Mount Rainier National Park
According to our guidebook, Mount Rainier is not named for its 'climatological proclivities'. In spite of that, they did get 63 feet of snow last winter in the nearest visitor centre, and a lot of that is still there. En route we stopped at Boulder Cave, where supposedly the only big eared fruitbats in the lower 48 live. Well, they weren't at home.
We leapt out of bed at 4.30am to see the sun rise over Mount Rainier. Believe me, this is no small undertaking when you're sleeping in a tent and the outside temperature is a little lower than in the average bedroom. Still, it was very pretty and the mountain did glow a delightful colour. Was it worth it? Take a look at the photo at the right.
Then, we spent the morning strolling over hard packed snow towards the Glacier Basin at around 6,200 feet. This is one of the two main jumping off points for the two day climb to the summit, and we were feeling quite brave until we bumped into someone removing the skis that he'd just used to descend from the summit of 14,410 feet. Apparently the skiing hadn't been that challenging. In any case, it's a beautiful mountain.
Next we drove down to the south of the park, and a quick stroll through the "Grove of the Patriarchs". This is a section of the "old-growth" forest, and very peaceful it is too. Old-growth actually means an ecology comprising both old and young trees and plants, with a huge diversity of linkages that make for a system more complex than even the best spaghetti software. One example: there's a fungus that coats the roots of trees and makes them better able to absorb water. The fungus then "flowers" in truffles, which are dug up and eaten by red-backed voles. Their scat is spread around, allowing the fungus to spread. The fungus eventually forms huge underground networks, that in some cases even allow trees going through a rough patch to extract sustenance from other trees. Then, if a tree does die, guess who gets to nest in it?
Anyway, the forest has 250 foot plus trees, including red cedar, Pacific spruce and alders. There are many fallen trees around, with substantial trees growing on top of them. Apparently the dead trunks act like giant, 20,000 gallon sponges, and are the 'nursery' site of most future big trees. In amongst all this is a riot of other plants. One thing about old growth is that where an old tree falls, smaller ones grow. This means that the canopy is variable in height, and lots of light filters through to nourish the plants below.
Enough of the biology lecture! We stayed on for another night at the park, and walked across snow once more to get views of the mountain. The snow is a bit of a shame, as apparently the meadows will be a riot of colour when it melts in a few weeks - we'll just have to come back another year. It was great fun though seeing families out in the sunshine enjoying the snow. Toboganning in 70 deg F is so much more fun than at 20 deg F and everyone seemed to want to get hit by a snow ball in order to cool down. It was weird but brought a big smile to my face.
It appears that you can climb Mount Rainier in 3 days: day 1 to get all the correct gear, learn how to use crampons and the like and do some training; day 2 to hike to base camp at about 10,000 feet; day 3 (starting at 1am) climb to the top, take a picture and come down. We passed several groups who had obviously done this and were looking suitably elated (and sweaty!). Maybe next time.....??
(click thumbnails for a larger picture) |
Sunrise at Mount Rainier
Mount Rainier from the South