Tuesday, September 25, 2012

This Side of Paradise

I recently joined my parents on a trip to Mount Rainier. I had been wanting to visit for years, but while it's a mere 2.5 hours away from Seattle, I had just never been able to just plan the drive and go. And oh, now all I want is to go right back again.

The road to aptly-named Paradise - a small stretch of clearing on the south slope of the mountain and home to the visitors' center and the historic inn at which we stayed - was designed by collaboration of conservationists and engineers to create minimum impact on the environment and maximum impact on visitors making the drive. The mountain reveals itself gradually through the glances afforded by the road's meandrous climb, its monstrous beauty made all the more entrancing by the moments in which old-growth trees block it from our view like winter clouds blot out the sun from our sight but not our minds.

At 5,400 feet, we reached Paradise. Over 48 hours, we hiked more than 20 miles (with temperatures in the 80-degree range), felt the thunder of several waterfalls in our chests, watched solar flares through a sun scope, and at night, spotted lights on the mountain from climbers' camps and gazed at the rings of Saturn and the clustered stars of the Hercules Nebula through a GPS-programmed telescope worth more than I'll make in 50 lifetimes. I saw my first glacier, fell in love with the Avalanche Lily and the Pasqueflower, encountered as many furry and feathery creatures as Snow White could want, and ate one of the best meals of my life from a recipe passed around by National Park chefs in the Northwest. And wildflowers, subalpine wildflowers everywhere you looked. At Mount Rainier, I felt so laughably small among such powerful forces that have been in the world for so long before I came and will be for so long after I am gone. I renewed the appreciative pain I always feel in such pure places: that while I inhabit the same world as this mountain and its meadows and air, I am too far removed from its purity of form to ever really be a part of it.

I saw and felt and knew a place so devastatingly beautiful that I ached.

Above the visitors' center, dozens of trailheads lie just beyond a humble stone stairway engraved with the words of John Muir, a sort of love-letter description of his most hallowed of the "fire mountains" of the Pacific Coast: "...the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings."  But there is another thought from Robert B. Marshall in his tribute to John Muir that I find just as fitting: "One cannot describe Mount Rainier, one cannot describe the Grand Canyon, one cannot describe his beloved Yosemite; humanity is silent in their presence." Even though I have written my share, words will always fail to describe Mount Rainier, and so I have written more than enough. Photos, too, will fail, but their silence is more reliable than mine.

Lupines for days.

Before I knew their name (Pasqueflowers), I called them Lorax Trees
Sitka Valerian
Magenta Paintbrush

Corn Lily (False Hellebore)


Avalanche Lily

Bathtime in Paradise River

Under Narada Falls

Above Myrtle Falls

Nisqually Glacier

Grouse in the House!
The second fawn (twin?) is hiding behind the white log

To wrap it up, here are some other tired, sweaty, hiked-out animals. Note: unless you ever go hiking with me, this is the only time you will ever, ever see me in a baseball hat, plus the messiest bun ever. Live it up while you can.

Sitting on boulders counts as bouldering, right? (Hi Dad)

Snow day, every day! (Hi Mom)


  1. Amazing. Those meadow photos make me reel with jealousy! I'm still so sad that everything was still covered in snow when Jon and I went last year. Never had a chance to go again when the meadows were in full bloom. I'm glad you were able to see them -- and capture them for us! x

  2. Beautiful photos, Kait. No wonder it's called Paradise! x