Thursday, October 8, 2015

Mt. Rainer National Park

Washington's Mt. Rainer National Park became our fifth national park in 1899. Mt. Rainier, at 14,410 feet in elevation (fifth highest in the lower 48), is the most glaciated peak in the lower 48 states, is the headwater for six major rivers, and is still an active volcano. It comprises 236,381 acres (almost 370 square miles.)  228,480 acres (97% of the park) are designated wilderness. Over 35 square miles of permanent ice and snow glaciers cover the mountain, among them Emma's Glacier the largest at 4.3 square miles in size, and Carbon Glacier which is both the longest at 5.7 miles and the thickest at 700 feet.

There are 260 miles of maintained trails and 147 miles of roads within the park. Between 1.5 million and 2 million visitors arrive every year, about 10,000 of whom attempt to scale the peak, though fewer than half generally succeed.

It is a relatively young volcano at 500,000 years old, contrasted with the surrounding Cascade Mountain Range which is over 12 million years old. The latest active period was between 1820 and 1894 when observers reported 14 eruptions.

The Paradise area is famous for its glorious views and its wildflower meadows. When James Longmire's daughter-in-law, Martha, first saw this site, she exclaimed, "Oh, what a paradise!" The park's main visitor center, the new Paradise Jackson Visitor Center, is located in the upper parking area. Paradise is also the prime winter-use area in the park, receiving on average 643 inches (53.6 feet) of snow a year. Winter activities include snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and tubing. The road between Longmire and Paradise is plowed throughout the winter. Paradise is considered the snowiest locale on the planet where snowfall is regularly measured, with a record high of 1,122 inches (93.5 feet) in the winter of 1971-1972. The photo below is of Paradise Inn Lodge the year I stayed there and had a room looking out at the mountains. The elevation here is 5400 feet.

The park contains 25 named glaciers across nine major watersheds, with 382 lakes and 470 rivers and streams and over 3,000 acres of other wetland types. The park is part of a complex ecosystem. Vegetation is diverse, reflecting the varied climatic and environmental conditions encountered across the park's 12,800-feet elevation gradient. Approximately 58 percent of the park is forested, 23 percent is subalpine parkland, and the remainder is alpine, half of which is vegetated and the other half consists of permanent snow and ice.

Some alpine heather communities have persisted in the park for up to 10,000 years. Species known or thought to occur in the park include more than 964 vascular plants, including hundreds of species of wildflowers. The Carbon River Valley receives between 70 and 90 inches of rain a year, and this abundant rainfall and the mild temperatures have created an inland temperate rainforest. Archaeologists at Mount Rainier have determined that humans have inhabited the mountain area for at least 9,000 years, from prehistoric people to the history of the current park.

Birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and fish are abundant, and of these, three species of fish are federally listed as threatened, while two bird, three bat, three amphibian, and one insect species are federally listed species of concern.


I love the colors in these flowers and also their name -- Avalanche Lillies -- a distinct alpine and sub-alpine, Northern Cascade and Olympics flower whose corm (underground stem) was a food source for the indigenous Northwest tribes.

One of the most iconic views of Mt. Rainier is as seen from Reflection Lake, just three miles from Paradise Inn.  There is a nice three mile trail here with an elevation gain of 850 feet.

Here's a photo I took as I hiked on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2004 while backpacking and participating in a volunteer trail project in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. As I turned and looked to my right and behind me from this point, I also had glorious views of Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams. What a great day that was!

The Wonderland Trail is the park's premier hiking trail at 93 miles in length as it completely encircles Mount Rainier. It is a very strenuous hike with ups and downs over side ridges totaling over 22,000 feet of elevation gain and loss as it takes you through lowland forests and valleys and into high alpine and sub-alpine areas. The trail was built in 1915 and it was designated a National Recreation Trail in 1981.  This photo is a shot above Summerland.

An estimated 200 to 250 people a year complete the entire trail, with several thousand others doing shorter sections of it. The average time taken to complete the entire trip is 10 to 14 days. The trail is entirely within the national park and as the trail circles the mountain, hikers see different faces of Mount Rainier. This photo is at Indian Bar.

The trail is considered strenuous as it is almost always climbing or descending the ridges around the mountain. The highest point reaches 6,750 feet at Panhandle Gap. There are many river crossings on the trail including two suspension bridges though many of the rivers are crossed on primitive log bridges which can wash away during heavy rain or when there is a lot of snow melt in the rivers. For example, most of the bridges washed away during a Winter storms of 2006-07 so the trail was impassable and closed to hikers through most of 2007 until park crews could rebuild the crossings. The next photo is at Ohanapecosh Park.

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