Saturday, November 2, 2019

Mt Rainier NP - Raindrops, Waterfalls, and Steps

When planning a trip, I always pay attention to the local weather forecast.  That's how I knew the second day of my Mt Rainer summer adventure (see day one here) was going to be rainy.  Never fear - wet and overcast are the perfect conditions to photograph waterfalls!  Lucky for me, Mt Rainier National Park has plenty of beautiful cascades to chose from.  So day two became designated as waterfall day.

Iconic shot of Christine Falls

My friend Young and I woke the next morning to the sound of raindrops pattering on our tents.  Since my tent is rather old, and the waterproofing questionable, I quickly threw a blue plastic tarp over the top.  Then Young and I took turns making breakfast, alternating between huddling beneath our one umbrella, and standing under a nearby thick grove of trees.

Bottom of Narada Falls

The forecast called for precip to taper off by mid-morning, so we waited it out under the trees at our campsite.  Although neither of us mind hiking in the rain, it's more difficult to dry wet gear when you're tent camping.  Finally, seeing a letup in the moisture from the sky, we threw our backpacks into the car and headed out.

Narada Falls

First stop - lovely Christine Falls.  This cascade has the easiest access of them all, dropping below a highway bridge on the main park road.  The rock-faced span makes a perfect frame for this gorgeous waterfall.  A little further down the park road was Narada Falls.  A short downhill walk led us to its wide, wispy fan.  We lucked out with the place to ourselves for nearly 10 minutes before other people began to arrive.

Rain-dotted penstemon blooms

The hike to Comet Falls is wildly popular, with the small trailhead parking area filling up well before midday.  Although I wanted to show Young this beautiful trail, I wasn't sure we'd be able to find a parking spot so late in the morning.  But of course I had to try, so after pulling into the lot we scanned vehicles for people getting ready to leave.  I spotted a couple loading gear into their car and hovered nearby.  It seemed to take an eternity, but once their car finally backed away, I pounced. 

Glittering raindrops on huckleberry leaves

The Comet Falls Trail began by crossing a slot canyon over the creek feeding Christine Falls.  These steep rock walls were created from years of erosion, wearing a channel into the rock.  The creek absolutely roared through this narrow opening, creating quite a show of frothy whitewater.  Water droplets clung to the trailside bushes, creating glittering little jewels.  Wildflowers bloomed amongst the vegetation - penstemon, paintbrush, and many others I couldn't identify.

Green, foggy valley below Comet Falls

Although the path to Comet Falls isn't particularly long  (1.6 miles one way) it gains over 1200 feet in elevation.  Having hiked it last year, memories of a tough, hot slog were fresh in my mind.  Although temps were much milder today, the clouds didn't cooperate.  Not long after Young and I began our hike, falling raindrops had us digging for our jackets. 

Um....Comet Falls is somewhere over there in the fog

My friend and slowly slogged uphill, leapfroging a family several times.  As promised, the climb was long and tiring.  One of the ways the park dealt with steep inclines was to construct steps into the trail's tread.  Oh those steps were killers!  I think they were built for long-legged men, not short older women.  (I may or may not have complained about them once or twice.....)

Log bridge crossing the creek

About a quarter mile from Comet Falls, we crossed a single log bridge under another nice waterfall.  I had to tell Young to keep going - the better show was just over the next ridge.  But as we climbed to the first Comet Falls viewpoint we were met by a thick fog bank.  Although Comet Fall's lower tier was still visible, it completely obscured the taller, upper tier.  Last year bright, contrasty light shining in the wrong direction had thwarted my chances of a good photograph.  This year, I thought the cloudy skies would provide nice even light.  I didn't even think about the possibility of fog.  Foiled again!

Climbing down another steep staircase

Since we couldn't see much of the waterfall, there was no use climbing any further.  So Young and I took a break at the lower tier viewpoint, ate a snack, and then headed back the way we came.  (This time down all those steps!)

Lush meadow on Snow Lake Trail

Returning to our campsite for lunch, the rain had finally let up and skies were clearing.  However, after removing the tarp from my tent I made a sad discovery.  Although the tarp had kept the top of my tent dry, I'd inadvertently pitched it on a slight depression. From the morning's rain, a small amount of water had collected here, soaked through the tent's floor, and was beginning to get everything inside wet.  Fortunately only my air mattress and the bottom of my clothing bag got the worst of it.  I laid my tarp, rain fly, and air mattress on a nearby rock in hopes they'd be dry by nighttime.

Fuzzy pink unknown wildflower

Only mid-afternoon and the weather improving, Young and I decided there was time to get in one more hike.  Chatting with a fellow camper near the restroom that morning had netted a recommendation of the short jaunt to Bench and Snow Lakes.  Although only 2.5 miles round-trip, I was warned that the trail had a lot of up and down - and many more of those dreaded stairsteps.

View of Bench Lake

Watching sunshine play peek-a-boo with retreating clouds, Young and I began our second hike of the day.  We climbed more of those darn stairs over a ridge to a lovely high alpine meadow with views of pointy Unicorn Peak.  Young (who besides being an amazing hiking friend also climbs mountains) mentioned that she and her husband had climbed that peak a few years ago. 

Mt Rainier reflection (sort of) on Bench Lake

Trekking on top of a rocky cliff, Young and I were treated to some great views of Bench Lake, nestled far below in a grove of firs.  After getting our photo ops, we then descended steeply to the alder-choked lakeshore.  After crashing through the brush, we came out on the muddy beach and were treated to a view of Mt Rainier emerging from the clouds.  I even got a couple of reflection photos on the lake.

Unicorn Peak

Then it was back through the brush to the trail.  And uphill (up more steps) again.  In order to reach Snow Lake, we had to cross another ridge.  By now the addition of sunlight had warmed the afternoon temperatures.  The combination of humidity from the morning rain and sunshine made for an uncomfortable climb.  To top it off, mosquitoes began to attack.  I thought we'd never reach that darn lake.

Snow Lake and Unicorn Peak

But finally we came to an outlet creek.  A trail led around the lake to a meadow on the opposite side.  And there in the meadow was an amazing view of Unicorn Peak.  Young pointed out the route she'd taken to climb this steep mountain, and I was duly impressed.  (And she'd climbed it in early spring - over snow!)

Gray Jay

My Mt Rainier guidebook mentioned "two of the most beautiful wilderness campsites in the park" at the lake's opposite end.  So Young and I followed a rough bootpath in the other direction.  A huge logjam bridged the lake's outlet creek, and reaching the campsites meant walking across it.  But the views of Unicorn Peak from the logjam were wonderful.  Young and I balanced on the logs, snapping away until satisfied we'd captured the scene fully.

Yet another set of steps....

Then, with daylight beginning to slip behind the mountains, Young and I retraced our steps back down (and up!) all those steps until the trailhead finally came in sight.  Although our daily mileage for the two hikes wasn't large (only a bit over 6 miles) the constant climbing stairsteps had worn both of us out.  Time to head back to camp for dinner and some wine!  (And to see if my tent floor had dried out.  Spoiler alert - it hadn't.  I ended up spreading my tarp across the bottom to keep my sleeping stuff dry)

One more day in the park.  And I'd planned a big hike for our finale, the Wonderland Trail to Indian Henry's Hunting Ground.  Which I'll recap in my next post.


  1. ...once again, thanks Linda for taking me along to see all of this beauty!!!

  2. A shame about the rain and a leaky tent but yet again you looked in the bright side of things and found the beauty around you. How wonderful to have Young along.

  3. When I first saw the thumbnail of the first photo I thought you were in the English Lake District, more specifically at Aira Force which has a very similar stone bridge spanning the top of the fall. I wonder if the builders were deliberately mimicking it. Google pictures of Aira Force and you'll see what I mean. The rest of the landscapes you show us are much wilder than our little mountains - except for the rain, we have plenty of that up there, though, as a Lakeland farmer once explained to me, "You can't 'ave lakes if you don't 'ave rain, can you?"

  4. Sounds lik eyou need to invest in a new tent, haveing one that leaks is not good. Well worth the walk with tose stunning views and photos you took

  5. We did the 100 mile Circumferential Trail over 20 years September, when it doesn't rain. Of course it poured the first night into the next day. But it added to rather than subtracted from the experience...from Alpine to Rain Forest, and every thing in between. Nice photos...mine are all slides. Useless these days :(

  6. Beautiful...despite the weather! You PNW people are clearly used to dealing with the wet!

  7. Stunning imagery! Very magical.

  8. Que maravilha, gostei de ver as fotografias desta caminhada e aproveito para desejar uma boa semana.

    Dedais de Francisco e Idalisa
    O prazer dos livros

  9. Reading your posts is always great inspiration for my daydreaming!

  10. Linda, you got some great photos! I love the waterfall!! Our youngest son hiked Mt. Rainer years ago. Quite an accomplishment.

  11. I've turned into a fairweather camper after seven years of being paid to do it in the rainforest. You are braver than I.

  12. All that rain makes for stunning waterfalls, right?

  13. Hi! Your falls phots are very beautiful. The photo of Mt Rainier reflection on Bench Lake is very cool. Thanks for sharing.

  14. How beautiful! I almost went to Mount Rainier once but I got very sick that day.

  15. The whole area looks truly fabulous - and if you can find a Grey Jay there it must be!

  16. Lovely photos! I enjoyed seeing them!


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