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  • Brian Johnson

Mount Rainier National Park

Updated: May 1

If you’ve read any of our previous adventures you may notice that they often include a “Mystery Night”, a destination known only to me and not to Lynn or anyone else traveling with us. Past Mystery Nights have included Poas Volcano Lodge in Costa Rica, Glendalough Hotel overlooking monastic ruins in Ireland, and a hotel perched on a cliff in the Cinque Terra in Italy, so I felt I had a certain standard to live up to, and was a little nervous about how this one would turn out. I needn’t have worried.

As we pulled into the parking lot at the historic Paradise Inn,  with the Mount Rainier masssif rising in sharp relief above it, I knew I was going to be ok. After checking in to our room we went out to play in one of the snow patches still scattered around the area. The lodge lies at about 5400 feet elevation on a flank of the mountain and had probably been still snowed in a few weeks ago. Wild to think we had gone from 90 degree heat to snow in a few hours. After goofing in the snow for a bit we explored the beautiful old lodge, admiring all the hand painted lamp shades, and then went to dinner in the stunning all wood dining room. They had prime rib, so Lynn was a happy girl. We shared an apple tort a la mode for dessert, and I tried some Washington port, so we were quite replete and had to walk a little after dinner. The setting is magnificent, with alpine scenery all around. I can’t wait for tomorrow’s Mystery Hike.

Continued below...

Today is Lynn’s birthday, and for her special activity I had a special hike planned. We tackled the Skyline Loop, a famously scenic trail on the flanks of Mount Rainier, departing from the Paradise Inn we’re staying at. Before I go on, a little background is in order. Because Lynn’s birthday falls in the first part of July, which is prime vacation time, we have had occasion more than once to be traveling on her birthday, and I have tried to plan a special activity for her on these travel birthdays. Unfortunately, through some fault of my own, these things have not always turned out well. On one memorable occasion I got us lost hiking down from Cadillac Mountain in Maine, we hiked miles out of our way, missed the last shuttle bus, and had to hitchhike back to camp. With two children in tow. I’m sure some of you have heard the “Brian was a Bastard on My Birthday” stories. She’s gotten a lot of mileage out of them.

We checked in at the Visitor Center, where a ranger told us not to try to hike the whole loop, as the snow was still too deep on the latter part, you couldn’t follow the trail, collapsing snow bridges over the creeks, yada, yada. We were off to a promising start. It was a gorgeous day, with blue skies and temperatures in the upper 60s. As the trail climbed up and away from the Visitor Center the looming bulk of the mountain was a constant presence. We hiked across several snow fields, which was a fun novelty at first but got old quickly. Several vantage points provided good views of glaciers and waterfalls on the mountain. We stopped at Panorama Point, about two miles from the trailhead, to take some pictures and tank up on water. We were not quite halfway through the hike, but had gained most of the elevation we were going to.

We eventually ran into a ranger out hiking, who gave us a tip for an alternate return trail which would let us finish the loop. We were blessed with clear skies and could see all the way to Mount Hood in Oregon. Along the way we saw both marmots and mountain goats, which was exciting because I was beginning to think we weren’t going to see any wildlife. After traversing a rocky slope the trail began losing elevation again, crossing several patches of snow and some mountain meadows, where the summer wildflowers were just starting to come into bloom. About half a mile from the end we stopped to admire the impressive Myrtle Falls before continuing on and ending our five mile hike back at the lodge. The alpine scenery was magnificent the whole way, the weather was beautiful, and we saw, glaciers, waterfalls, marmots, and mountain goats. A spectacular hike for Lynn’s birthday.


The park service rates this as a “strenuous” hike, and there’s a reason for that. That 1700 foot climb at the beginning was pretty steep, and even though the air temperature was not that hot, the sun was brutal and we both had sunburned legs from the reflection off the snow. Some of the rocky parts were hard on Lynn’s knees, and crossing the snow patches was a little treacherous. Lynn slipped on one, in fact, and wrenched her knee. And I was a little grumpy because of all the people. The crowds had thinned after the first part of the hike, since many people turned around at Panorama Point, but we’d still seen many, many more people than we had in our entire time in Stehekin. In short, for Lynn it turned out to be just another “Brian Was a Bastard on My Birthday” story.

I can hear the questions now. “What’s wrong with you? Are you an idiot?” “Are you dumber than a box of rocks?” “Are you a crazy bastard?” “Or just a mean bastard?” Notwithstanding that the answer to all these questions is “yes”, there is still method to my madness. Hear me out. We’ve all heard those classic family stories. Every family has them, and as fun as they are to hear, eventually we want to hear new family stories. I have grown tired of hearing all the old “Brian Was a Bastard on My Birthday” stories, so it was time to give her a new “Brian was a Bastard” story. If that sounds like twisted logic, consider the source. I stand by it though. Our lives are immeasurably enriched by our stories, both those we tell and those we make. I have given Lynn a precious gift, one that will continue to give for years and years to come. I have given her a story. ‘Course, that doesn’t mean she’s not going to whip my a** when she reads this.

Journey’s End:

After a quick coffee and a pastry at the Paradise bakery we set off for Seattle and our hotel by the airport. Being in no particular hurry, we made several stops, the first being at Narada Falls. We can’t resist a good waterfall, and this one was worth the stop as the water was really flowing. A few miles from the park exit we stopped at the Longmire area to check out the National Park Inn, the other great old lodge in the park. It sits at a much lower elevation than Paradise, in a densely forested area, but also affords great views up to the summit of the ever present mountain.

In my humble scribblings I aspire to edify as well as to relate our adventures, so permit me a digression. Mount Rainier is the tallest mountain in Washington and in the entire Cascade Range at 14,411 feet. It is also the most geographically prominent mountain in the contiguous United States, at over 13,000 feet. Besides being the most heavily glaciated mountain in the lower 48, it is also an active volcano and is considered one of the most dangerous volcanos in the world. Some 80,000 people are estimated to live in it’s danger zone. The mountain was originally known as “Tacoma” or “Tahoma” in the local native dialect, meaning either “snow covered mountain” or “larger than Mount Baker”, depending on which language you are referencing. It was given its current name by Captain George Vancouver during explorations of the Pacifist Northwest on behalf of the British Royal Navy. He named it for his friend, Rear Admiral Peter Rainier, who served in the American War for Independence (he was against it). I normally try to take a measured approach to landmark re-naming controversies and evaluate each site on a case by case basis. In this case we have perhaps the most iconic mountain in the country, named not just after some old white guy, but a man who never set eyes on it and who was an active enemy of the Republic. I’m sure there’s some kind of official re-naming movement, but if not, consider it started.

We both enjoyed visiting Mount Rainier National Park (now Tacoma National Park) and thought the scenery and the setting were magnificent, but ultimately I think we put it into the same category as the Mona Lisa or the Sistine Chapel. Magnificent, must-see sights, but once you’ve seen them there’s no need, or desire, to deal with the mass of other people trying to see them. We definitely left our hearts in Stehekin, and if given a choice would go back there in a heartbeat.

We rolled into our hotel by SeaTac Airport about 3, and after a little rest we headed for Seattle for our Last Night Dinner. For some reason we both had a taste for Chinese, and Seattle seemed like the place to indulge that. After a little research I took a flyer on a little place called Uptown China restaurant. It had a corny name and was a nondescript little place in an unlikely area of town, but like so much of this trip it turned out to be magical. It’s a close call, and we both feel like we need to research the matter further, but we both agree that Uptown China may surpass Nanking Palace in San Francisco as the best Chinese food we’ve ever had. If you’re ever in Seattle, give it a shot.

So that’s about a wrap. We had one of our best trips ever and feel like we really did some living. I can only see one downside to our trip. I’ve had a chance now to take a good long look at myself in the mirror, and it seems like all the sun I’ve been exposed to has bleached out all those blonde highlights in my beard, and made them look almost…gray. That can’t be right, can it?

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