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!

Mt. Rainier

It’s Skyline Time

Mount Rainier is an active volcano, however, its last confirmed eruption was about 1,000 years ago.

It is part of the “Ring of Fire”, the string of active volcanoes that  encircles the Pacific Ocean in a horseshoe shape.


At 14,411 feet, Mount Rainier is the highest peak in the Cascades, the mountain range of active volcanoes that stretch from British Columbia to northern  California. Volcanic activity built Rainier, but glaciers shaped it.

Did you know that true glaciers consist of at least 3 layers? These layers are pure snow, mixed snow and ice, and pure ice. We already know, from learning about Mt. Olympus, that glaciers form because winter snowfall surpasses summer snowmelt.

More than 35 square miles of glaciers radiate from the summit of Mt. Rainier, giving it the distinction of having the largest collection of glaciers on its slopes in the contiguous United States. (There goes that word “contiguous” again…) (OhRanger.com)

Our home base for the next 3 days is Rocky Point Campground on Lake Alder outside of a little town called Elbe, about 15 miles from the southwest Nisqually Entrance to the National Park.

The picture below is on the road to Paradise.

Yes, Paradise can be found right here at Mt. Rainier, 19 miles east of the Nisqually Entrance.

It sits more than a mile above sea level and averages 643 inches of snowfall annually. (OhRanger.com)

There are no gardens or apple trees but there are hiking trails, meadows of flowers, 2 huge parking lots, a Visitors Center, and an historic inn. And it’s crowded!

The best views of Mt. Rainier are here. We get a sneak peek of the peak along the road…

Luckily we are able to find a place to park so we can hike the signature 5.5 mile Skyline Loop Trail.

Subalpine wildflowers escort us to the trailhead leading to a myriad of hiking experiences. So, I have to stop and “smell.”

Rosy Spirea…

Mountain Bog Gentian…

Scarlet Paintbrush…

Broadleaf Arnica…

A wee bit after 11:00 we start up the steps leading to all the trails.

Not quite sure as to how committed we are to completing the Skyline Loop Trail, we start up a rather steep .25 mile paved path to Myrtle Falls.

It’s crowded as we descend to the viewpoint. We scoot in, take a quick picture, and head back up to the bridge overlooking the falls.

I discover a type of Lousewort

…and a Pasqueflower Seedhead

The beginning of Myrtle Falls slopes through this pristine meadow.

Then it plunges down the other side of the bridge.

After crossing over the bridge, we come to a fork in the trail. Heading right takes us on the Skyline Loop Trail. Heading left takes us on the Golden Gate Trail. Daniel Boone Jeff suggests we go left because the Golden Gate Trail intersects the Skyline Loop Trail and shaves off a mile.

So off we go!

Who knew the next mile would become a continual ascent!

Oh wait, did I forget to mention that the Skyline Loop Trail gains an elevation of 1700 feet and is classified as strenuous?

So… shaving off a mile really means a steeper uphill climb to the top!

I try and stop and enjoy the flowers along the way. Oh, who am I kidding? I will stop for any opportunity to catch my breath!

I linger awhile, capturing this pic of a Magenta Paintbrush and the collection of dewdrops on Lupine Leaves.

More short breaks capturing mountains and meadows…

Marmot Crossing…

We cross this stream and enjoy this little guy or gal.

Even marmots stop to smell the wildflowers!

And then decide to grab some for a nibble…

Mt. Rainier rises before us as we cross this peaceful stream.

My pictures don’t look so steep… But believe me pictures can be deceiving!

More Pasquale Seedhead… in a field of Lupine

Pink Mountain Heather

Another marmot..

Glacial waterfalls…

Here we are switching back and forth and going up and up.

Coiled-beak Lousewort…

Waterfalls get closer.

We look back to see how far we have traversed.

And finally, an endpoint is in sight!

We certainly gained some elevation.

This marmot entertains us with a plop in the dirt

Until he’s had enough…

Thinking we’ve reached the top of the loop, I look forward to circling around the corner and heading back down.

I know, what am I thinking? The altitude has made me loopy! A few minutes later, Mt. Rainier and the intersection of Golden Gate and Skyline loom ahead. The top of the Loop is still a mile away!

Jeff is fine with turning back, but I just can’t let this hike defeat me, even though my water supply is running low and the trail is still climbing up.

Sluggishly I resign myself to place one foot in front of the other and continue up, resting when I need to and taking pictures to document my progress.

But I still enjoy the precious moments along the way.

Did I mention how strenuous this trail is?

I don’t tell Jeff that I am afraid I really won’t make it to the top and back in one piece. I ration my water and slowly trudge ahead and upward, no longer feeling ashamed of letting younger fitter hikers pass us by. Did I mention how strenuous this is?

We make friends with other hikers taking breaks and encourage each other.

Finally, I hear the words I have been waiting for, “You’re almost there,” from from 2 young women descending our ascent. They point out a switchback with a snowy backdrop. They promise me it’s not far, but it looks like forever away from me. I see people up there on the trail but they look like giant ants. Apparently the trail levels off where the giant ants are. Did I mention how strenuous this trail is?

We did! I did it! We reach the tall snowdrift. No, we don’t have to climb it. We just pass by.

It’s not quite 1:30 and this is as close up and personal I will ever be with Mt. Rainier. Clouds hamper the view, but those ice patches are glaciers.

Then the clouds scatter. I wish my camera could pick up the blue tint on the ice rivers.

We made it! I did it! Wow!

A short spur trail intersects to Pebble Creek, but I for one, am done going up.

We head back down the other side of the loop after turning this steep corner. It’s downhill now all the way, but it’s still a little over 2 miles until we reach the beginning of the trailhead.

Sunny skies are busting through the clouds.

The river below is from the Nisqually Glacier.

My energy refreshed, it’s my turn to encourage the tired huffing hikers as they ascend our descent. Descent, what a comforting word! Did I mention how strenuous this hike is? I turn around and remember.

I capture the blue ice from the Nisqually Glacier.

Plush meadows lie below.

So many trails intersect this western side of the Skyline Loop.

Mt. Rainier still has my back.

The trail down is not as steep as the Golden Gate cut-off. There are viewpoints and rest stops interspersed along the way, allowing time to catch one’s breath and take beautiful pictures.

This side of the loop is carpeted with meadows of colorful wildflowers.

Actually, that’s how Paradise got its name. Before becoming a National Park, James Longmire discovered a mineral springs in the area and built a hotel on the spot. When his wife, Martha, first saw Paradise Valley in the summer and all the lush meadows blanketed in wildflowers, she exclaimed, “Oh, what a paradise!” and the name stuck. (OhRanger.com)

The scenery is too magical for words.

Western Columbine…

We should have hiked up on this trail. I think it would have been a less severe climb. But it doesn’t matter now. All this eye candy almost makes me forget how strenuous the first half of the hike was.

A field of Coiled-beak and Bracted Lousewort

Everywhere we turn, Mt. Rainier and the blue Nisqually Glacier pops into view. There’s my Jeff following a group of happy hikers going down, not up. Look closely to the bottom left of this photo, right above the snowdrift and big rocks. That’s where we are headed.

This little guy has been posing since I spotted him or her. I really didn’t expect him to strike the pose for this long!

Rosy Spirea…

Another awesome view…

A field of Broadleaf Lupine and Beargrass (the white wildflowers)…

Scarlet Paintbrush joins the party of wildflowers.

A final glance at Mt. Rainier…

This truly is Paradise! (going down…)

Did I mention how strenuous this hike was?