Day two at Mount Rainier may have been one of the fullest and longest days that we’ve had yet on our trip. This is because we decided to get up and watch our third sunrise of the journey – on purpose this time. The east side of the mountain — the façade where Emmons Glacier is (Emmons Glacier is the largest glacier in the continuous 48) – gets the first sunlight in the park. In the park’s master plan, the engineers building the road created Sunrise Point (just down the road from the Sunrise visitor center). Man, they thought that through well. Watching the sunrise from Sunrise Point was incredible. We got there at about 5:45, just before the 6:09am sunrise that day. There were several people standing around in long pants, coats, and hats –stamping their feet to stay warm. Luckily it wasn’t a windy morning so it wasn’t terribly cold.
Rainier truly shines at sunrise. When the first yellow-orange rays of the sun hit the top of the mountain – there was a slight collective gasp from the gathered people. Everyone was watching silently as the sun gradually took over the shadows of night. As we watched, the colors just got brighter. The mountain looked like a giant lemon/orange snow cone. There was a gradient of color as the sun rose as well — first it was orange, then yellow, then the brilliant white of the glaciers. As time went on – and the sun continued to rise – the colors shifted down the mountain, until eventually the yellow and orange disappeared with the full light of day.
After a short hike along the Silver Forest trail, we headed over to Paradise, an area along the southern side of the Mountain. This is where most of the mountaineering trips start from – with people hoping to reach the summit, so there are trails that lead right up to the base of upper part of the mountain. We decided to hike up the Nisqually Vista Trail, which provided us with a spectacular view of the cracked form of the Nisqually Glacier. I feel truly privileged to be able to say that I have been that close to such an important part of one of the things that helped shape our world today. It is a simply magnificent sight. To be able to gaze upon its surface, with all the massive cravasses and understand that this (well, glaciers much larger than the ones we have available today) is what caused many a mountain to be carved in the ways they did. They caused giant boulders to be deposited seemingly at random in the woods of my home state, Maine. They created whole ecosystems dependent on their melt and runoff. Clearly I was awestruck.
Although we missed the famous wildflowers in this part of the park, the mountain itself is still one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen.