Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Flowers Finally Arrive at Mount Rainier National Park!

Mount Rainier above flower meadows in Yakima Park at Sunrise.
Yes, it's true!  Flowers are finally starting to make an appearance at Rainier, much to the pleasure of photographers who's patience has been tested with the late thaw of 2011.

Sunrise is particularly breathtaking right now, with flowers pretty much at peak.   The same can be said of nearby Skyscraper Pass on the Wonderland Trail and Grand Park (bring your bug spray!).

On the south side of the mountain, flowers around Reflection Lakes are coming along nicely, and will probably peak in the coming week.  Paradise and Mazama Ridge are still sporting much snow, though avalanche and glacier lilies were both on display last weekend, along with patches of western pasque near Myrtle Falls.
Mount Rainier above flower meadows near Skyscraper Pass.
Opinions vary on the flowers show at Paradise and when/if it will happen.  Our warmest days are behind us.  Late August and September bring cool nights, laying the groundwork for the emergence of fall colors.  The last week of August was the popular prediction for flowers in the Paradise area.  While gorgeous displays of lupine can be seen near the parking lot, they are a long way from emerging in the meadows above.  I believe it will be the first week of September for the flowers to show.

My friend and fellow photographer Greg Vaughn recently spoke with Ron Warfield, retired Assistant Chief Naturalist at Mount Rainier National Park.  Ron offered some interesting insights, including his opinion that flowers will not be as prolific this year.   While I tend to agree, I can say that Sunrise surprised me with a very strong showing last week (go now!).

Mount Rainier above Reflection Lakes.
One of the downsides of such a late bloom for photographers is the grass, which has now grown tall enough to compete with the flowers.  This was very noticeable at Sunrise.

If you are planning a visit to Rainier in the coming weeks, plan to arrive early to beat the crowds.  I read reports of the park temporarily denying entrance last weekend due to reaching full capacity.  Definitely plan ahead.

Have flower information on the park that you wish to share?  I would love to hear from you!  Please feel free to add a comment or send me a note.

See you on the trails!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Back from Mount Rainier National Park!

I'm back!  I've spent the last week at Mount Rainier National Park and surrounding area.  I hiked a section of the Wonderland Trail from Sunrise to Carbon River with my kids.  I explored Upper Palisades Lake (turning my ankle on the way in).  On the south side of the mountain, I wandered the trails around Paradise and Reflection Lakes, and enjoyed a hike to the top of High Rock in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

I hope to post pictures soon!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Sunset Park and Golden Lakes, Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier reflected in a tarn in Sunset Park.
There is a reason that photographers from around the world are drawn to Mount Rainier National Park.  For starters, it is easily accessed and offers some of the most superb flower meadows our state has to offer.  It also serves up a heavily glaciered volcano as its center piece.

There is a side of the park that offers a little more solitude from the easily accessed areas of the park, though one must be willing to put in the extra effort to earn it. 

Away from the bustle of Paradise, Longmire and Sunrise exists the fabled land - the west side.  Emerald Ridge, St. Andrews Park, Klapatche Park and Sunset Park and Indian Henry's Hunting Ground (though Inidan Henry's can also be approached via Kautz Creek near Longmire) offer scenery unsurpassed in the park, with a fraction of the people. (with the Carbon River Road closure, this can now also be said of the north side)

Mount Rainier reflection in partially frozen tarn at Sunset Park.
Most of these locations are accessed via the West Side Road.  Closed at Dry Creek, 3 miles from its start, the West Side Road requires hoofing it or bicycling further up to the trailhead of choice.

Because of the closure of the West Side Road, Golden Lakes and Sunset Park are now more easily accessed from the Paul Peak trailhead on the Mowich Lake Road.  However, be warned; "more easily" does not translate to "easy"!

The trail descends 1,100' from the Paul Peak trailhead (or 2,400' from Mowich Lake - same trail distance) to the north and south forks of the Mowich River.  This elevation must be regained on the way out.  The south fork can be tricky if not impossible to cross in early season until the bridge is put in place.

Once across the south fork, it is a 2,400' climb in 4 miles to Golden Lakes in Sunset Park - 10 miles from the trailhead.  Mosquitos can be nasty here in season.  Bears are common.

Mount Rainier above Sunset Park.
From Golden Lakes, wander south along the Wonderland Trail around a ridge to open slopes of Sunset Park and numerous lakes.  For the best views, find the abondoned trail to the former Sunset Lookout site (despite a ranger telling me it no longer existed, it very much existed.  It may not be obvious at the junction with the Wonderland Trail, however.  This section was under snow during my visit).  Cross-country travel is easy here as well.

As the name would imply, evening and sunset are the very best time to visit here, offering brilliant light on the mountain as the sun sets to the west. (don't forget your headlamp for the return to camp).

Finish the evening off by beating it back to camp at Golden Lakes and watching the lights of Puget Sound grow ever brighter as dusk turns to dark.

Photographers will want wide angle and mid-zoom lenses here.  A 2-stop graduated neutral density filter is also a must.  The difficult part of photographing here is that the sun sets directly behind you durning the summer months, making it very challenging to keep your increasingly long shadow out of your composition.

I hope you get a chance to visit this wonderland.

Caution:  If approaching from the Paul Peak trailhead, do not leave valuables in your car.  Though quiet this year according to the rangers I spoke with, this trailhead has a history of vandalism and break-ins, thanks in part to its location at the edge of the park's boundary and close proximity to an ORV area.  Some hikers elect to start from Mowich Lake - same distance travel, but ~1,300' more elevation gain on the way out.

For more pictures, please visit my Mount Rainier Gallery!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Shriner Peak in Mount Rainier National Park

Early light on Mount Rainier
Shriner Peak is located on the east side of Mount Rainier National Park and affords an excellent vantage of sunrise on the mountain.  Because its approach is mostly on southern aspect slopes, it tends to melt out earlier than other high trails in the park.

An attractive feature of this peak is that it offers a small campground on its summit!  That's right fellow photographers - no wandering in the dark with headlamp to capture sunrise, it's right in front of you!
Morning alpenglow on Mount Rainier
Another fun feature of camping on this summit is that it is the one location I have found in the park that offers a spectator's seat to both the Disappointment Cleaver (DC) and Emmons climbing routes.  Awake around midnight and you can see a trail of lights beginning their ascent of both climbing routes!

You can leave your wide angle lens at home for this one.  A better choice is 24-70mm and even 70-200mm.  Don't forget opportunities for evening light on Mount Adams and the Goat Rocks to the south!

Early light on on Mount Rainier and Cowlitz Chimneys
 I've offered detailed trip reports at both NWhikers and WTA.  This is a hot, dry trail on a sunny day, so bring plenty of water.  The only water source is 1 mile, and ~800' below the summit.  Two campsights with a view await those willing to work for them!

For more images from Mount Rainier National Park, be sure and check out my Rainier gallery!