Just nine miles from Seattle is the impressive Mount Rainier volcano. Mount Rainier is the largest of Washington's volcanoes and with a peak rising almost 4500 meters, you can see the volcano looming on the horizon for many miles. In Seattle, you even determine how clear the weather is by how well you can see Mount Rainier from the city. In any case, you can almost certainly glimpse the white glacier-clad peak poking up above the clouds as you fly in for landing in Seattle. Because Mount Rainier is a real badass that is seen and takes place.
Mount Rainier is located in an area known as the "Ring of fire" - an area of active volcanoes that stretches like a ring around the Pacific Ocean. Almost 90% of all the world's earthquakes occur around the Ring of Fire and almost 75% of the earth's active/dormant volcanoes are located here. The combination of an active large volcano, the ring of fire and proximity to large densely populated areas has placed Mount Rainier on the list of "decade volcanoes" - a list of IAVCEI with the 16 most dangerous volcanoes in the world. The most recent eruption occurred sometime in the late 19th century, but throughout history there have been numerous eruptions. Now the volcano is carefully monitored and all movements and earthquakes are followed in order to be able to predict eruptions and evacuate the areas around the volcano in time. Maybe it's the thrill of hiking a dangerous volcano that attracts 2 million visitors a year, or maybe it's the rich flora and fauna that the volcano has brought with it. We were definitely drawn here for both reasons. There aren't many places in the world where you can say you've been to Paradise. But here you can. Namely, Mount Rainier has two large areas for hiking – Paradise and Sunrise. We hiked one day in Paradise and a day in Sunrise.
It is not fast to drive up to Sunrise, the winding road works its way up slowly. In some curves we drove right into a cloud and could barely see a few meters in front of us, the temperature crept down to zero degrees and the landscape was filled with snow. When the roads to Sunrise open in July, the snow is still deep on the side of the road. Thanks to not being able to drive that fast, we encountered several birds of prey and a handful of deer/deer at close range along the way. Sometimes there are advantages to not being in a hurry.
It actually took us almost 2 hours from a warm and sunny Yakima, via Chinook Pass to Sunrise. But the view from the top was unbeatable, from here you can even see the nearby volcanoes Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens and Mount Baker.
July in Sunrise means 5 degrees "warm", cloudy and a lot of snow. We had an early picnic lunch in the car among the snowdrifts, it was a little too cold to sit outside despite our fleeces and windbreakers. While we were eating, the clouds dispersed and the sun began to warm the air. Many of the trails were still closed due to all the snow that was still there, but we talked to a Park Ranger and got tips on which trails were open.
We chose the hiking trail Sunrise rim trail (8 km, 300 meters elevation gain) with beautiful views of the valley and surrounding mountain glaciers. The sunlit sections of the hiking trail opened up to reveal the yearning greenery hidden beneath the snow. Because when the summer season is short, it is important to lie in the starting pits and quickly be ready to bloom. The daughter thought it was great fun to hike, she thought it was especially fun when a deer suddenly jumped forward just a few meters in front of us on the path. The path was well maintained and easy to walk on - but quite steep in some parts - and the sun was shining and warming well and the parts of the trail that were still covered in snow were quite easy to climb over. However, the air was quite thin, it was clearly harder than we thought to hike at 2500 meters altitude. But a really good hiking trail!
Hopped in the car and rested my legs a bit before we got to the hiking trail for Silver falls (4,4 km round trip). Well worth staying here! The falls are violent in early summer and you will see logs tossed around in the raging current as if they were pickaxes.
Located on the south side of Mount Rainier, Paradise is the most visited part of the national park. Here at 1700 meters above sea level, summer occurs for a short 4-6 weeks, which means that all the flowers bloom at the same time, and results in massively colorful meadows and an intense animal life during these weeks. The snow usually disappears on the hiking trails in the middle/end of June. All years. Except for the year when we were here in July.
We spoke to a Park Ranger to find out about the situation and he confirmed that the summer was extremely late, it had snowed as late as May and the early summer had also been cold. So the trails that we had planned to go were all under snow, but he recommended that we try Nisqually Vista in all cases. Of course we try! It couldn't be that much snow, could it? So we went to the trail and started trudging. Already after a few metres, the first meter-deep pile of snow arrived. We hurried over in our shorts and t-shirts, thinking that this was probably just so much snow because it was shady. But for every small section of the trail that was bare, there was an even larger section of snow that was both slippery and wet. So after a few kilometers of fighting with snow in our shoes and carrying our daughter, we gave up. It felt really boring, but when you meet people in ski equipment and winter boots you understand your limitations. It doesn't help to have kick-ass low hiking boots when there is snow. It gets very cold on the feet.
Went back to the center and looked at the local wildlife exhibit and then took the car back down towards the Longmire, which was snow-free. On the way we stopped at a beautiful waterfall – Narada falls – and took the short hike up and down for beautiful views. The sun created rainbows in the water drops and quickly the failed hike was forgotten.
In Longmire we also went the easy way Trail of the shadows-loop in an area with old trees and beavers and read the story of the Longmire family who built the area as a health resort in the late 19th century. After the completely rescheduled hiking day, we sat down and ate an ice cream in the sun and realized with disappointment that we have to go back some other year - in August this time, to make sure the snow is gone. If it hasn't started snowing again...
Great links for more information about Mount Rainier:
→ NPS Mount Rainier National Park
→ Visit Rainier
→ International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior
Want to read more from Washington?
Off Anacortes, in the strait between the US and Canada, you can meet the queens of the sea -…30 October 2017
In Olympic National Park in Washington state in the northwestern United States, three completely different…January 13