Every Side of the Mountain
One of my favorite places in the world is Mount Rainier National Park. There is no place quite like it. I have spent countless hours there exploring, hiking, sleeping under the stars, chasing marmots and watching sunsets. Every side of the mountain offers something different; each section its own secret adventure.
On the south side is Paradise, and in the summer the mountain looms over you as you hike straight up to it, chipmunks and marmots scurrying around your feet as you climb. To the north is Sunrise, only accessible by road in the summer months. True to its name, some of the best sunrises I have ever witnessed have been against cotton candy pink skies on this side of the mountain. The west side is the Carbon River area, the least populated part of the park – which means more wildlife. On a hike a few summers ago, a big black bear blocked the trail, blissfully eating berries and ignoring everyone and everything around.
Backpacking is rewarding in itself, but carrying your pack into the backcountry of Mount Rainier is an experience. It feels safe – rangers give you maps and directions, the backcountry campgrounds are laid out and organized – but it’s still an adventure. Hiking in to a campsite in the dark once, carrying incredibly heavy packs, three deer ran into our path and stopped, staring into the shine of our headlamps. We passed a pack of backpackers shuffling out of camp in the dark, who directed us to the best spot to set up our tents, where we’d get the best view of the Milky Way through the trees. On the trail, the camaraderie is easy, because everyone you pass is just as much in awe of their surroundings as you are.
There is something about the mountain that makes you feel small and insignificant and vast and limitless at the same time. Standing at the base of Rainier and looking up, thinking about all the life that exists on the slopes of that sleeping giant, is like nothing else. If you ever need to unwind, want to take a hike to clear your mind, feel like seeing some wildlife, or just want an incredible view, I can’t think of anywhere better to go.