Saturday, July 25, 2009

Skyline Trail, Paradise, Mount Rainier (July 23, 2009)

Skyline Trail, Golden Gate Trail (Paradise), July 23, 2009

This hike to Paradise was a relief after such a hot hike the day before. The plan was to hike the Skyline Trail to Panorama Point and hike back to Paradise via the Lower Skyline Trail.

Though Paradise was shrouded in fog the flowers were abloom and the temperatures cool and comfortable for hiking. I’ve been to Paradise many times but I have never seen as many flowers as we saw on Thursday. Though some visitors might be disappointed to find Paradise fogged in the fog enhanced the brilliance of the flowers; the flowers are at their peak.

At lower elevations we saw pink heather, Indian paintbrush, scads of avalanche lilies nestled in the greenest meadows one could imagine. Bonsai-like evergreens stood out as the mist shifted around them, flowers at their feet.

Clumps of hikers passed to and fro; ranging from elders to families with teens and young children. Everyone we saw – no matter how old, how young - had fallen under the spell of The Mountain, in awe of the splendor all around. Everywhere you looked there was something to photograph. In fact, it’d be impossible to take a bad photograph in such a setting.

As we gained elevation the trail become more exposed and rockier with more snowfields to cross. All routes are easy to follow with wands where needed. No ice axes needed.
The fog cleared as we approached Panorama Point – Rainier materialized slowly through the mist, the glaciers on the mountain so close and sharp you could almost cut your hands on them. The fog swirled back teasingly, only to vanish again then reappear.

There was more than Mount Rainier to see. The Tatoosh range began to poke through the cloud cover and on a steep snow bank we watched students practice the fine arts of using an ice axe. Once past Panorama Point it became a moonwalk along the rocky trail, still with a bit of snow here and there.

Just past Panorama Point a sign directed hikers to hike the Upper Skyline Trail back to Paradise. The Lower Skyline Trail was closed due to snow and ice. The Upper Skyline trail was new to us and enjoyable with another perspective of Mount Rainier and more views of the Tatoosh peaks as the fog dissipated.

We paused at the junction for the Golden Gate trail, a shorter way back to Paradise than the Lower Skyline Trail. We opted for the Golden Gate - that saved us a mile.

The fog returned when we reached the first clump of subalpine trees; lupine blazed beside the trail with magenta paintbrush, bistort, Jacobs ladder, lousewort, valerian and cinquefoil. A marmot dashed across the trail below; moving too fast for a photo.

Soon we were back in the world of avalanche lilies and green meadows. We crossed Myrtle Creek on a bridge then dropped down to a viewpoint of Myrtle Falls before stepping off the trail into the parking lot, slightly dazed as if we had just awakened from a dream.

Getting to the trailhead: Drive to Paradise from the Nisqually entrance of Mount Rainier National Park and park on the Valley Road (parking is limited to two hours in the upper lot except for overnight guests). Find the trail next to the climber’s lodge. The trails at Paradise are all well signed.

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