Now is a good time to visit Mt. Rainier. (Not the best time — that was earlier in the year — but a good time.)
According to the park's phone message, there are now 60 inches of snow on the ground at the Paradise Visitor Center. That's a bit misleading because, though there is that much snow at the weather station where they make the official measurements, there are also bare spots, as you can see in that picture. And some of the bare spots have flowers. So, in some places you can ski along, as I did yesterday, enjoying the corn snow — and admiring the spirea, the glacier lilies, and many other flowers.
You can ski, you can snowshoe, you can hike, and you can have snowball fights. (If you plan to hike, you should know that, as of yesterday, the trails leading up from Paradise were almost entirely covered with snow. It is warm enough so that, if you are young and agile, you might not mind changing into an old pair of sneakers for a short hike. But if you have a little gray in your hair, or are going very far on the trails, I would recommend bringing hiking boots.)
What you can't do — officially — is go sliding. The park does provide a sliding area in winter; in fact, they bring in a contractor to construct it, as considerable expense. But they close it each winter as quickly as they can. In fact, it was closed in March this year, when the mountain was accessible, and the snow pack was at its peak. It is reasonable for it to be closed now, since there is not enough snow to protect the vegetation, but it was not reasonable for it to be closed in March. The park has excuses for these early closings; I was told there was not enough money in the budget to hire a contractor to maintain the sliding area, but I have my doubts about those excuses. I fear that Superintendent Uberuaga is, in this case, protecting the park from visitors, rather than for visitors.
As someone who was building sliding areas when he was six years old, I can tell you that it is not a job that requires exceptional knowledge or equipment. And it certainly doesn't take either to maintain an area once it is constructed.
(Few will be surprised by what happens when the park ends sliding early. Some visitors accept the order and put their inner tubes and sleds back in their cars. Other visitors find places out of sight of the visitor's center to slide. Almost always these are more dangerous places for sliding.)
But there are still many other things you can do there now, whether you like playing in the snow, or admiring flowers, or both, like me.
Cross posted at Jim Miller on Politics.
(There is this much snow on the ground because Paradise received 947 inches between July 1, 2007 and June 30, 2008. That's not a record, but it is well above average. And because we have had a cool spring.
Some advice if you plan to visit Rainier in the summer: (My apologies if some of this seems simplistic, but I see people on almost every visit who don't know some of these things.) Go early in the day, especially on weekends. You'll have better light for photographs, you'll be able to hike when it is cooler, and you'll avoid most of the crowds. (How early? They start the shuttle bus at 10 in the morning, which will give you an idea.) Bring sun protection; it is brighter up there because you are above some of the atmosphere, and because you get reflections off the snow. Bring bottled water, if you plan to hike. (Note to the mayor of Seattle: I bring mine in a reusable bottle.) Even after the snow clears away later this summer, consider bringing hiking boots if you plan to go more than a mile or so from the parking lots. There will be patches of snow on the trails near Paradise until quite late in the summer, most years. Many times I have had to help people who were wearing running shoes over those patches.
Paradise has the prettiest flowers and most of the facilities; Sunrise has the most dramatic views.
There are four places where you can buy a meal on the mountain. You'll find the best food, in my experience, at the National Park Inn, in Longmire. (Though the restaurant in the restored Paradise Inn is certainly worth a look. In the two years it was closed, they restored it so it looked just like old, just as it did fifty or more years ago.)Posted by Jim Miller at July 17, 2008 03:42 PM | Email This