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A Stormy Night in Mt. Rainier

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The above picture is the most Alex and I saw of the sun while in Mt. Rainier National Park. In fact, we went to Mt. Rainier National Park and we didn't see Mt. Rainier. It was a little disappointing to be staring up into the white, snowy, and cloudy abyss knowing Mt. Rainier was right there, so close, just out of view. But, the experience was challenging, rewarding, and ended up being one of my favorite adventure stories to date.

We arrived to Mt. Rainier around noon with the intention of snowshoeing to Reflection Lake and snow camping with Mt. Rainier towering over the lake and our campsite, but unfortunately the weather had another plan. The park radio broadcast said they were expected to receive between 3-6" of snow that night and that it was supposed to clear up by morning. We had high hopes that the storm would dissipate and we would get to see the night sky over Mt. Rainier and a nice sunrise from our campsite at Reflection Lake. 

The snowshoe trek to Reflection Lake was intermediate, taking us through a beautiful subalpine forest. There were very few people on the trail, which was a nice break from the bustling Mt. Baker hike to Artist Point. People could have heard the weather forecast and decided it wasn't worth the effort to explore Mt. Rainier on a day the visibility was so subpar. Since we didn't have the luxury of waiting another day to explore the area and 3-6" of snow didn't sound too bad we braved the elements. 

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The hike was beautiful. The sky was gray, but the clouds broke a few times and we were graced with a couple brief moments of patchy blue sky and sun beams. The hike took us through one exposed, avalanche-prone area which made me nervous, but we made it through unscathed. After an hour and a half we made it to Reflection Lake, which doesn't have much of a Reflection in the winter, and it started lightly snowing. We started setting up camp. It took awhile for us to flatten our campsite with our snowshoes, this snow was much deeper, more powdery and hadn't already been traveled on like our Mt. Baker site. After our tent was set up we got into our sleeping bags and ate some Clif bars for dinner and dessert and waited. The snow was falling harder and it was wet. It sounded like it was raining on the tent, but we were only forecast to get a few inches of snow so I figured it would stop snowing soon. It didn't. It snowed for 15 hours straight. Alex woke up every hour to clear snow off the tent. At some points we would stop hearing the snow falling on the tent and I thought the snow had stopped, then Alex would shake off the tent and we would hear the snow falling again, harder. It never stopped, it was only being muffled by accumulated snow.

The night seemed endless. Sunset was at 4:30pm and it didn't rise again until past 7am, leaving us cooped up for 15 hours in a dark and cramped tent. We kept hearing noises that sounded like footsteps, which was unnerving because the parking lot was virtually empty when we set out. We were a couple of the only people in the wilderness of Mt. Rainier. When we first set out in the middle of the day this seemed awesome, the park was like our own personal playground. In the dead of night that fact was much more creepy. 

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By sunrise our tent was partially buried in snow. Much more than the predicted 3-6" of snow fell. We had to dig ourselves out of the tent. For only our second time snow camping it was quite the harrowing experience. We began the trek back, which was much more difficult than the first day since the new snow covered all the tracks and we had to make our own way. As luck would have it by the time we got back to the car it had stopped snowing and the clouds were breaking. By this point I was too exhausted to even be upset. We'll see Mt. Rainier eventually!