Mt. Rainier, Two Months Later

Mt. Rainier is famous for its flowers and we took our previous hike at the peak period, but I got inspired to return in late Summer/early Fall when I looked up the trail on the Mt. Rainier National Park site.  When I saw pictures of the Fall foliage, I knew I wanted to return.

We definitely weren’t disappointed when we did so. 

Fall Colors on Mt. Rainier

For the first half of our walk, we were immersed in brilliant Fall colors.

Meadow with Fall Colors

The second half of the hike was quite different but equally impressive. 

Waterfall from Melting Glacier

There’s no way to convey the magnificent mountain through photographs, but the barely visible people in the lower, right-hand corner suggest just how massive it truly is.

Looking Back Down the Trail

This was our longest hike of the season, and by the time we got to our destination on the Overlook, it was hard to see the parking lot far below.

Looking Down at the Lodge

Tired or not, it was hard not to feel you were at the top of the world looking down on the rest of the Cascades.  

Cascades to the South of Mt. Rainier

My knees were definitely barking by the time we arrived back at the meadows, but it was impossible to complain surrounded by such beauty.

Although this wasn’t our last hike of the season, or even the last hike on Mt. Rainier, it seemed like the climax of the season.  

Distant Memories

What happened to December?  It’s 2023? Really? I knew I hadn’t blogged for a while, but I didn’t realize that I didn’t post a single entry in December or January. Apparently, once you reach 80 time begins to get away from you.  Of course, I already knew that because the only reason I know what day of the week is because my pill box has letters stamped on it (and I still remember the names of the days of the week).

After 30 years of teaching plus 20-some years of schooling, it feels like December should be vacation time,  time to relax and refuel. Work should be limited to baking cookies or to decorating  (and un-decorating) the house.   “Vacation,” plus writer’s block kept me from finishing what I wanted to say about last summer’s hiking season.  

The previous two blog entries centered on hikes where we didn’t reach our goal, hikes that, at least in one sense, seemed like failures.  Luckily, those hikes were in the middle of hiking season and, at the very least, pushed us to gain strength and endurance and to make it possible to hike Rainier’s Rampart Ridge Trail when the wildflowers were in full bloom, a trip never to be forgotten for its sheer beauty.  

Luckily, their beauty needs no words.  Enjoy:

Heather Meadow
Lupine and Heather
Leslie and Paul admire the Heather Meadow
Paintbrush and More
Spreading Phlox
Artic Sweet Coltsfoot
White Pasqueflower

Another Failure

Pinnacle Peak wasn’t our only disappointing hike in Mount Rainier National Park this summer.  Our attempt to conquer Eagle Peak was even more frustrating.  We discovered Eagle Peak last winter while snowshoeing. We were the first people to hike it after a snowstorm, and, though it was a delightful hike, we only hiked about a third of it because it was exhausting. Since we knew it was probably even more challenging than Pinnacle Peak, we waited deep into September before attempting it, as made clear by the lack of snow on the South Side of Mt. Rainier.

Mt. Rainier from Longmire

Although it was a beautiful forest,  the trees were so thick that there wasn’t much to take pictures of it.  That’s probably why this dead tree caught my attention,

Rotted Tree with Fungus

that and its unexpectedly bright colors.  We’ve seen a lot of different mushrooms hiking the Cascades, but none of us had ever seen anything quite like this. 

Strange Fungus

Unfortunately, the best views awaited us at the saddle or the peak, but it was a long, steady uphill haul.

Leslie and Paul approaching trail junction

When we reached the end of the “maintained trail,” we were greeted by this trail junction.


The rocky trail straight up the mountain

was the “trail” leading up to the peak — while the trail to the saddle was unclear.  

We decided to have lunch and consider our options,  and another highlight of the day appear — a rarely-seen pika.


After some deliberations, I decided I could probably make it to the top where scenic wonders awaited, but I was not at all sure that —even with hiking poles — I could make it down without falling. Since I’ve gone on blood thinners for my aFib I’ve gotten a lot more conscious of falling, and falling on sharp rocks miles from first-aid seemed especially unappealing.  

It was another disappointing hike, but at least once we finished my Apple Watch notified me that it was the longest hike of the summer and that we gained more altitude than on any other hike. I would have been especially pleased with that nearly twenty years ago when Bill and I regularly walked the Columbia Gorge, Indian Heaven, and Mt Hood looking for challenging hikes, but now it seemed like little compensation.

We Attempt Pinnacle Peak

It’s impossible to hike the trails around Reflection Lake without admiring Pinnacle Peak just to the south of Mt. Rainier. Eventually, we noticed hikers heading up a trail right across the road from Reflection Lake which we later found is marked “Pinnacle Peak Trail.”  However, since we usually hike Reflection Lake at the beginning of summer, Pinnacle Peak looked too steep to tackle.  This year after a few easier hikes, we thought we were in good enough shape that we would tackle it. 

We started out confidently through the Old-Growth forest, with Mt. Rainier barely visible through the trees.

Mt Rainier Through the Trees

We were still going strong as we neared Tree Line and Rainier almost became completely visible. 

Mt. Rainier Emerges from the forest

We knew we were finally above Tree Line when we were greeted by a Marmot family, 

3 Marmots

Unfortunately, once we were above Tree Line, the trail got rougher and narrower with steep drop-offs which triggered Leslie’s Acrophobia.  She decided that she didn’t want to go any further but urged us to go to the top.

Thinking the top couldn’t be too much further and it wouldn’t take too long to get to, Paul and I decided to plow ahead.  Turned out to be further than we thought.  After 20 minutes of steady climbing, it was clear that the top would be at least another 30 minutes ahead, which would have meant that Leslie would end up waiting nearly two hours for us, and, looking across the ravine to the next mountain peak, it might take even longer than that.  

After some discussion, I decided I could settle for a spectacular view of Mt. Rainier, despite being unable to see Mt. Adams and St. Helens from the top of the pass.

Mt. Rainier from the South

So, we headed back to where we had left Leslie, resolving to return another time when we didn’t have to leave anybody behind.  

I still can’t quite shake the idea that when you don’t reach your intended destination that the hike is a flop, but as I age I consider it more of a failure when you don’t try to go beyond your limits. I spend the hiking season testing my limit.