“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”
Whether you’re coming into Seattle or exiting the city stage left, there’s one piece of nature that simply towers over the rest, sitting pristine and pretty at 14.1 thousand feet above sea level. We know it now as Mount Rainier, but past indigenous tribes proudly remember and revere it was Tahoma, or Tacoma.
Located about sixty miles southeast of Seattle, the spectacular – and active! – stratovolcano has become a larger than life icon of the Pacific Northwest landscape. Made of alternating layers of lava, ash and pyroclastic ejecta flows, Mount Rainier effortlessly towers over the rest of the Cascade Mountain Range with 26 major glaciers and 36 square miles of permanent sparkling snowfields, earning its status as the most glaciated mountain peak in the contiguous United States. At the top of the summit, the geothermic heat spewing from a duo of volcanic craters prevents the rims from getting snowed in or iced over, forming the world’s largest glacial cave network of ice-filled craters.
While the current top formation of Mount Rainier is estimated to be approximately 500,000 years old, the mountain and the entire Cascade Volcanic Arc is considered part of the ‘Lily Formation’ and spans from roughly 840,000 years old to a whopping 2.6 Million years old. Many eons and moons ago, it’s purported that Rainier was around 16k feet high – but with increased volcanic activity around 5,600 years ago around 3600 B.C., the volcano erupted, removing the top 2k feet and causing the northeast side of the mountain to collapse. Now known as the Osecola Lahar – or mudflow, a wall of mud, rock and debris over 100′ high cascaded over land and into the waters of the Puget Sound, nearly 50 miles away. Though small eruptions have happened since with a frequency of every few hundred years, the last major eruption of Rainier was about 1000 years ago – to which many geologists say, we could be due for a ‘big’ one, and it could be absolutely disastrous to the whole planet.
“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.”
Home to dozens of roaring rivers, reflection ponds and lavish lakes, the spectacle of the park shimmers and sparkles in full color from every which direction. Boasting assorted entrances, a plethora of unique micro-climates, and dozens of viewpoints and over 130 interpretive trail descriptions – you can essentially guarantee a completely new trip with each visit. I happened to fall in love with the park in a little under six hours, but with multiple lodges and camping spots on site, not to mention the vast amount of hotels around the base of the park, you can completely make a weekend of your visit while you marinate in every last inch of wildlife.
“Of all the fire-mountains which, like beacons, once blazed along the Pacific Coast, Mount Rainier is the noblest.”
With the velocity and veracity of shifting weather patterns, not to mention changes in altitude as you traverse the mountain – it’s also entirely possible to experience every season within a full days adventure. During our stay the other weekend, we were greeted by ambient low level clouds, only to peter out into gloriously clear sunshine at Sunrise Ridge, then a hail storm as we etched our way around the mountain, followed by an intense game of hide and seek with a bog of fog, and finally one of the most glorious lightning storms I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting under. That said – word to the wise, pack enough extra clothing that you can be warm and dry if the rain starts in, or have a tank top and shorts for when the sun finally manages to break through the day.
For more on Mount Rainier, head to their website or social channels – or simply pack a bag, and plan a visit!