Summer is (not) over!
Although Labor Day has come and gone and school is back in session, the weather here in Seattle is definitely still summer-like. The days are warm and sunny with plenty of blue sky. That means hiking in the beautiful Pacific Northwest is still an awesome experience. So, we decided to take advantage of the good days while they last and enjoy an almost end of summer hike to one of my favorite destinations, Mount Rainier.
For those of you not familiar with this iconic and magnificent mountain, here are a few facts. Mount Rainier sits just 54 miles south east of Seattle. It was named in honor of Rear Admiral Peter Rainier. With an elevation of 14,411 feet (4,392 meters), it is the second tallest mountain in the contiguous United States (Mount Whitney in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California is a mere 94 feet taller). Unlike many taller mountains that sit atop tall plateaus or mountain ranges, Rainier rises like a colossus from sea level to dominate the landscape. It is a large stratovolcano. The International Association of Volcanology considers it one of the ten most dangerous volcanos in the world because of its proximity to a large metropolitan area and history of violent eruptions. Great! Oh well, we still love to live in its shadow.
The Mountain, as many locals refer to it, is very alluring. Each year, about 8,000 people attempt to summit The Mountain. Of those, about 50% are successful. Unfortunately, the mountain claims on average two lives a year, an implied tragic sacrifice to the mountain gods. Our oldest son, Aaron wants to climb it. We will wait and see. For this summer outing, we chose a less strenuous hike on the mountain’s knees.
If you only get a chance to hike one trail on or around Mount Rainier, I highly recommend the hike from Mowich Lake. Mowich Lake is nestled in a small glacier valley at 4,929 feet (1,502 meters) on the northwestern slope of the mountain. From there, you can take several trails. We chose the Tolmie Peak Trail because it offers the best views of the mountain. However, the Spray Park Trail is also fabulous and has some good vistas of the mountain too. It also ends at Spray Falls, a magnificent 354 foot tall cascade of cold glacial water, a nice reward for the effort on a hot day.
Elijah, our nature loving youngest son, always likes to lead the way, so we let him. Both boys are very experienced Scouts and have grown up hiking and camping. I feel pretty confident in their wilderness survival abilities. That still does not prevent me from being a worrying dad. Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed in the national park, so Albie had to stay and guard the car. I felt really bad. He loves to pretend he is returning to his far-off wolf ancestry and lead his pack. He is brave until he realizes he has gotten to far ahead or behind and cannot see us and panics. The wolf genes are not very strong in him.
The Tolmie Trail is fairly easy. It meanders along a small ridge going gently up and down for the first 2/3 of the 3 ¼ mile trek. The last 1/3 is moderately difficult as you gain elevation quickly. At the top of the switch-backs you arrive at beautiful crystal clear Lake Eunice. This is a wonderful spot to stop to catch your breath, have a snack, and take in the breathtaking scenery. From the lake shore you can see your final destination, the Tolmie Peak fire lookout. The lookout is another ½ mile of climbing steep switch-backs. You will be well rewarded for the extra effort with an up-close amazing view of Mount Rainier. On a sunny day, The Mountain ominously stands directly across the lake from Tolmie Peak. You will be able to see the glaciers and crags of the mountain as well as the surrounding wilderness. I guarantee you will not be disappointed!
Please remember, you are in a wilderness area. So, there are bear and mountain lions. The trail can have loose stones too. All of these make for potentially dangerous situations. We want you to have safe family travels. You can read up on wilderness safety in one of my other posts.
Have fun and be safe!