Mount Rainier has a special place in my heart. I've always loved the wild beauty of the Pacific Northwest, and easy access to mountains like Rainier was a huge factor in my decision to move here three years ago. I never want to take these wild spots for granted, and I'm bound to spend as much time as possible to enjoy them while I live within driving distance.
I bit the bullet last spring and bought myself an annual pass to Mt. Rainier National Park. It's a quick two-hour drive from where I live and perfect for a weekend warrior trip. My cousin Lindsay, our friend Becki and I love to bust out of work at five on Fridays and meet each other at the front gate of the park, giddy with woodswoman excitement for a weekend of day hikes and mosquito bites, burning our dinners (chicken fajitas) over a crackling campfire, long trail stories and mushroom-hunting. Now that we are THIS CLOSE to spring/summer hiking, we've got camping on the brain and are looking forward to more of these trips.
Another reason I have a deep affinity for this mountain -- this park -- is because of my dad. He grew up outside of Seattle and spent a great deal of his time in the outdoors. He climbed Mt. Rainier twice and camped in some of the same spots I do today. While I grew up in Boston and am a New Englander at heart, I've always been drawn to the Pacific Northwest because of Dad's ties to it. Dad was excited I was exploring the Pacific Northwest and spending time hiking his old haunts, visiting me whenever he could. We talked last spring about doing a father-daughter trip here, hiking all 93 miles of the Wonderland Trail around Rainier.
Dad was diagnosed with Stage III esophageal cancer in early June, and we decided to make the hike something to look forward to after his treatments. Four months in, he had a major surgery and was declared cancer-free. With hopeful hearts, we were starting to put trips on the calendar to look forward to. A couple months later and not recovering as he should, it was discovered that the cancer had recurred and had metastasized to his lungs. Seven months from diagnosis, my dad passed away. Someday, I will hike the Wonderland Trail for him.
Which brings me back to these woodswomen weekends. On our last trip in September, my friend Becki and I discovered a stunning trail along Kautz Creek. A hearty day hike that, to our surprise, intersected with the Wonderland Trail. Not knowing how grave Dad's health would become, I was filled with excitement and sent him a photo of the trail -- telling him we'd get here next fall. It will have greater meaning (and even greater beauty) the next time I hike that trail.
Here are some of my favorite views of my local national park.
Switchbacks offer different views of the mountain and valleys surrounding, with occasional run-ins with critters enjoying the view, too.
The dayhike to Gobbler's Knob is steep and challenging, especially after a long hike preceeding to the trailhead -- and carrying 50+ lb framepacks. Advice? Strip down to a day pack.The views are absolutely worth it.
Three woodswomen atop Gobbler's Knob: Becki, Lindsay and Laura.
The inland lakes surrounding Mt. Rainier are worth the hike. Translucent, pristine lakes that you want to run into (but probably shouldn't, since they're glacier-fed and freeeeeezing. Tempting though.).
Trees. The trees are varied, lovely and tall. Very, very tall. Some covered in moss and lichen, some with other trees growing ON them.
Hard not to be a treehugger when surrounded by so many beauties.
My favorite views can be found along Kautz Creek. This trail traverses through dense, moss-covered forest, along steep ridges and agonizing switchbacks to golden meadows with intermittent killer views of the mountain. Ducking out of the forest for a bit, the path walks along a steep ridgeline, offering a bonus view of Mount Adams.
I LOVE seeing these -- they're called nurse logs. When a tree falls and starts to decay, new trees use it as soil and start to grow on top of it. Recycling at its best. Once you break out of the forest, it's clear views from here on.
All of a sudden, you emerge into a wide open meadow and see a log cabin that serves as a fire ranger station.
The whole thing is so gorgeous it looks fake.
The fire ranger station was just as cool looking up close as it was from far away,
with lots of Wild West touches that made me consider moving in.
Now that's a front door. Great views from the backyard.
Spring is coming and I'll be back here again, with a heavier heart but even greater appreciation for this special place.
Here's a photo of my Dad hiking on Mt. Rainier back in 1971.
We did get one last father/daughter hike together in August -- Rattlesnake Mountain above Squam Lakes in New Hampshire. Dad hadn't been here before and was feeling good. It was a beautiful day.
I'm thankful to my Dad for giving me my love of the outdoors and the Pacific Northwest. Life is short and I have more adventures to take, for him.