Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mt Rainier on our trip

kw: vacations, mountains

Mount Rainier dominates the skylines of Northwest Washington state, the more so because atmospheric refraction lifts it as much as a quarter degree above its geometrical aspect. It also rises more than 4 km (13,200 ft) above the surrounding terrain. This makes it number 21 on the list of "most prominent" mountains of the world.

When we first saw it, its peak was cloud-capped. This image is our second view; the first was just a hint. We approached from the South on Hwy 12 via Randle and Packwood. Much of the road beyond this point is amongst ridges and foothills that hide the mountain until you get inside Mt. Rainier National Park and pass the southern switchback on Stevens Canyon Road. But the whole area is so scenic, forested and dotted with lakes and reservoirs, that the drive seemed to go by quickly.

About halfway from that southernmost switchback to the turnoff to Paradise, one passes the Reflection Ponds. As my wife said, these views are postcard-perfect.

We got the chance to talk to various people as we stopped here and there for more photos. All said this was a rare day. One fellow said this was the first time he didn't have to wait for the occasional five-second opening in overcast. We feel very fortunate. It was quite a contrast to the day we first arrived in the area, when we drove all the way from Seattle to Portland in a series of rainstorms.

I am told that when Rainier has a cloud cap, that the top is being lashed by a snowstorm. It is hard to imagine such violence occurring in plain view on a seemingly peaceful day.

We had an early dinner (5:30PM) at Paradise Inn. It is pricey: we found only two entrees on the menu that were less than $20. But how many folks can claim to have dined in Paradise?

There is a small hill at the end of the parking lot from which this postcard-perfect picture was shot. Do click on the image to see a 1Mpx version...the 6Mpx original is breathtaking!

At Paradise you are right on the flank of the mountain. Mt. Rainier is cusp-shaped rather than domed, so it appears craggy even when you are right on it. I've been on a number of mountains that hide their upper reaches from their lower slopes. This is a much more viewer-friendly mountain!

After leaving the park at Longmire, we drove past Elbe, where we could see some of the cars of the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad. Sad to say, it was closed that day, or we'd have splurged for the train ride.

Further on, just after sundown at Eatonville, we caught this last glimpse of the mountain in alpenglow. The air distance from Eatonfille to the peak is about 40 km (25 mi), yet it looks almost the same from Seattle, twice as far away. What an amazing mountain, and an amazing day!

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