Saturday, we got off to an early start, as I wanted to try and shoot the sunrise at Reflection Lake. This is probably the most iconic photograph in the park, as it's easy to get to, and provides amazing views of the mountain, reflected in a small lake. It works at both sunrise and sunset, and gets tons of people. So we were up at 5:30 and made the short drive to the lake. We were not the first photographers there, as the place was packed with people. The sunrise unfortunately was not that interesting, and the light never really came. Nevertheless, it was calm and still, and the mountain looked imposing as the sun rose.
After the sunrise, we headed back to the Inn, and had some breakfast. After breakfast we geared up for our big day of hiking. The plan was to head out and hike the Skyline Trail, which leaves from the Inn. This hike leads you up into the alpine just below the glaciers, and exposes you to many different views of Mount Rainier and the surrounding mountain ranges.
Immediately after starting, we had a nice encounter with a doe and her fawn in one of the meadows near the Inn. Neither of the. Were too worried about us - I probably could have reached out and touched the doe. We decided to do the loop counterclockwise, which ended up being a very good decision. Rainier is know for the massive crowds that come up to see the windflowers blooming in the summer, and we expected the trail to be busy. By going counterclockwise, we got both the light as the sun rose, as well as the benefit of going the opposite direction of most people.
Almost immediately, the trail began to climb. We crossed a couple of small rivers and waterfalls, and had a close encounter with a marmot and more deer. The colours of the wild flowers were amazing. The trail climbed steadily for a while, offering up views of the local mountain ranges. Everywhere you looked was a riot of colour. Eventually we reached a connection with another trail, the Paradise Glacier Trail. This was a 3/4 of a mile out-and-back that lead up to the edge of one of the 28 glaciers on the mountain. The trail was nice, and got us up onto the snow. We also got to see a whole family of marmots, including some young ones that were boxing. It was fun.
After walking on the snow (always fun in August) we headed back down to the main trail. It worked its way back across this beautiful little valley, then started to climb again. We had mistakenly thought that our climbing was done for the day, but we were very, very wrong. The trail started a second ascent that followed a series of switchbacks. While it was a bit tough, the added elevation brought a whole new view to us. We could see all the way south to Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens (Mount Hood was obscured in the clouds), and of course, the electric blue of the glaciers on Mount Rainier kept getting closer and closer.
Eventually we had to made a choice of the shorter "lower" route across a snow field, or the longer but safer upper route. We decided to stay off the snow (recommend unless you had a nice axe with you) and climbed even higher. The views were spectacular, and eventually we made it to Panorama Point. Sadly, by this time the promised crowds were out in full force, and the trail was crazy-busy. There were lots of people completely unprepared for the type of hiking they were doing. Fortunately we were on the downward part of our circuit, and were able to breeze down the mountain, and back to the Inn. All told it was just over 5 hours and about 12 km of hiking. I think it might be the best hike I've ever done.
After our hike we headed back to the room and had a bit of a rest. After that, we checked out the visitor center for a while, then decided to head back down the mountain. On the drive in on Friday, we drove through the small town of Elbe WA, and noticed this interesting collection of old train cars, that we thought we would go check out.
The drive wasn't long, but the train collection wasn't particularly interesting either. There were a series of old cabooses that they had hooked tighter, then converted into a motel, with 2-3 rooms per caboose. Some of the cars had been converted to a restaurant, and one was converted into a bar. After closer inspection it looked more like a family/kid place, so we passed on it for dinner. We did have a drink in the bar car, but it was so musty we had to sit outside.
There was another interesting place, the Cooper Creek Inn, between Ashford and the park that we decided to have dinner at. The food was good, although it was very warm inside.
After dinner we came back to the the Inn, and sat I the lobby and had some wine and played crib. We were both pretty tired, and planned to call it a night a bit early. We went back outside and once again the clouds had disappeared, leaving the Mily Way on full display. I decided to try some more star photographs, and so we grabbed some warm cloths and walked up one of the trails to get away from the lights of Paradise. The photos worked out ok, but soon it was time to call it a night.