Snow blew sideways onto rosy cheeks, and despite being on one of the most magnificent volcanoes in the country, we couldn’t see much farther than 30 feet ahead of us. These were not ideal conditions by any stretch of the imagination. Despite the fog bank and sun that just couldn’t push through the clouds, the face of every person we passed had something in common; a wide, beaming smile. Winter is here, and the people of Washington are thrilled.
Mount Rainier remained hidden, and we weren’t able to complete the route we set out to do, but the ecstasy of being outside in perfect powder was unparalleled. Snow instead of rain? Brilliant. Wintery evergreens bowing under the weight of fresh snow? Love it. Landscape completely changed by snow? Can’t beat it. Winter on Mount Rainier is one my favorite things in this world.
Mazama Ridge Trail (?)
The weekend had been a little rough. Our building-wide fire alarm went off at our apartment the day before, then we went to REI and their fire alarm went off a few times. I hoped it wasn’t a sign to stay out of the mountains. Then a tree fell across the road on the way to Longmire ahead of us and we feared we wouldn’t be able to get around it. How many signs could I ignore? Three. I can ignore three signs and with the help of a ranger, we were able to drive safely around the tree, and made it to Paradise.
The first trip to Paradise is always a delightful experience. Winter comes to Mt. Rainier sooner and more spectacularly than almost anywhere else. It felt so amazing to be surrounded by snow. No longer wandering through forests with dustings of snow or muddy trails surrounded by slush. Instead: white. We geared up and tried to remember how to put on our snowshoes. Luckily, these are well-earned muscle memories and we were quickly on the trail.
We made our way to the back end of the visitors center and followed a well-forged trail. I was moving quite slowly, as my hips readjusted to the unique strides of snowshoes. It is always a shock to go from packed trails in hiking boots to the slow and slippery ways of packed snow.
There were several feet of unconsolidated powdery snow everywhere. The trees were completely covered in snow and it truly felt like winter. Unfortunately, we were entirely encompassed by a cloud, meaning that we were unable to get any views of the incredible peaks surrounding Rainier and no chance whatsoever of seeing the mountain herself. Luckily, it is the beginning of the season and we were so starved for activity that wasn’t in the rain that no views and windy snow was a welcome change.
We continued the trail for about 0.7 miles until we reached Myrtle Falls and a footbridge crossing Edith Creek. The cloudy mist pulsed so we occasionally got glimpses of the sun or a few more stands of trees, but for the most part, it was simply white everywhere you looked.
After we crossed the bridge, the way forward became a little more difficult to find. The sun managed to peek through the clouds just a sliver and the faintest sunbeam reflected on the slopes (see above).
There were tons of skiers in the area enjoying the fantastic snow. This meant there were tons of tracks that were going somewhere very different than where we were hoping. The decreased visibility meant that finding the ridge and a trail that didn’t cross significant avalanche terrain was pretty tricky. We kept climbing a ridge and struggling through deep powder, only to discover it ends at a cliff and terrain trap. Our guidebook suggested wandering through the meadows, but we had climbed too high on the ridge to easily make it down to the meadows safely.
After about 2 miles of route-finding and struggling with snow and increasing winds, we decided to call it. We had a tasty lunch and turned around to head back to the lodge for some hot cocoa. I am hoping to return in January in clear weather when the route is a little more established. It was disappointing to turn around when we did but felt like the right move considering the conditions.
Mount Rainier Visitors Lodge
We made our way back to the lodge. Usually, we are so busy with the hike and trying to get past the gate before 5:00 that we don’t have time to visit the lodge. With our truncated hike, however, we had plenty of time to wander. The lodge is filled with lovely wood and beautiful windows that show off the snowy landscape. In theory, you can see the Mt. Rainier’s summit out of this window, but alas, not today. The lower section has a cafeteria and the upper section has a number of small exhibits, which were fun to peruse.
As it was only 2:00, we decided to stop at Narada Falls on the way down. There is a parking lot to the side and a short trail to a lookout. The trail was well compacted and we did it just in our boots. Spikes would have been useful, but it was so short that we got along without.
We seemed to be below most of the clouds at Narada Falls, so there were patches of blue sky and sun, which was so, so lovely. We rounded the corner and the sight of Narada Falls took my breath away. It is simply stunning with a mix of frozen icicles and splashing water. Certainly worth a 15-minute detour.
We mosied on home and had plenty of time to nap before sleeping. Already it feels like a dream…