Paradise to Sunrise (Mt Rainier Part II)

The weekend masses have not yet descended upon Cougar Rock Campground, so it is a cool, quiet morning.    I marvel at my good fortune to get two blue sky days in a row in one of the “the snowiest places on earth.”   I can see a few wisps of clouds, though, so I know the weather system is changing, so I hurry out for my intended destination for the day, Sunrise.

Mount Rainier creates its own weather system.

Mount Rainier creates its own weather system.

Crossing the Nisqually River -- A very fast moving stream!

Crossing the Nisqually River — A very fast moving stream!

Part of Wonderland Trail has views of three waterfalls; Carter Falls, Madcap Falls, and Narada Falls, all seen on 5.4 mile out and back...

Part of Wonderland Trail has views of three waterfalls; Carter Falls, Madcap Falls, and Narada Falls, all seen on 5.4 mile out and back…

At elevation of 6,400 feet, Sunrise is Mount Rainier’s highest visitor center.  It is also on the drier side.  Due to the rain shadow effect, there is not as much snow on the trails, although the mountain itself has a much snowier view from this side of the park.DSC_0660

View of Emmons Glacier from Emmons Trail Overlook

View of Emmons Glacier from Emmons Trail Overlook

If you think of the park road as a giant, backwards letter “C,” Cougar Rock campground is at the bottom of the curve’s end, while Sunrise is at the top.  Paradise is about a third of the way, with Box Canyon being about half way.   So I must retrace my steps from the previous day in order to reach Sunrise.

The estimated drive time from Cougar Rock Campground to Sunrise is at least two hours, so I race past all the stops I visited yesterday in hopes of getting to Sunrise with ample time for hiking.  The weather is nothing short of perfect, so I put the top down on the Tracker for the two hour drive.   I recently “retro-fitted” the Tracker with a cassette tape adapter that allows me to play my ipod tunes over the four-speaker stereo, so I put on some Allman Brothers to crank me up and over the mountain.

It's a beautiful day, and a beautiful drive to Sunrise!

It’s a beautiful day, and a beautiful drive to Sunrise!

Lest there is any question as to why I love my Tracker!

Lest there is any question as to why I love my Tracker!

The drive is gorgeous through thick forests with occasional mountain views.  Once I reach the end of the road at Sunrise, I hear the “pinging” of my iphone.  I have a signal!!  Sad to be this excited, but I have been without email for almost three days now.  😉 DSC_0636

More Avalanche Lilies

More Avalanche Lilies


I stop into the Visitor’s Center to ask the staff for a recommendation for the best wildflower opportunity.  She suggests a choice of two hikes;  Emmons Overlook Trail to Silver Forest out and back, or a loop around Shadow Lake.  I am feeling surprisingly energetic for 6,400 ft so I do both!

Surely "Sister Maria" can't be far!

Surely “Sister Maria” can’t be far!

IMG_1468 DSC_0685 DSC_0693

The beauty around me is overwhelming. There are lupines, magenta paintbrush, creeping phlox all along the trail. The hills are alive, and the only thing missing is Julie Andrews!  Good thing I don’t know how to turn cartwheels, because I sure do feel like it!DSC_0656 DSC_0675 DSC_0694

The trail to Shadow Lake leads me along a bit of the Wonderland Trail, the 93 mile trail that circumnavigates Mount Rainier.   Only an estimated 200 to 250 people per year complete the entire trail.  I wander through one of the back country campgrounds, Sunrise Camp, and ponder what a great adventure this would be, to hike around the mountain seeing remote wilderness areas that so few people get to experience.  This gives me pause for thought about my own fitness level, and how disappointing it is to be limited by one’s abilities.  On one hand, I regret not having “discovered” my love for hiking sooner in life, but on the other hand, I am grateful I still have some time, hopefully…

Thawing stream along the Wonderland Trail

Thawing stream along the Wonderland Trail

Outhouse at Sunrise Camp

Outhouse at Sunrise Camp

Shadow Lake

Shadow Lake

As I start my two hour drive back to Cougar Rock Campground, I put the top down again, and ease out of the parking lot to Hendrix’s “Red House.” I notice clouds are starting to roll in with the promise of a colorful sunset.    I still have the top down, and the sky is painted with a gorgeous palate of salmon, pink, and lavender.  I pull over to grab some shots as the sky lights up the mountain.   I catch the last of the afterglow at Reflection Lake, and continue back via Paradise as the full moon is rising over the mountains.DSC_0744DSC_0746 DSC_07661 DSC_0772

I reflect back on what a perfect day it has been, driving through the mountains with the top down, hiking through wildflowers, with a 14,000 ft mountain “in my face,”  capped off by a gorgeous sunset and a full moon rising behind the silhouetted mountain.    On the scale of unforgettable days,  Paradise to Sunrise has to be one of the best.

'scuse me...while I kiss the sky.

‘scuse me…while I kiss the sky.

12 thoughts on “Paradise to Sunrise (Mt Rainier Part II)

  1. That has to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen! Lucky you!!! Glad to see the Nikon do it’s thing too, if only nocturnally 😉 Keep having fun! Wish I was there!!!!

  2. I’m reading your latest post while listening to the heavy rainfall in Seattle. Such beautiful pictures of Mount Rainier and its treasures from the past two days. I am wondering if you are traveling or just spending the day enjoying the sound of some good clean Washington rain on your RV roof. It’s all good! Looking forward to see more of our state through your eyes. Thanks!

  3. I just began to read your blog several days ago. The photos you take and the short description that go with each are really lovely. Thank you for showing a part of the world as yet unexplored . I’m really enjoying this armchair travel.

  4. Oh my, that is some incredible scenery! Your sunset skies are awesome!

    You know, the more you hike the farther you’ll find yourself able to go and the steeper hills will begin to feel easier. It is never too late to start hiking!

    I think being in nature is THE BEST thing in the whole wide world!

  5. Ohhh my……you captured it all so beautifully. I can almost smell the pines and hear the stream with the clear sharp air fulfilling all my senses.
    And I certainly appreciate your choices in music. By chance did you also listen to Allman Brothers’ “Blue Sky” while driving toward that blue sky? I see you did ‘kiss the sky’ in the last image. Thank you for your blog. Two more years for me!

  6. Breathtaking! Some of the best photography of that area I’ve seen…and I live here.
    What a perfect day, good tunes, wind in your face, a mix of flowers and the Majestic mountain…doesn’t get much better. What did you have for dinner? just kidding.

  7. We didn’t make it to Mt Rainier on this trip. But, I had the same reaction when we drove up Hurricane Ridge to see Mt Olympus on the Olympic Penninsula. I blubbered like a baby. It was that breathtaking. We saved Mt Rainier of next time. And there will definitely be a next time!

  8. I have no idea how you do it! Definitely of the top 10 unforgettable days. You have become quite the photographer my friend. Mount Rainier is most often surrounded by clouds. Mother Nature blessed you this day.

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