Mount Rainier National Park was originally a national forest; its national park designation came in 1899 at the order of President McKinley. Rainier is the dominating feature of the park’s landscape, a mountain among mountains; it is also an active volcano. On a bright summer day last year, I got it into my head that I wanted to see Mount Rainier at sunrise. I had about 24 hours to convince the Other Half that this was a good idea. Unfortunately, the odds were stacked against me, mostly because my plan necessitated getting up at 2am to make the drive.
Well, I convinced him it was doable, and we made the drive in the thick, black darkness which only arrives about 4 hours before dawn. We arrived at Sunrise Point, the highest driveable point in the park, just as the sun was cresting the mountains.
We were deciding which of the mountains we were seeing was Rainier when some of the cloud cover behind us cleared, revealing only a single outcrop of the looming peak. We stood, awestruck, for several moments before continuing back down from Sunrise Point to our goal for the day: hiking the Glacier Basin Trail, a 7-mile round trip trail to one of the base camps used for glacier climbing at the park.
We parked in the White River campground just as most of the campers were eating breakfasts and packing up. The morning was somewhat cold, so the only things out on the trail were creatures well-adapted to the weather and elevation, such as these Townsend’s chipmunks.
We unfortunately did not see any marmots, my personal goal for the day, but we did get to see 25% of the reptiles extant in the park: the northern alligator lizard. This guy was out sunning himself until these weird giant people came galumphing down the trail and nearly stepped on him.
Yes, in fact, there are only four reptiles in the park. Yes, we were galumphing down the trail. And yes, galumphing is totally a word. Birds were also present in abundance, including brown creepers, chickadees, jays, bushtits, hawks, and wrens, among others.
We were able to enjoy the trail in relative solitude despite the wildlife; most of the people we passed were just on their way out for a hike by the time we were heading home. I guess no one else likes to get up at 2 o’clock in the morning.
I was also afraid that due to the late season, we would miss the alpine wildflowers blooming; however, we managed to reach the park in time to see the last of the blooms before fall overtook the area. Paintbrushes, lupines, and more delicate flowers with names like coltsfoot, monkeyflowe,r and mountain parsley were quietly soaking up the last of the summer sun over Labor Day weekend.
On the way out of the park, we happened to drive into a wildlife-induced traffic jam worthy of Yellowstone. A large bull elk was belly deep in a pond, munching on grasses, right inside the entrance to the park.
It was a wonderful end to a great trip. When asked if it was worth getting up at 2am, the Other Half responded: “Yes, but I am never doing that again…” Well, I guess you can’t win them all…