Here in Seattle we are lucky (or perhaps you could say unlucky) to have a spectacular volcano watching down on us. Mount Rainier is an active stratovolcano about 60 miles from the city and at 14,400 feet holds plenty of snow to explore all year round. But in the winter time the mountain is especially magical.
The road to Paradise, on the southern side of the mountain, is plowed in the winter for your snow-loving pleasure. The wide open meadows beyond the Paradise Inn beg for sledding, skiing, and snowshoeing. If you are lucky you will get spectacular up-close views of the mountain. The weather up here is famously temperamental. Even on a seemingly blue bird day, clouds can form spoiling your mountain views and even cause whiteouts making it essential to always be prepared in this area. But the extra preparation is worth the hassle to spend a day in paradise.
My favorite destination from Paradise is Panorama Point. The way weaves through occasional snow covered trees to Glacier Vista, from here climb steeply along the Nisqually Glacier to fantastic views of Rainier and the surrounding mountains. This is the perfect spot to take a rest and fuel up for the return.
My favorite account of life on Mount Rainier is from Floyd Schmoe’s book A Year in Paradise. The book starts out with Floyd describing his honeymoon. He was encouraging his new wife, Ruth, to continue up the mountain on snowshoes. “Come on dear, it’s just over the next ridge,” he told her, her first time ever on snowshoes. They were not just taking a leisurely jaunt up to Panorama Point, they were breaking trail all the way from Longmire at the base of the mountain to Paradise Inn at 5400 feet!
The year was 1920, long before they plowed the road to Paradise, and Schmoe was assigned to man the inn over the winter. His boss told him, “I predict that if you two kids survive this winter alone in Paradise you will live happily together for the rest of your lives and go to heaven when you die.” Then he told him that the inn was covered in 30 feet of snow, and each of its rooms were in complete darkness!
The young couple made the best of their time at the inn. They explored the area on snowshoes in the morning looking for prints in the fresh snow and putting together the stories of the winter wildlife. They dug tunnels in the snow to the windows of the living room to bring some light in. Ruth practiced the piano and honed her high-altitude cooking skills by trial and error. Floyd read books and reported the weather daily to the Weather Bureau in Seattle. Soon they determined that Ruth was pregnant and Floyd built a cradle from the local Alaska yellow cedar as Ruth made baby clothing. Finally they began to notice the ptarmigan and rabbits slowly transforming their coats from brilliant white to brown and black. After their long first winter together in Paradise, it was finally spring.
A Year in Paradise by Floyd Schmoe
That winter in Paradise began Schmoe’s long and wide ranging career at Mount Rainier National Park. He was a caretaker and later a mountain guide until he enrolled at the University of Washington and earned a degree in forestry. He then became the first Park Naturalist employed by MRNP. His memoir recounts his memories and experiences in a sort of almanac divided into seasons of the year. His beautiful stories and observations are a must read for anyone who has fallen under the spell of “the mountain.”
Hikes featured in this Post:
Panorama Point Snowshoe