October 16, 2012 by Deborah W. Trotter
At Mount Rainier National Park in Washington, where the winter snowfall at Paradise is around 630 inches per year, you probably shouldn’t even consider the possibility of wildflowersmaking an appearance until July. This year, in 2012, the peak two weeks for the explosion of blooms was in the middle of August. When the flowers appear is entirely dependent on when the snows disappear, and that is completely out of our hands.
So when we took our four young children to Mount Rainier and the Paradise Inn for two nights and parts of three days in late July of 1996, one stop on a long-planned summer vacation, our timing was fortuitous. We entered a wonderland ofwildflowers. They were everywhere, so many different kinds that I bought a book to help us identify them. During our brief visit we saw at least two dozen varieties, maybe more. But not only did we luck into a glorious world of wildflowers, we were also treated to an abundance of waterfalls and cascades, verdant alpine meadows crisscrossed with burbling snowmelt streams, and near perfect weather.
Our kids were 4, 6, 8 and 10 that summer, so the weather part was very important. Especially for our youngest, who was still developing his hiking legs and lungs (and attitude!). On our one full day in the Park our goal was to hike the 5-mile Skyline Loop trail, and the beautiful weather guaranteed that no one would have a good excuse to suggest doing something else!We did go on the hike, all the way up above Panorama Point, and to that date in our family hiking history, it was the most wonderful hike the six of us had ever taken together. We followed the trail as it climbed through meadows and then across talus slopes, way up above the tree line. We saw marmots running over the hillsides and chasing each other, and in almost every direction we looked there were snowmelt streams, either cascading down rock faces directly out of the ice and snow or rushing through the meadows. Finally, we came to snow on the ground, and we lost the actual trail. But no matter. We knew where we were supposed to get to, and we got there. We all enjoyed ourselves. And no one complained or asked to be picked up and carried!
Way above Panorama Point, we ate our box lunches and reveled in the fact that there was nothing between us and the glaciers on Mount Rainier except cold, clear mountain air. We had climbed about 1,500 feet from the trailhead, but the top of the mountain was still more than 7,500 feet above us at its 14,441 foot summit. The grand scale of things is hard to comprehend, but think about this: if there were some way that you could climb up into the sky from that point, you would have to go straight up almost a mile and a half before you could look down on the top of Mount Rainier. The mountain is huge!
After lunch, we slipped and slid down the wet snow until we found the rest of the loop trail that would take us back to the Paradise Inn. As we relished going downhill after our climb, we were passed by two strings of hikers who had been all the way to the summit. They were loaded down with climbing gear, crampons dangling, boots and backpacks creaking, faces bearing grim expressions. Watching them confirmed for me my long-held (and still-held) position: I’ll take a hike any day, and I’ll leave the technical climbs to others!
That day’s outing took us just over 5 hours, and the hike is listed in the guidebooks as a 5-hour trip, so we did well. Later that day we bought our four-year-old the small, wood, hand drum he wanted from the gift shop. I don’t remember exact conversations, but when he first started asking for it, we suggested that it might mean more to him if he did something to earn it. And you know what? He still has the drum.