Finding Paradise at Mt. Rainier
Get ready for a gazillion photos. Because Mt. Rainier? Might very well be one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life! I had no idea something this spectacular existed in our own 50 states or I would have come here sooner!
As I mentioned in the last post, Maria and I got our first glimpse of Mt. Rainer across the way from Crystal Mountain.
In doing our research, we decided upon the Paradise region of the park. And what a fitting name as this place truly is paradise!
Each and every turn showed us a view more stunning than the last. To be honest, the pictures don’t even do it justice. There’s something special about experiencing the swooping vistas from every angle!
We embarked upon the Skyline Trail, which was a little over 4 miles and approximately 1700 feet in elevation gain. As it was one of the more strenuous trails, we had most of it to ourselves once we passed the first half mile or so. We encountered just enough people to not feel nervous about being out in the wild with the sun slowly beginning its descent!
Along the trail, we found a good spot to rest the bones. A rock couch takes glamping to a whole new level!
It’s a good thing we rested up because next we found ourselves having to traverse the raging rapids! It was just like crossing the Snake River on the Oregon Trail! Ok, so it was actually just a very shallow creek of melted snow, but the last thing you want is wet sneakers when you still have a few miles to go! Maria captured this shot of me gingerly stepping across the stones (ha!). Love the light in this photo.
And then… SNOW! It was completely surreal to have seen the snow at such a far distance, and then realize we had hiked all the way to it. Naturally, some snow-related shenanigans ensued. Maria took the opportunity to complete her ALS ice-bucket challenge (headstand in glacier snow trumps bowl of ice water any day!), and I made a few snowballs!
Then we continued onwards and upwards (it was about 3 slow miles up, and 1 steep mile down!).
Once back at the visitor center (which was now closed for the day) we had our next adventure to contend with. You see, earlier in the day, we ealized that we were running low on gas, but at that point it was already too late because we were deep into the National Forest that surrounds the park. At that time, we figured we could drive from the park entrance to the Paradise visitor center and ask a friendly ranger for advice. Well, the distance from the entrance to the visitor center ended up being deceptively far and very much up hill; our poor little rental Corolla could barely make it! So, when we did finally get to the top, the gas tank light may have already lit up. Oops.
When we asked a ranger he very matter-of-factly told us that the nearest gas station was 34 miles away. Needless to say, we were both pretty nervous about this, but figured we should make the most of the day and proceeded with the amazing hike detailed above.
However, once back to the car, and back to reality, we were just trying not to freak out. On top of the gas situation, I should mention that there weren’t many people around, and there was no cell reception whatsoever. Maria very bravely took the wheel, and we literally coasted the 27 miles down to the park entrance, which took us over an hour due to winding roadways and sharp switchbacks.
By this time it was pitch black outside. I think it’s safe to say that it was the quietest we were on the entire road trip! Once we had reached the entrance, we assumed we could ask someone for specific directions to the town with the fast station. Which is a great idea, except that the entrance booth was also closed for the day. Thankfully, I had brought my 10 year old road atlas book for just such situations (it lived in my old car for many years and for some reason, I decided to keep it!), and we recognized the town to be Packwood, located 14 miles to the west. With baited breath, we made our way to this remote little town in the middle of nowhere. After what seemed like an eternity, we saw the lone gas station! When I say that we made it on gas fumes and the grace of God, I mean it – the Corolla tank holds 11 gallons, and our receipt showed that we pumped 11.02 gallons! We were so happy that we barely noticed the shady individuals loitering in the parking lot, or the man making an important call on the pay phone. A pay phone in 2014, you may ask? Why yes, because Packwood, WA does not have any cell service whatsoever. After treating ourselves to a convenience store dinner of ice cream and off-brand Chex Mix, we were happy to head off into the night to our next destination: Yakima!