I’m in the Pacific Northwest again, visiting family in Seattle. When I was here a year ago, I did a great hike up Dege Peak near Mount Rainier and left eager to return. With good weather forecast for today, I thought it would be a perfect time to take my parents up to Mount Rainier for a scenic drive and a short hike.
We left Seattle at 8:30 this morning. There was a low, thick overcast and light drizzle. But the clouds broke up as we drove southeast toward Rainier, and by the time we approached the park boundary, we could see Rainier’s brilliant white glaciers rising from its deeply forested foothills.
I had hopes for a flower-filled hike through alpine meadows, but they were dashed when we arrived at Paradise. The trails were still covered in mud and snow, and visitors were just milling about on the brown meadows near the visitor center. We were too early in the season. I asked a ranger at the visitor center for an alternate hike, and he suggested the 1.2 mile hike to Bench and Snow lakes.
We started the hike around noon and made our way over some small but steep hills. We were near tree line and walked through short forests of mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana) and Nootka cypress (Callitropsis nootkatensis).
The meadows were still boggy and thawing out, and we passed a few patches of snow. Summer was just arriving in the high elevations. White avalanche lilies (Erythronium montanum) bloomed everywhere next to the trail.
We passed the turn-off for Bench Lake, then climbed up steep steps over a ridge. On the other side, the trail became completely covered with snow. We weren’t prepared for that. But we’d walked nearly a mile and were probably close to Snow Lake, so rather than turn back, we decided to press on.
The snow was soft but manageable, and we made it to the lake after a few minutes, although my mom slipped while crossing a creek and wet one of her legs up to her knee.
We found ourselves at the bottom of a craggy cirque. Snowfields melted into countless waterfalls that dropped into the basin holding Snow Lake. We stopped for lunch in a dry patch of forest next to the dark-blue water. A pair of Clark’s nutcrackers (Nucifraga columbiana) joined us. They were charming at first, but quickly wore out their welcome by diving at us while we ate in an attempt to steal food right out of our hands.
After lunch, we had a pleasant walk back to the car, taking in the awesome views of Mount Rainier rising through the clouds ahead of us. We finished at 2, and we all agreed that it was an excellent hike.