Reflection Lake. It was a bit tricky to set up the tripod for a good picture. Slipping and sliding on the melted ice, we pushed aside sharp pine needles until we finally found a good spot.
Another photographer was just packing up his gear to leave so we settled in and waited for the breeze to die down until the ripples on the lake came to a standstill. It took a lot of patience but finally, a perfect reflection of Mount Rainier was mirrored on the lake. It was time for some speedy shooting.
Next, we stopped at Narada Falls. The falls originate from the Paradise River which is birthed from inactive glaciers and icy snowfields. A narrow but well-maintained trail begins from the pretty stone bridge at the top and leads down to the 168-foot high waterfall.
Halfway through, the trail drops vertically and gets wet and slippery so good trekking shoes are a must. Once we reached the bottom, we were thrilled to find a rainbow at the base of the cascading waterfall. Be prepared to get sprayed by a continuous mist from the waterfall.
Mount Rainier National Park uses minimal artificial light so that at night the stars and constellations are clearly visible. Someday, I hope to go back at night, to get a view of the millions of stars that are visible in the sky above this inspirational mountain.
Our drive back to the airport was a tired but happy one. We had finally seen Mt. Rainier. At the airport terminal, I turned back for a final glimpse of this majestic mountain, again feeling its compulsive call.
I left with an image of a starry sky in my mind and with the sure intention of brushing up on my night photography skills.