I really don’t want to type out this next line, but I just can’t stop myself.
Did you know there’s more than one way to get high in Washington?
Onto the real story.
I’m more comfortable amidst sky-high trees than skyscrapers, and fear rustling bears less than the sound of footsteps from a strange man behind me. When my dad and I pulled into Mt. Rainier National Park during our road trip from Washington to California, we collectively felt our blood pressure drop and were ready to spend some time walking through fresh mountain air. Though my dad and I often butt heads politically and generationally (he just can’t understand those damn Millennials), a verbal ceasefire exists whenever we venture outdoors.
I guess you could simply say that a hatred for big cities and love for the wilderness runs in the family, which is why we chose to explore Mt. Rainier instead of seeing any of Washington’s urban highlights.
The highest mountain in the Cascade Mountain Range, Mt. Rainier is actually an active volcano that, if it erupts, threatens a large part of Seattle. Only skilled mountaineers are able to climb through the glaciers to summit, a three-day journey that only about half of those who attempt will succeed at. It’s a paradise for biking, climbing, hiking, camping, fishing, and all other outdoor thrills.
With just a single day at Mt. Rainier on our itinerary and no plans on what to hike, we just walked up to random trail heads and ventured from there.
My dad spent years working in the Sierras as a pack station guide, leading tours through the mountains via the backs of horses and mules. As a result, I know a strange amount of mule facts and have even visited Bishop’s Mule Days (an entire festival centered around pack mules) with my dad so that we could pay a homage to the pack station he used to work at. Though he’s a city-dwelling attorney now, he hasn’t lost touch with the wilderness (a few years ago, he spent a week rafting in Alaska’s grizzly territory). He grew up spending the summer near Yosemite and has passed that tradition down to me.
“See these?” He pointed to a tall tree with a scorch mark down its side. “Lightning.”
Trees with similar scorch tattoos lined the trail amidst wildflowers and patches of snow. Clouds rolled overhead, threatening to rain and storm. The crisp air started to sting my throat as climbed in elevation. After a down-under summer spent in the heat of Western Australia and Southeast Asia, it felt good to be chilly.
Along the river, we came across a patch of snow that stretched about fifty feet in front of us on a steep slope.
“I don’t know about this. If you slip, there’s nothing to stop you before you hit the rocks.”
I looked down. He was right — it’d be a full-speed slide straight into freezing water. How far to the waterfall downstream?
“Things can go very bad, very quickly in the mountains.” My dad continued — a phrase that has prefaced many exciting childhood stories about his time in the Sierras.
A couple with a baby on the father’s shoulders overtook us and marched through the snow. My dad and I exchanged glances that said, What the hell are they doing? And because we couldn’t chicken out on a path that a baby was going down, we followed. Behind us, three girls took a few timid steps into the snow before turning back.
“We’ll help you.” We offered. The ringleader shook her head and signaled for the others to retreat.
We made it through the second icy patch and saw the family with the baby turn back once they’d reached a third icier, longer, and steeper, pass. We backtracked as well, our hike abruptly cut short by fear, snow, and improper trekking equipment.
We stuck to the heavily trod trails near waterfalls and main attractions, changing the tune of our trip from being adventurous to relaxing — with no complaints on my end. If only we had more time, I could easily spend weeks exploring the trails of Mt. Rainier National Park without ever feeling bored of the scenery.
Christine Falls was named after the daughter of P.B. Van Trump, the first mountaineer to ascend to the top of Mt. Rainier in 1870. Christine, at the age of nine years old, nearly made it to the top of Mt. Rainier despite having a crippling anxiety disorder. In the climbing chronology records, it’s said that Christine “climbed as far as her strength would allow.” Parents of little girls everywhere, please share this tale of female badassity.
Narada Falls is an easily accessed waterfall that can be viewed from the roadside as a quick stop, or seen in all its glory after just a short walk. We went down the slippery path to the middle of the waterfall, where the spray emitted a stunning double rainbow. Children and adults alike slipped and fell on their bottoms every few minutes because of the slick mud and snow. Droplets from the waterfall fogged my camera lens and chilled my skin. Families, couples, solo hikers all stopped at the bottom despite the spray to gawk at the thousands of gallons of water rushing down Narada Falls.
As we drove higher, snow began to thicken on the side of the road and the trees wore it like frosting.
I haven’t been in snow in a few years — a massive contrast to my time spent at USC, where my social and sports life revolved around being an active member of the Ski and Snowboard Team. I’ve craved being in it ever since moving to a land dominated by red dirt and white sand.
I’ve had hundreds of similar experiences with my old man — debating gun laws and civil rights (and listening to the biography of the holy man known as Reagan followed up with one-hundred-and-two reasons why he could do a better job dead than any president alive) in the car on the way to a hike or forest and then walking in stillness. But, it never gets old.
Good to Know
The waterfalls and trails I saw were part of the West Side Loop driving route. I highly recommend following along and stopping at whatever looks interesting to you.
When is the best time to visit Mt. Rainier: In spring, you’ll find all types of wildflowers and the trails are generally less crowded than they are in summer. However, summer comes with the most predictable warm weather and most trails will be open.
Where to camp: There are campsites all throughout Mt. Rainier National Park. All but two are available on first-come first-served basis. You can reserve the campsites of Ohanapecosh and Cougar Rock online.
Alternative accommodation: Look into staying at Hobo Inn, where you can stay in an old train caboose near the Mt. Rainier National Park Entrance.
As always, take care of your trash. Pick up the trash of others. Adventure within your limits. Don’t feed the animals. Have fun :).
Visit Rainier is killing it in the social media department. Their Facebook Page posts interesting updates and fosters a community obsessed with showing off their gorgeous pictures. *Liked.*