Mount Rainier

June 2000

August 2003

On Labor Day Weekend of 2003, I made a daytrip up to Mount Rainier in Washington State.

At 14,410 feet, Mount Rainier is the tallest mountain in the Cascades Range, which runs approximately from Mount Shasta in California to Mount Garibaldi in British Columbia.  It is one of a number of volcanic mountains in the range, which form part of the “Ring of Fire” around the Pacific Ocean.  Because many of the Cascades peaks are over 9000 feet, they experience substantial precipitation as fronts from the Pacific slam into them.  This creates a rainshadow effect, and eastern Oregon and Washington remain relatively arid.  Because of all this precipitation, most of the peaks remain covered in snow and ice year-round.  Huge glaciers creep down the slopes and feed streams and rivers that spread out into the valleys below.

Not only is Mount Rainier a tall mountain, but like Mount St. Helens to the southwest, it is very wide.  This gives the impression of a very solid peak, but in reality scientists say it is very unstable.  It is considered the second-most active volcano in the Cascades (after Mount St. Helens).  As with the St. Helens eruption in 1980, the main threat from Mount Rainier is mudflows, called lahars.  Lahars can sometimes occur even without an eruption.  The last major lahar from Mount Rainier was only about 500 years ago, and the debris flow spread all the way to Puget Sound around present-day Tacoma and Seattle.  Today, a similar flow would be catastrophic to this densely-populated area.

As I made my way along the drive to the lodge, I stopped periodically to photograph the mountain.  I also made a short hike down a trail to see one of the glacial streams which have carved out deep channels in the basalt over the years.  I managed to get a decent shot of a Stellar’s jay, not easy without a huge zoom lens, they are pretty flighty.

The historic lodge at Rainier, called Paradise Inn, was built in 1917.  In 1919, a German carpenter named Hans Fraehnke designed and built much of the rustic interior woodwork that remains today, including an upright piano and a 14-foot grandfather clock.  I reached the lodge around lunchtime, so I grabbed a hotdog from the concession stand there and sat in the main hall and listened while someone played the piano.

It was after leaving the lodge that my day took a turn for the worse. The main parkinglot had been full, but there was some additional parking along the exit road. This road curved around a hill of sorts, and the main parkinglot sloped up next to that hill, and then the lodge was on the crest of it. So I had parked there and walked up the hill to the lodge.

On my way back, I decided to walk in front of the parked cars, rather than along the road where there was traffic. In front of the cars, there was a little drainage gulley of sorts that they had formed with the asphalt, just about maybe a 4-inch depression and about two feet wide. I guess I must have slipped on some gravel or something, I’m not sure, but all of a sudden I was on the ground and hurting. I got to the car and took a look at my right knee. Just below my kneecap, towards the outside, it was all scraped up and bleeding. Naturally, I had nothing in the car to clean or bandage the wound. I had noticed that there was a ranger station up the hill on the way to the lodge, so I hobbled up there to see if they had any first aid stuff. The guy on duty took me upstairs where they had a whole big toolbox of first aid supplies. So I dabbed the wounds with some antiseptic pads, and then we put on a big bandage with a roll of gauze wrapped around my leg and tape to hold it all firm. He gave me another bandage and roll of gauze in case I had to redress it before I got home.

That curbed my enthusiasm for hiking any more trails, as even getting out of the car was quite painful.  So I cut my Rainier explorations short, and drove out of the park.