“In God’s wildness lies the hope of the world – great fresh unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off, and wounds heal ere we are aware.” ~ John Muir
Subalpine meadows, blanketed with brilliantly colored wildflowers, envelop a glacial volcano, while time-worn forests grace majestic mountain slopes. This scene enveloping are senses is better known as Mt. Rainier National Park, our 5th National Park in the U.S., established in 1899.
Covered by 34 square miles of year-round snow and ice, this “king of the Cascades” boasts 25 glaciers on its rugged slopes, which have spawned six major rivers. As much glacial ice covers Mt. Rainier as on all the other Cascade volcanoes combined. It is still considered an active volcano, restless, geologically young, having formed ~ 500,000 years ago. Glaciers and landslides continue to erode Mt. Rainier’s surface, making this imposing mountain look older than it is.
We had read that Mt. Rainier is most often shrouded in a gauzy mist instead of proudly on display. We wondered as we entered the park if we would be fortunate enough to see this formidable giant without swirling clouds obscuring its peak. We were blessed to have several clear days. 🙂
With an average annual snowfall of over 50 feet, snow plays a huge role in Mt. Rainier’s ecology and the entire Cascade Mountain range. It shapes everything we see. Snow conditions determine when wildflowers bloom, when water will be available for wildlife, which glaciers retreat or advance, and which species thrive and which are diminished.
How were these 25 glaciers gracing Mt. Rainier’s slopes formed? For starters, more snow must fall than melts away. As snow piles up, the weight of the snowpack squeezes air out of the lower layers, where the compacted snow crystals start to break down. They recrystallize, forming an entirely different type of snow, called firn. It resembles wet sugar but is much harder and heavier than snow. As surface water trickles down, firn goes through many cycles of melting and refreezing, turning to ice in 3-5 years. Glacial ice scatters incoming light into blue wavelengths, which is why they appear blue to the naked eye. As ice rushes over rock, valley walls, and icefalls, it may break like glass, opening up crevasses up to 100’ deep.
We could hear the groaning and cracking of the glaciers as we hiked some of the ridgeline in the park.
Each year over 10,000 people attempt to scale Mt. Rainer’s highest peak. Nearly half reach the 14,410’ summit. John Muir and nine others climbed to Mt. Rainier’s summit in what became the 5th recorded ascent. His trip to Rainier reinvigorated his efforts to preserve nature as National Parks.
With binoculars in hand on one of our hikes we were able to watch several at the overnight camp prepare for their summit attempt the following morning. We also watched another group making their final ascent. How blessed we were to have a clear day to see this unfold.
Those fortunate souls who do summit find themselves inside a massive crater. They can warm themselves near steam vents if they can stand the “rotten egg” smell of sulfur. There is even a lake underneath all the ice.
I was mesmerized by Mt. Rainier’s raw beauty, its wildness, its power to shun half of those who strive to reach the highest peak.
Next Up: A week of getting deep into the untamed landscape of Mt. Rainer National Park.
44 thoughts on “The Restless Giant ~ Mt Rainier National Park, Part I”
In depth exploring! So nice to share your experiences with us.
My pleasure Gale!
You sure were blessed with the great weather. We had mist and low clouds when we tried to see the beast.
What a fabulous experience. Your photos are lovely!
Thanks Marsha. We had days of mist as well but many clear days. We were indeed blessed!
Enjoyed your beautiful photos from what looks to be a great hike.
Thanks Debra. Mt. Rainier has become one of my favorite NP’s. We do, however, have many more to see so that could change.
Maybe the groaning and cracking was Terry?
Good point as he was walking ahead of me and that is the direction that the groans were coming from. 🙂
We were there in 1996, LuAnn. We absolutely loved it.
I fell in love with Mt Rainier and would love to visit in the winter. Hubby is not too sure about that. 😉
Beautiful! Brings back many fond memories.
Thanks as always for your lovely and insightful reports.
Miss you guys,
My pleasure Norm! Where are you headed next? Miss you too!
Oh my gosh, that first photo captivated me…. mountains and wildflowers; the best. How wonderful to have the weather cooperate allowing you to enjoy the beauty AND sounds 🙂
Have you been to Rainier Ingrid? It is gorgeous!
Actually, I’ve never been to the Pacific NW. Crazy, huh! Our daughter may be moving from Denver and if that comes together, our summers will free up without Denver commitments. AND then it’ll be a toss up between OR/WA or CO/WY…. such a dilemma 😆
It took us a long time to get to the Pacific NW. OR/WA or CO/WY – either sounds wonderful. 🙂
This is a place I must go!
You and Hans would love the hiking. I will be posting on that next. 🙂
Beautiful images, LuAnn. The first one is absolutely breathtaking. How very fortunate you were with the clear weather. 🙂
We were very fortunate Sylvia. It is a beautiful place.
Loved Jim’s comment!! Haha!
Boy, you did choose the perfect time to visit! I can’t believe how clear your weather was. I’ve never seen the blue ice of any of the glaciers here. What an experience!! I can’t wait to read about your hikes. We need to get here to hike. Your photos are spectacular, but that first photo is just gorgeous:)
Thanks for the detailed explanantion of a glacier forming. I knew the basics but not all this info.
I loved Jim’s comment too! Although there were a few places that hadn’t opened yet, the wildflowers were just amazing and the weather was perfect for hiking. Even though there were no red rocks, the hiking is divine!
Clear days are the best days when you go a-photographin’. You capture the beauty of walking and reading your posts, old and new, it is wonderful to see how you can see the most beautiful vistas or if walking somewhere less dramatic those little bits of nature that show no less beauty and should be celebrated.
Thanks Ste J. I am in awe of Mother Nature’s gifts, if we only slow down enough to observe.
Awesome adventure, LuAnn! These images are stunning especially the first one, Wow!!
It’s a beautiful park. Have you been Amy?
We haven’t visited there yet… 🙂
One to add to the list!
We visited Mt. Rainer last fall (2014) (http://michigantraveler.org/2014/10/26/tacoma-wa-september-2014-part-two/) and plan to be back this coming summer (2016). I’m looking forward to doing more hiking on Rainer. I hope you find time to make it to Mount St. Helens.
We were there for a short time a couple of years ago. We need to get back for further exploration.
The first photo is the best, the the one with Terry hiking is next. I have never been to Mt Rainier but I have seen it recently from up high on a jet plane from/to Seattle and it was a gorgeous sight. Your ground pictures are completing its glorious beauty.
On your way down I would recommend Mount St Helen, she is also a beauty.
Thanks MonaLiza. I think you and Steve would love the hiking at Mt. Rainier. We were at Mt. St. Helen a couple of years ago but need to go back for a longer visit.
Oh, how beautiful! It looks like you had a good showing of wildflowers — they must have been early this year. We were in Rainier a couple of years ago in late August (we were thrilled to be there during peak wildflower bloom) and have been wanting to return for a longer visit. I enjoyed your description of how the glaciers are formed, LuAnn.
I am guessing the wildflowers were early because of the lack of snow this past winter. I don’t think I have seen so many wildflowers in one place before. Really loved this NP!
This is definitely one to add to the list LuAnn…your first photo of the wildflowers was all I needed! Can’t wait to read and see all about your hikes!
Glad to hear that it sparked your interest. It is a beautiful park!
Mount rainier is quite unique, with the snow, the glacier, and the wildflowers. I love the hike we did there a few years ago, it was awesome! I love your pictures, it brought back nice memories 🙂
Thanks! It has become one of our favorite NP’s but we have many more to visit. 🙂
I can understand why it’s one of your favourite 🙂
Wow, gorgeous photographs! I have always wanted to see her, but we haven’t made it yet, maybe next year. So wonderful that you had clear days and could really appreciate the full extent of her beauty.
There is lots of material to provide Hector with hours of photography. This park is chock-full of hiking trails.
Truly stunning. I could stay there for weeks.
I could too!