Let me state the obvious and get it out of the way: Mt. Rainier is a really big mountain. It’s 14,410 feet above sea level, and twenty-six glaciers cover its flanks. When I was growing up, it was visible from our place on Newaukum Hill (equidistant from the Pacific Ocean and the Cascades). Now I live to the northeast, and can see the mountain from several higher vantage points. It gets your attention.
I made a mini-getaway to visit this geologic wonder. Washington is home to three National Parks, and I don’t spend enough time at any of them. Besides glaciers, roaring rivers, snowfields, subalpine meadows, and historical buildings, Mt. Rainier NP preserves a large chunk of west slope ancient forests. These range from lowland giant western hemlocks, Douglas-firs, and western redcedars to Pacific silver firs at higher elevations. Above timberline, the whitebark pines and subalpine firs disappear into meadows and rocks. Just beyond the park boundary, the massive clearcuts begin. Inside the park is what the Cascades used to look like.
I camped one night near a noisy river. The water was gray and cloudy with silt from the melting Emmons Glacier. It wound and wove its way through a floodplain of rounded cobbles and boulders. Piles of uprooted conifers were evidence of recent flooding, the worst of which occurred in 2006. The geology looked fresh and raw, due to the action of water and ice. I sat in my camp with a new-to-me copy of The Gary Snyder Reader. This poet/essayist/activist spent his formative years in the Northwest, and it was meaningful to read about his time in the Cascades. His phrase “Mountains and rivers without end” kept going through my mind. It got dark at 8 o’clock. I dug my headlamp out of the pack and kept reading.
In the morning, I got up, made coffee, and wrote in my journal. I was aware of camping with neighbors around me (I rarely stay in formal campgrounds). I smelled smoke and bacon frying. Heard zippers, car doors, kids hooting off in the trees. The hush of tires on pavement at slow speeds. Jays and unnaturally tame squirrels eyeballed me. I packed up and drove to Sunrise, on the northeast side of the park–a first for me. It was a bright, cloudless day, and people were taking advantage of it. I was glad to see them–this is what the parks were meant for. Lots of families were out, with children and elders. I heard languages besides American English. Everyone was civil and well-behaved. I found myself smiling at everyone I met on my loop hike. It was not a day for wild solitude in the mountains, but a day for sharing a magnificent place with other humans.
It was a fine day, indeed.