As we summited Mount Rainier, the sun broke through the thin, wispy clouds, bathing our faces in warmth. The four of us—we were accompanied on our Rainier expedition by dear old friends Ty and Laurie—stowed our climbing gear away and enjoyed the peacefulness of the peak recovering some of our energy by nibbling on some flax seed bars. Before we began the long, arduous descent, we readied our bodies and minds with yoga and Vishnu meditation.
And if you believe that, I have a corner of Mount Rainier National Park to sell you.
The most climbing we did the day we visited Mount Rainier was mounting the stairs into the Paradise Lodge. But, you know, the air was thin and all, so it was an adventure. We might not have broken out the ropes and d-rings and grappling hooks and hover boards and whatever equipment people use to climb mountains these days, but we did cover well over a hundred miles in our Nissan Rogue and took a few hundred pictures. That’s our style of mountain expedition.
The Paradise Lodge, Mount Rainier National Park
And what’s wrong with driving tours? I mean, other than all the carbon footprint stuff. Our path through this wonderful national park began from the north, as it will for most anyone visiting from nearby Seattle. We followed highways 410 and 123, looping to the mountain’s east side and hooking west so that we approached the mountain from the south. Just south of the peak we came to the Paradise Lodge, a grand old national park lodge that makes the trip worth it even if the mountain is entirely obscured by fog.
Fortunately for us, it was a beautiful day. All along the way we were treated to spectacular views of Rainier and the valleys and wilderness that surround it. Mount Rainier’s peak is at 14,417 feet. It’s one of the tallest mountains in North America, certainly one of the most prominent because of its proximity to Seattle. But we think what makes Rainier so remarkable is that it’s an active stratovolcano, one of the most dangerous in the world. One day, that perfect cone-shaped peak will blow, much like Mount Mazama did 6,000 miles ago to create Crater Lake in Oregon, with huge lava flows wiping out Seattle icons like Amazon and Starbucks. World civilization will be brought to its knees.
If you have the opportunity to tour Mount Rainier National Park by car as we did, we recommend planning on a full day. Map out your route in advance to avoid confusion, and don’t rely on maps on your mobile devices as cell coverage will be spotty. If you’re coming down from Seattle, you’ll follow a path similar to ours. If the weather is good and your views of the mountain are good, stop along the way for pictures: the weather might not be as good when you come back. Plan for a late lunch at the Paradise lodge, and spend a little time hiking around the slopes near the lodge. When we visited, a bear and her cubs spent a couple of hours just a hundred yards or so up the slope from the walking paths.