Mount Rainier National Park

I firmly believe that with the right to enjoy these places comes the responsibility to protect them; to be a steward for them; to honor them.

A mere 95 miles southeast of Seattle, Mount Rainier National Park became America’s fifth National Park when it was established back on March 2, 1899. The park encompasses 236,381 acres, and the elevation of its land ranges from 1,880 feet in the Carbon River Rainforest up to 14,410 feet at the summit of Mount Rainier.

Evidence of human inhabitants on Mount Rainier dates back almost 6,000 years. Like much of the Pacific Northwest, the mountain was originally occupied by several Native American tribes, including the Nisqually, Puyallup, Muckleshoot, Yakima, and Taidnapam. The tribes that occupied the area had two names for the mountain, “Takhoma” and “Tahoma,” which are roughly translated to “higher mountain” and “great snowy peak,” respectively. Both names are particularly fitting, as the mountain’s 25 named glaciers make it the largest single-peak glacial system in the lower forty-eight states. Among Rainier’s glaciers include the Emmons Glacier and the Carbon Glacier – the largest glaciers by area and by volume (respectively) in the contiguous United States.

The first recorded observation of the mountain by Europeans was back in 1792, when Captain George Vancouver sailed into the Puget Sound. He described it as a “remarkable high mountain covered with snow,” and he named the mountain after his friend, Rear Admiral Peter Rainier. The first recorded climb of the mountain didn’t happen until almost 80 years later, in 1870, when it was summited by Hazard Stevens and Philimon Beecher Van Trump. Since then, the mountain has been climbed thousands of times. It’s on my to-do list.

If I’m being totally honest with you, I wasn’t all that excited to visit Mount Rainier National Park. Don’t get me wrong – I love the mountain. Its towering size makes it visible from more than a hundred miles away, and there’s something about its presence on the horizon that makes me feel at home. But, the park is both the oldest and the most prestigious in Washington; it’s the closest national park to Seattle. I’ve come to enjoy my trips to America’s national parks not only because they’re these beautiful, sacred places, but because they’ve consistently provided me with an opportunity to get away from some of the chaos of living in a city. They’ve become places where I can slow things down a bit and clear my mind.

I wasn’t excited to go to Rainier because I figured it would be a zoo. Don’t get me wrong, the parks are for everyone. I get that. And, admittedly, part of the reason I’m sharing my experiences with the national parks on my website is to encourage other people to get outdoors and go enjoy some of these amazing, beautiful places. But, at the same time, I firmly believe that with the right to enjoy these places comes the responsibility to protect them; to be a steward for them; to honor them. It drives me nuts to see people litter in national parks; to see people carve their names into stones and trees; to see people pick flowers or remove rocks from the parks. It seems like the worst offenses in parks happen in places that are either close to major cities (like Rainier) or conducive to being experienced from the comfort and convenience of a car (like Yellowstone). 

But, my apprehension about visiting the park dissipated as I approached the park’s Nisqually entrance. Unlike any other park I’ve visited this summer, crossing into the Mount Rainier National Park entrance at Nisqually felt like I was transcending into another world: from the run down mountain towns that line the highway into a grove of trees so thick that sunlight seemed unable to penetrate the canopy above. I felt like I was in Narnia, cruising the tight, winding road through the woods, on my way to a place called “Paradise.”

The Paradise Valley was named in 1885 by Virinda Longmire, who fell in love with the wildflowers that covered the hillside. But the valley’s short summer season is starkly contrasted with its winters: according the National Parks Service, Paradise is the snowiest place on Earth where snowfall is measured regularly. In the winter of 1971-1972, the region saw more than 93 feet of snow! In it's lightest year of snowfall ever recorded (2014-2015), the region still saw more than 20 feet of snowfall.

The images I captured are from a quick, 48-hour stint in Paradise. I hiked through the nearby Tattoosh Range, stopped by a handful of alpine lakes, and even began trekking up toward the Muir Basecamp: the point of departure for climbers hopeful to summit Rainier. 

Matt Patterson

Seattle, Washington