Rivers, Waterfalls, and Ice

Mount Rainier’s Dynamic Trio…

Yesterday was a strenuous day… sorry, that’s my new favorite adjective. Today is a kinder, gentler day in the National Park. We drive along the scenic forested road toward Paradise, but not quite, and stop at some of the pullouts we missed to read plaques, take pictures, and hardly hike at all. (I’m just being honest…)

First Stop… a glacial river

The picture below is a streambed of the Nisqually River. It is constantly being reworked by water flowing from the Nisqually Glacier. Heavy winter snow and rain, along with spring run-off, rearrange these channels annually. Glacial rivers deposit sediment on the floor of the streambed, creating high spots that divert water and cause the river to wind and braid across its bed. (National Park plaque)

In winter the glacier moves very little and the river runs clear. But in the spring the glacier melts and speeds up, loading the river with fine rock sediment ground from the glacier’s bed. These scoured particles are called glacial flour and give the waters a cloudy milky-white color in spring and summer.  (National Park plaque)

Christine Falls

This 69 foot waterfall is right off the road. A bridge spans the lower drop.

We park and take a short trail down to the 37-foot lower tier.

We return to our car and carefully walk along the road to the other side of the bridge for a view of the upper 32-foot drop.

The falls were named for Christine Van Trump, the daughter of Philemon Beecher Van Trump, a pioneering mountaineer. He is best known for making the first ascent of Mount Rainier in 1870 with General Hazard Stevens.

In 1889, nine-year-old Christine accompanied her father on an ascent of Mt. Rainier as far as her strength would allow. She made it to the 10,000-foot level. (en.m.wikipedia.org and OhRanger.com)

Nisqually River

The Nisqually Glacier is the source of this river with the same name. Emptying into the Puget Sound, the river is approximately 81 miles long. It drains part of the Cascade Range  southeast of Tacoma, WA, including the southern slope of Mt. Rainer. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

The Nisqually Glacier is one of the larger glaciers on Mt. Rainier. It is also the most accessible and studied glaciers. Since 1918, Nisqually’s terminal point has been measured annually. (OhRanger.com and en.m.wikipedia.org)


The glaciers on Mt. Rainier reached their greatest extent down the valley in the 1850s.

nps.gov courtesy of United States Geologic Survey, 2012

The 1850s are considered a part of the Little Ice Age (LIA). This term was introduced into scientific literature by Francois E. Matthes in 1939.

Matthes (1874-1948) was a geologist and an expert in topographic mapping, glaciers, and climate change. His maps coincided with the development of our American West National Parks.

The Little Ice Age has been conventionally defined as the period from the 16th to 19th Centuries. However, an alternative timespan, from 1300-1850, is preferred by other experts.

The NASA Earth Observatory, the principal source of satellite imagery and information pertaining to climate and environment,  notes 3 particularly cold intervals: one beginning about 1650, another about 1770, and the last in 1850, all separated by intervals of slight warming.

At the end of the Little Ice Age, the glaciers on Mt. Rainer began a slow retreat. After 1920 the rate of shrinkage sped up. In the 100 years between 1850 and 1950, Mt. Rainier has lost about a quarter of its glaciers. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

Ricksetter Point Road… a one-Way Side Spur

Several pull-offs provide spectacular views of some of Mt. Rainier’s 25 glaciers.

According to the roadside plaque, Mt. Rainier, is a dynamic mountain, shaped by fire and ice. During the past 500,000 years lava from thousands of volcanic eruptions flowed and cooled. The gray and reddish rock are what’s left of those lava flows.

Large glaciers enveloped Mt.Rainier during these eruptions to develop the terrain. While still hot, lava pooled against the edges of converging glaciers. Cooled molten material built up between glaciers to create the present-day ridges.

From left to right, the following glaciers are visible from the vantage point of these 2 pictures: Pyramid, Success, Kautz, Van Trump, Wilson, and Nisqually.

Eruptions of lava and ash built the cone while glaciers, rivers, landslides, and mudflows acted to destroy it. Similar activity is certain to occur in the future. (National Park plaque)

Narada Falls

This is another popular waterfall right off the highway. A large picnic/parking area makes it easily accessible.

According to en.m.wikipedia.org, Frederick Gordon Plummer named the falls in 1893 after the branch name of the Narada Theosophical Society of Tacoma. Narada is a Sanskrit name of the son of Lord Brahma, a devotee of Lord Vishnu. (National Park plaque)

The Theosophical Society in America:

  • has a vision of wholeness that inspires a fellowship united in study, meditation, and service
  • has a mission of encouraging open-minded inquiry into world religions, philosophy, science, and the arts in order to understand the wisdom of ages, respect the unity of all life, and help people explore spiritual self-transformation
  • has an ethic holding that our every action, feeling, and thought affect all other beings and that each of us is capable of and responsible for contributing to the benefit of the whole (theosophical.org)

The Society was founded in 1875 in New York City by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, the first Russian woman to be naturalized as an American citizen. She traveled all over the world searching for the reason for human existence. Her writings brought the spiritual wisdom of the East and the ancient Western mysteries to the modern world.

Colonel Henry S. Olcott, lawyer, journalist, and veteran of the Civil War, became the first president of the Society. He related the wisdom of the Eastern and Western cultures, applied it to everyday life and built the Society into an international organization. (theosophical.org)


Here’s a picture from the parking lot. The stone highway bridge is overhead.

As we walk cross over the bridge, I take a pic of the Paradise River rippling through the rocks…

…before falling off the edge.

The waterfall drops in 2 tiers.

A short but very steep trail leads down to the base where the entire 168 foot waterfall is visible.

Snowfields and inactive glaciers melt into water in the Paradise Valley, forming the Paradise River. The river runs clear because it originates from snowfields, not debris-laden active glaciers that turn the water milky. (National Park plaque)

Now, it’s just a step, stumble, and shuffle (with a huff and a puff) back up again!

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