Mount Rainier National Park, Part 1: The Meaning of Fog

I’ll be in North Cascades National Park for the next few days but I’m going to set up posts on Mount Rainier to post in my absence. The first is below.

My first morning at Mount Rainier was so overcast and dark initially that when I unzipped the rainfly of my tent, I double checked the time on my watch. Thinking that the weather might be different up in the mountains (not that I could see the mountain, which had been looming over my campsite just the night before) I took the drive up the mountain road towards the trailheads but the overcast sky then merged with what was the densest fog bank I have ever witnessed. Occasionally cars would suddenly appear in the other lane descending through the switchbacks but my view was otherwise restricted to the double yellow line. Driving the same road over the next few days it was astonishing to realize that most of my drive had – not unsurprisingly given that the road was climbing up Mount Rainier – been on roads cut into the mountainside. I had unknowingly passed valleys which dropped away thousands of feet and lakes whose shores were less than 25 yards from the road’s edge. At one point in the morning I broke free of the fog bank and was able to see the rolling mist rushing to envelop the nearest mountain.

Fog bank moving across valley.  Within two minutes, the fog had completely shrouded the valley as well as the mountains. Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Fog bank moving across valley. Within two minutes, the fog had completely shrouded the valley as well as the mountains. Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Fog bank rolling onto the road, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Fog bank rolling onto the road, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Based on the lack of visibility I decided to postpone my planned hike up the mountain and instead stay in the valleys and lower elevations east of Mount Rainier. I was not disappointed, getting to see magnificent old growth forest, deep canyons in solidified magma, fantastically-colored mosses reclaiming lava fields, valleys of glacial deposits, and blue waterfalls. In addition, the sky began to lighten by midday and the fog even rolled back more in the lowlands.

Trail of Grove of the Patriarchs which has some of the oldest and largest Red Cedar trees In the Cascade Mountain Range, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Trail of Grove of the Patriarchs which has some of the oldest and largest Red Cedar trees In the Cascade Mountain Range, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Exposed root system of dead cedar tree, Grove of the Patriarchs, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Exposed root system of dead cedar tree, Grove of the Patriarchs, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

The oldest and largest Red Cedar on the trail; look at the boardwalk surrounding it to get a sense of the scale. Grove of the Patriarchs, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

The oldest and largest Red Cedar on the trail; look at the boardwalk surrounding it to get a sense of the scale. Grove of the Patriarchs, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

After wandering the Grove of the Patriarchs, I walked the Box Canyon Loop, which features a 180 foot drop to the river. Water roars through this narrow canyon, brushing smooth the solidified lava that once poured from the volcanic Mount Rainier. On older basalt and rhyolite, trees cling to whatever soil they can reach while on the exposed lava fields mosses start the reclamation process.

Box Canyon viewed from bridge 180 feet above, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Box Canyon viewed from bridge 180 feet above, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Close up view of water rushing through eroded volcanic rock, Box Canyon, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Close up view of water rushing through eroded volcanic rock, Box Canyon, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Multiple types of moss growing on lava fields next to Box Canyon, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Multiple types of moss growing on lava fields next to Box Canyon, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Moss reclaiming lava fields next to Box Canyon. Contours of rock show patterns of how the magma cooled.  Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Moss reclaiming lava fields next to Box Canyon. Contours of rock show patterns of how the magma cooled. Mount Rainier National Park, WA

In contrast to the life of Box Canyon, the crossing over Nisqually River features deposited rock, or till, from the retreating Nisqually Glacier. When the road was constructed a hundred year ago, the glacier’s terminus was where the bridge is today. The moraine valley actually extends farther back for a few miles, but the fog prevents you from seeing it here:

Nisqually River as it flows through valley carved by the Nisqually Glacier, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Nisqually River as it flows through valley carved by the Nisqually Glacier, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Nisqually glacial outwash through valley, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Nisqually glacial outwash through valley, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

I ended the day by visiting Christine Falls, a picturesque waterfall framed by the masonry bridge just off the main road.

Christine Falls, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Christine Falls, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Close up view of glacial blue waters and vibrant green moss, Christine Falls, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Close up view of glacial blue waters and vibrant green moss, Christine Falls, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Finally the next morning I could see this guy:

Mount Rainier from the West, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Mount Rainier from the West, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

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