Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Washington - The tour continues with Mt. Rainier

Mt. Rainier was on our agenda the next day of our Washington tour. A volcano finally! A stratovolcano to be exact. One who's peak is prominently tall and conical in shape. In fact, Mt. Rainier is known to have the tallest peak of all the Cascade volcanoes and this is the Columbia Crest. From what i've seen around the forest area, most of the material is either rhyolitic or andesitic. The boulders surrounding the basal area were probably deposited by lahars. Here is a good history background of Mt. Rainier published by the USGS.

Volcanic boulders along a stream near the base

 Boulders moved probably by the force of lahars causes more damage than lava flow as they travel far. This was again near a stream.

As an active volcano which last erupted during the late 1800s, there were signs at the base with evacuation routes in case of an eruptions. Didn't get a picture of it, but it's pretty distinctive. There are monitoring areas throughout this area that provides the warning system in case of an eruption or lahars occur.

It took a whole day of exploration and even still we were not able to get to the very top since they had not opened most of the road as the snow had still to be cleared. In fact, they were going to reopen that road the day after. So the best time to actually get closer to the peak of Mt. Rainier is in June or later and not mid-May. The rain on the mountain was less than what we experienced in Seattle. So it gave us some time for exploration. We took the Longmire route out of the 5 different routes they had along the base of the volcano. This is the SW route which has the Nisqually Glacier.

Sunny Beach Point at Alder Lake. Formed when they dammed the Nisqually River near the base of Mt. Rainier.

 Came across some serpentine or verd antique near the lake. This was amongst the rubble and not in place. But picked it up since i don't have a serpentine sample in my collection.

These rocks are signs of a subduction zone and belongs to an ophiolite complex (where the sea floor is subducted then raised by tectonic forces).

 With calcitic veins 

The folding of the calcite occurred after it precipitated.

 The slickensides (stress lines created by sliding against other rocks) seen at the bottom of the sample.

Then when we got to the information center, came across this:

A 670year old Douglas-fir tree with me for scale, cut down by the Saint Regis Paper Co. in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. A type of tree that was used as a source of wood for heat and light by the natives.

We had visitors.

Steller's Jay


Mt. Rainier is known to have the greatest number of glaciers in the lower 48 states. And one of those is the Nisqually glacier which is in the Physical Geology Lab textbook that i teach! So naturally i wanted to go see it, but as luck would have it we didn't have the right hiking gear for climbing through deep and/or melting snow. So lesson learned: Don't go to Washington without the right amount of clothing and gear and make sure the season is right!

We did run into some luck where a glacier had proceeded closer to the base. So we stopped by.

 The ablation (melting) portion of a glacier that we noted that is carving out a small valley.

The Nisqually River flows close to that glacier. Standing on a lava boulder displaced by lahars.

Christine Falls

Christine Falls

Contributing to the rivers by eroding and carrying material downstream.

Another natural spring.

The Nisqually River flows through from the Nisqually glacier

Another misfit wanting a morsel of food

 Fit for a queen at Paradise Inn

This was the highest we were allowed. As our luck had it, they would open the road the next day.

Layers in the snow. It's a wonder the snow doesn't melt as it wasn't that cold.

The top of the mountain is above the clouds

And yet another....These guys were more frequent than the birds.

A Western hemlock.

Resembling the Hoh Rainforest big maples in the Olympic peninsula, these Western hemlocks looked like they had HUGE spiders living on the trees.

These seemed very much out of place and looked like brand new blooms.

A type of Tulip?

Many trees were in this condition around the forest.


Corridor of hemlocks and firs.

Plane shot of Mt. Rainier in the background peeking out of the clouds.

This trip to this volcano has got me longing for more of it. And since it was a very spontaneous trip, I suggest anyone who is actually going to this area to have it all planned out else you cannot get the most out of what this great natural wonder has to offer. A good list of things to prepare are:

  • Make sure the dates that you go are a time when the park is fully open and of course read about if there are signs in the news about an eruption or lahar occurring about to happen.
  • Routes to take since there are 5 different roads that lead up to the summit. The national park service website is a good resource to start planning with.
  • Hiking routes along the way. 
  • A physical map which the park provides. This is handy when your phone gps dies on you. Although, now google maps can be downloaded and used offline.
  • Have hiking gear. Plan for all types of weather. Mostly snow and rain.
  • Review of how to protect oneself if encountering a bear or a mountain lion. The park usually provides guidelines, but it's always best to read up about it beforehand.
  • Have at least a couple of days handy since it's hard to take everything in on one day.
  • A handy camera that is always ready to take a snap shot.
  • Food and water even though there are inns present. Do not feed the wild life though. That is the sole reason we saw so many foxes along the way.
  • Most of all, don't forget your adventurous spirit!
Of course that was not an exhaustive list, but the essentials are there. So I hope there's a next time story involved in my future.

Next post will be about the fascinating, yet hidden city known as Wenatchee which is east of the Mt. Rainer & Wenatchee National Forests.

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