2 days in Mt. Rainier National Park
We spent 2 beautiful days in Mt. Rainier National Park during the 1st week of July. Mt. Rainier was majestic, beautiful and had captivating views. We were lucky to have clear skies for the most part which enhanced our experience manifold. I would like to share our itinerary for the 2 days in the Park, which worked quite well for us.
We stayed in a nice cabin close to the Nisqually entrance in the Ashwood area. This entrance to the National Park is in a lovely forest area lined with tall green trees, that are so elegant and beautiful that it almost felt like a dream driving through it. The morning fog added such dream-like-charm that I almost had to pinch myself. Forests are, perhaps, my favorite landscape, as they bring such peace and sense of calm and especially redwood forests are the stuff of my dreams.
Our first stop was at the Paradise Visitor center, which is around 17.5 miles from the Nisqually entrance, where the 6.2 mile RT Skyline trail to Panorama point begins. We parked at the lower lot and walked to the visitor center as the upper lot has a time limit of 2 hours. When we reached there around 10:45 am, it was cold and the whole area was covered in thick fog. The trail was covered in ice and snow but footsteps were visible and there were trail markers on ice. It didn't seem like a great idea to hike in ice in that weather where there might not be any views and the ranger said the same. But we decided to go ahead with the hike.
About 30 minutes into the hike, we had our first view of Mt. Rainier but alas, it was covered in fog. We pushed ahead.
An hour into the hike, we reached an open area and paused to look around. Suddenly, the fog cleared up, sun showed up and there it was - Mt. Rainier in all its glory right in front us. We gasped. What a stunning beauty!
Mountains make their own weather and we were glad we went ahead with the hike. You remember the saying, fortune favors the brave? ;) Now, there was fog on one side and Mt. Rainier on the other side. Mystery on one side and majesty on the other. And sunshine all around us.
Another hour into the hike, we reached the Panorama Point. It felt a bit anti-climactic as Mt. Rainier was behind us and there was fog in front of us. But I am sure that views from this Point would be great on a clear day. After lunch, we continued ahead and had clear views of Mt. Rainier again for some time before we started descending.
It was around 1:15 pm and the sun was in full force. We could feel the heat on our heads and wished we didn't leave our hats in the car. But we were glad we brought hiking poles along which were quite helpful navigating through the ice. After about 1.5 hours of descending in ice-covered-trail slowly but uneventfully, we reached a junction where we had the option to pick Golden Gate trail which was steeper but a mile less.
We picked that trail and thus the adventure of the day has begun. Within minutes, we came across steep slopes on all sides completely covered in ice. And all of a sudden, fog filled up the area reducing visibility to a few feet. There we were, standing on a mountain top, with slopes of ice all around, with nobody in sight, not knowing which direction to go, and unable to see beyond a few feet ahead of us. I just sat down on the ice. While my butt was freezing, the fog-trapped-heat was making us sweat. The weather was weird, just like our situation. I was hoping that the fog would clear up and a trail would soon appear in front of us. Well, nothing of that sort happened. But my husband came back, picked me up and led us in a direction he believed would get us back, based on the GPS location in the phone (lucky that it worked!). About 20 minutes later, things cleared up a bit and we found ourselves close to a trail. We were glad to be on solid footing again.
Another 15 minutes later, we were at Myrtle Falls with a big crowd.
We were glad to be back, though a part of me missed that adventure. Those moments of sitting on a mountain of ice with my ass freezing. Those moments of trying to decide if its safer to walk and slip occasionally or slide down on your butt uncontrollably. But I needn't have worried, as the next day would bring in more adventure, unknown to me then.
We reached the parking lot around 3:30 pm. We were tired from all that icy adventure but decided to make a quick stop at Narada Falls on our way back. And I am so glad we did. The waterfalls were beautiful and when you stand in front of them, not only can you hear the roar of the falls but also feel the mist land on you. It was quite refreshing and invigorating. And absolutely thrilling.
We reached the cabin at 5pm and after a hot shower went around 6 pm, for what we thought was an early dinner, to a nearby restaurant in Ashford (Copper Creek). It took 2 hours for them to seat us and get our food, in what was a relatively small restaurant in town. I don't remember waiting that long for food ever. But the food was good! We finally reached the cabin around 8:40 pm and called it a night.
We got up early the next morning and luckily it was a clear day. I made early lunch reservations for us at the Summit Restaurant, which is on top of the Crystal Mountain, about a 2 hour drive from Ashford. The drive was beautiful, the sky was clear and we made a few stops along the way. Our first stop was at the Reflection Lake.
Our next stop was about an hour later, on the Steven Canyons Road. We caught this beautiful view of Mt. Rainier with some suspended fog amidst all the greenery and I was so happy. My smile says it all :)
About 10 minutes later, we stopped again for this beautiful waterfall view.
We then realized we were getting late for our 11 am reservation, so we headed straight to the Crystal Mountain Resort. From the parking lot, we had to take a gondola ride to the reach the Summit Restaurant. Luckily, there were no lines and we were at the top in a matter of minutes. When we reached the top, we were greeted with a beautiful view of Mt. Rainier which was, once again, right in front of us.
This restaurant has one of the best views possible and we were soon able to find a seat outside, which had a community style seating. The reservations we had apparently only apply for inside seating and I can't imagine why anyone would want to sit inside with such pretty views and weather outside. The food wasn't bad either.
Even if you don't want to eat at the restaurant, there were chairs set up in the area facing the mountain, in which you could lounge, with some of the best views of Mt. Rainier. Someday I hope to spend a day there, reading one of my favorite books in the presence of this majestic mountain. I have read by the beach and in the forests before and thoroughly enjoyed it. And I can't think of a better place to read by the mountain than this. I am so looking forward to that day!
After spending a relaxed morning at the Summit Restaurant, we took the Gondola ride back and picked up a coffee from the cute shop near the resort area. Then, we headed to the Sunrise area.
The 1.5 mile RT Sourdough Ridge Nature Trail starts behind the restrooms in the Sunrise area parking lot. We had spectacular views of Mt. Rainier soon after we hit the trail.
Since it was a short trail, we did not carry our hiking poles (which turned out to be a big mistake). The trail seemed easy, so we continued another mile to reach the Frozen Lake. There were a couple of ice patches that we had to cross to get there. They seemed tricky but we managed.
Once we reached the Frozen Lake, there were several options for hiking further. We could see Mt. Rainier at a distance and the Burroughs Mountain Trail seemed to get you much closer to the mountain. We were tempted. The ranger warned us of several tricky ice patches ahead, which could be quite uncomfortable to cross. Well, we didn't come to the mountains to be comfortable, I said to my husband and we decided to proceed. And the mountains did put us to test and how!
It was a relatively steep hike but the views were so promising. We did come across several patches of ice and snow, less than a foot wide with steep drops into the valley if we were to slip. It was scary, especially because I don't have the most stable feet. I knew my shoes have good tread, so it's not dangerous. I just had to overcome my fear to get to where I want to go. Fear could be paralyzing but I realize its an emotion that you could acknowledge, set aside and move forward, if you want to. There were times when it almost got the better of me, cramping my legs and making it difficult to take the next step, but I took deep breaths and pushed forward, one careful step at a time. Noticing this, my husband started walking in front of me, making deep foot impressions that I could leverage and it was quite helpful. We made it to the First Burrough and had spectacular views of Mt. Rainier. We considered going back but it felt like the mountain kept calling us. So, we went ahead.
Just before we reached the Second Burrough, or the highest point of the trail, there was a very slippery and steep ice portion that even people with hiking poles seemed to slip on. It was difficult to even watch them, let alone gather the courage to cross it ourselves without the poles. But we didn't want to give up. So, we decided to scramble onto the mountain and avoid that patch. When your mind is made up, all you have to do is to figure out how. Soon, I was on my knees scrambling up the loose rock of the mountain looking for grip, feeling like a very un-elegant mountain goat. In a few minutes, we reached the other side and were treated to even better views.
We were glad to have made it and have a chance to see the mountain up so close and feel its air. But now we have to cross all those patches again to go back! Once again, I followed in my husband's footsteps, dug my hands into the ice, and slowly crossed the ice patches, as they came. My hands froze and took a while to thaw after each patch but in the end, I was proud of myself for not letting fear stop me from getting to where I want to go and felt blessed to have a wonderful partner to help make it happen.
We reached the parking lot around 6:30 pm. But there was one more hike I wanted to do - The Grove of Patriarchs. Since it was an easy 1 mile RT trail, I was able to convince my husband, so off we headed to the Steven Canyons Road again.
It was a pleasant walk in the woods among several species of trees. There was a bridge to cross and giant sequoias to admire. Redwoods and I have something in common, part in form and part in spirit.
We finally reached our cabin around 9 pm, more than 12 hours since we left that morning. What a day it was! Quite adventurous, yet quite satisfying!!
We only spent 2 days in the National Park but we saw Mt. Rainier from so many angles and made so many memories together. These 2 days brought me alive and brought us closer, the 2 reasons I love traveling with my husband. I couldn't have done this without him, and he wouldn't have done this without me. I meticulously plan our trips to the last detail and he helps me execute them even better. We are lucky to have each other!
Leaving you with one last shot of the beauty we were lucky to meet on our travels...