July 27, 2010

Sunrise Area, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Located on the eastern slopes of Mount Rainier, Sunrise is the highest and driest area of the park. It can be reached from Hwy 410 from Puyallup and connects up with Cayuse Pass to head south to Ohanapecosh or over Chinook Pass which heads east to Yakima.

Hwy 410 in the distance headed to Chinook Pass

From Sunrise, it is possible to make out the 9,000 foot Mount Stuart far off in the distance

From Sunrise, there is a nice trail through wildflower-covered meadows to the overlook of the Emmons Glacier, one of the largest on Mount Rainier. In fact, Sunrise offers an unrivaled view of the heavily glaciated north and northeastern face of the volcano. More ice accumulates on the north slopes, because they are protected by the long shadows of this giant mountain during the winter months.

The tongue of the glacier is covered in a deep layer of rock and dust, such that it looks more like land than ice. You can see where the glacier has retreated from previous positions, leaving a deeply scarred U-shaped valley filled with sediment. Milky waters of streams filled with glacial flour head down the slope, while a kettle lake sits below.
Avalanche Lillies


Mount Rainier's north face (with Mount Adams in distance beyond) from above the Stuart Range on an airplane. Notice the heavy glaciation on the northside?

July 26, 2010

Cougar Rock and Nisqually River Area, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Longmire is where the main entrance to the park is in the southwest corner of the park. It was an area where the Longmire family set up a health spa near some natural mineral springs. Just a couple of miles east is the Cougar Rock campground. This is a pretty nice campground, located at 3,000 feet elevation settled into slopes of Pacific silver fir, Dougas fir, and western red cedar.

Old-growth forest near Cougar Rock Campground

Across the road from Cougar Rock Campground is the trail to Carter Falls. To get there, you must walk across the boulder field that is the Nisqually River bed. The waters are a milky brown from the silt coming off the Nisqually Glacier. Filled with granite, andesite, and a variety of other volcanic rocks, it is essentially a cross-section of the geology of the volcano.

Granite and Andesite are essentially the same rock chemically. The difference is the crystal size and how mixed the materials are. Granite forms where andesitic magma rich in silicon cools slowly deep underground. As such, the chemical separate into their white silicon-rich minerals and black feldspar crystals. Andesite is the same material, but because it is extruded as lava near the surface, the magma cools rapidly and thus the crystals are much smaller or non-existant. Thus, it tends to form a more gray color. The reddish rocks you see here are other materials infused with iron, including some pumice-like basaltic materials.

The trail to Carter Falls is about 1 mile from the river. It heads uphill through an old-growth forest along the Paradise River.

I came across one of the largest Alaska yellow cedars I have ever seen along the way.

The falls themselves are are difficult to see since they are tucked away among the trees

We also did the 5 mile loop hike on Rampart Ridge. The trail leaves from the Longmire Museum and the climbs about 1000 feet in elevation to the ridgetop. Along the ridgetop, there is a nice view down the Nisqually Valley.

Hiking on Rampart Ridge

Hilina investigating a large ant hill on the Rampart Ridge hike

Hilina pretending to be a baby Mountain Lion on Rampart Ridge

July 24, 2010

Ohanapecosh Area, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Located in the southeastern corner of Mount Rainier National Park is the Ohanapecosh Area. It is a low elevation site full of old-growth forests that date to more than 1000 years old. The trees are big and magnificent and the Ohanapecosh River is a cascading torrent of water that literally seems to give the Cascade Mountains their name.

Ohanapecosh River

The Grove of the Patriarchs is a 1 mile loop trail that takes you across the Ohanapecosh River to a bottomland forest of towering Western red-cedars and Douglas firs, many over 200 feet tall and some dating more than 1000 years old. 

The first thing you do to get to this grove is to walk across the suspension bridge over the river

Then it is off to the boardwalk for the loop through the big trees. The boardwalk is there to protect the roots of the giants from being compacted and erosion from toppling them.

Here Linda and Hilina are standing in front of two 1000 year old Douglas firs

Being so ancient means broken tops, rotted cores, and striped branches. Yet, they continue to live on.

Here is a giant Western red cedar

From there, it was off to the 2.5 mile loop to Silver Falls

Ohanapecosh River through the gorge

July 23, 2010

Stevens Canyon Area, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

As you continue east from Paradise along the southern flanks of Mount Rainier, there are many sites to see before you get to the Stevens Entrance and Ohanapecosh campground. There are a number of nice places to pull out for excellent views, interesting geologic formations, and wonderful photography.

One of the first must see places is 188 foot Narada Falls. The falls are hardly visible from the parking area. But, a short 0.1 mile trail down the opposite side gives a wonderful overlook.

From Narada Falls, there is a good view of the more ancient volcanic Tatoosh Range. These peaks represent an elevated volcanic plateau that existed before Mount Rainier first started erupting about 1 million years ago. They are now sharply eroded after multiple glaciation events, earthquakes, and eruptions.

Next, we headed over to Reflection Lake

From there, it is down along the deep Stevens Canyon which feeds into the Cowlitz River

From Stevens Canyon you could see the Andesite columns that formed where the lavas of Mount Rainier cooled rapidly.

In a stretch of lava flows there is Box Canyon. This torrent of water has carved a 130 foot gorge into the rock. You can't even notice it until you are literally walking over it.

A closer look

The surface of these rocks are barren, holding virtually no soil. That is because the glaciers scraped away anything that might have been there. The evidence of those glaciers are the linear scrape marks on the rocks. Slowly, lichens, followed by mosses, are recolonizing the rocks.

Where the mosses grow adequately thick, a few milimeters of soils form where dead moss and dust accumulate. Here, a few grasses can begin to root hold. Over hundreds of years, buildup of dead grasses, dust, and soil, will allow the first trees to root hold and forests to eventually reclaim this rock.

July 22, 2010

Paradise Area, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Probably the most famous and most crowded area of Mount Rainier National Park is the Paradise Area. Located at 5,400 feet elevation, it is one of the snowiest places on Earth. In fact, it used to hold the world record to recorded snowfall at over 1,100" of snow until Mount Baker in the North Cascades broke that record in 1999.

Glacier Lilies sprouting up where the snow has melted on Alta Vista. Mount Adams rises above the Tatoosh Range in the distance.

This past winter Paradise got almost 700" of snow. So, what does that do to an area? Well, how about several feet of snow still on the ground in late July?

There are a myriad of wonderful hiking trails in the area. But, unfortunately, they were all covered with snow. So, I made a 1.5 mile loop across the snow to the top of the Alta Vista hill for some spectacular views of the volcano, as well as, the surrounding mountains. I slid down the other side of the hill and the encountered the trail heading up to Camp Muir that the climbers use. There were people with big packs heading upwards, while I slid downhill. I followed that trail back to the visitor center.

Mount Adams (12,600 feet) poking above the Tatoosh Range

Staring into the crater of Mount St. Helens from Paradise. Notice the lava dome in the middle?

Paradise is famous for spectacular wildflower covered meadows in late summer. For now, all I could find were Avalanche (above) and Glacier Lilies, which are the first to pop up the instant that snow melts away.

I definitely want to get back there some other time when there isn't as much snow cover to explore the trails further. Maybe someday I'll even hike up to Camp Muir at 10,000 feet. Will I ever make it to the summit? I am not sure, I guess I'd better get extra adventurous soon.