More than happy to show my friend this wonderful place, we left Portland in the wee hours one early August morning. After securing a coveted walk-up spot at the Cougar Rock Campground, Young and I grabbed our backpacks and headed for the Paradise Visitor Center to hike one of my favorite trails in the park - the jaw-dropping Skyline Loop.
This six-mile circuit above the Paradise Lodge packs a lot of scenery into a short distance. Wildflowers fill the forested slopes, especially in early August. At the trail's high points, mountain views extend from every direction. Wildlife sightings are common - marmots, pikas, chipmunks, deer, and a large variety of birds. I'd even heard reports of a black bear frequenting the area.
After hiking the loop last year, (see recap here) I knew it was destined to become an annual tradition.
|Magenta paintbrush and "hippies"
It was midday by the time Young and I arrived at Paradise. However, being a Thursday I was still able to score a parking spot in the main lot. And the mountain was out - towering above the visitor center, glaciers gleaming white. Clear skies highlighted Mt Rainier in her full glory. After snapping some obligatory photos at the granite steps framing this mountain view, Young and I headed down the paved path towards Myrtle Falls.
|Lupine gets in on the action
The wildflower show started immediately. With both of us toting cameras, progress was glacially slow. But we finally made it the half mile to Myrtle Falls, and despite shadows, attempted to capture the iconic shot of this cascade with Mt Rainier anchoring the background.
We then followed the trail as it wound through more technicolor meadows. Magenta paintbrush dotted nearby slopes, sometimes accented with purple lupine and fluffy-topped Western pasqueflower (or as I call it "hippy on a stick").
|Young taking it all in
We passed an outstanding view of Mt Rainier with a slope full of magenta paintbrush in the foreground. It was such a perfect photo op! Young and I spent many minutes capturing the scene from all angles. I got several money shots - one of these will definitely grace a page of my yearly calendar.
Temps were rising, and it was a hot climb above treeline, past a wide glacial stream with stunning reflections of Mt Rainier in its waters.
|Stairway to the top
We began to see patches of snow in lower gullies. On one slope, a few people were happily sliding downhill on their behinds. In another larger tract, a mountain climbing class was practicing roping up and self arresting with ice axes.
|Still some snow patches hanging around
For such a short trail, climbing to the highest point seemed to take forever. It's 3 miles to the Mt Rainier overlook, but 1700 feet up. Rocky trails made for slow going.
|Will the climbing ever end?
But finally Young and I arrived at the trail's highest point. Our reward - a magnificent in-your-face view of Mt Rainier. The mountain absolutely filled the skyline. It was as if you could reach out and touch its glaciated slopes. Copious photo-taking ensued. One nice lady even took a few photos of my friend and I celebrating our accomplishment. (Oh - and we didn't plan to wear the same color clothing, it just happened!)
|Grand Rainier view at the trail's high point
Taking a break to soak in the views, Young and I also entertained ourselves people watching. This high point seemed to be a popular stopping area, and there were several groups scattered about. Lots of different languages spoken, and all varieties of clothing choices, from traditional hiking garb to flip flops. Lots of cell phone cameras recording the moment - even a few selfie stick sightings! We spotted many mountaineering groups, loaded down with huge backpacks, heading up the glacier to Camp Muir.
|Heading back down
Our climbing now done for the day, it was time to head downhill to Panorama Point. But first Young and I heeded the call of nature and visited the trail's high-altitude restroom just below the viewpoint. While waiting for my friend, I had to shoo a very aggressive ground squirrel away from her backpack.
Young and I made a quick stop at Panorama Point. This place was swarming with both people and chipmunks. The little rodents were apparently well-fed because they weren't at all shy about begging people for snacks. We spotted one portly ground squirrel with his (her?) belly dragging on the ground. Not sure if it was a pregnant female or just really fat.
|Really fat ground squirrel
I thought we'd already passed by the best flower fields, but couldn't have been more wrong! As Young and I descended back towards the Paradise Lodge, we passed by huge patches of lovely pink heather.
|Lots of pink heather blooming
Framed by adjacent mountains, it was absolutely stunning!
|Rainier and heather
Last year this was the portion of the hike where I was nursing an ailing camera battery, so didn't get many photos. I'm happy to report that this time I more than made up for the deficit!
|More lovely heather
Although this trail is always wildly busy, hiking on a weekday (Thursday) the crowds weren't quite as large. It was kind of nice not having to dodge long conga-lines of people streaming uphill. Note to self - plan next year's trip for mid-week.
|Lots of flowers along the Skyline Trail
Oh yeah, there will definitely be a return trip in my future next summer! And Young was so impressed, I think I'll have a willing companion.
Our trip back to the lodge was a continuous parade of mountain views and flower-filled slopes. Taking most of the day to traverse the loop, we didn't arrive back at my car until late afternoon. But scenery this spectacular was meant to be sauntered through and enjoyed to the fullest. As my friend and I headed back to our campsite, I was already plotting where I'd take her the following day.
To be continued.......