Backpacking Mount Rainier National Park

Above the West Fork White River, Northern Loop, Mount Rainier National Park.

3-Minute Read: Completely Alone on Mount Rainier’s Northern Loop

By Michael Lanza

“There’s absolutely no one out here.”

I was just a few hours into a solo backpacking trip around Mount Rainier National Park’s 32.8-mile Northern Loop when that realization hit me. It was a cool, clear day in October. None of my usual hiking partners had been available to join me. So I decided to do the trip alone, something I’ve done more times than I could count and felt comfortable with. I had no idea that this time I’d face the kind of situation that solo hikers think about but can never anticipate: a threat that shrinks the margin of safety in the wilderness down to nothing.

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My kids in Spray Park, Mount Rainier National Park.

Video: Backpacking Mount Rainier National Park

By Michael Lanza

Mount Rainier National Park presents a multitude of excellent backpacking options. But one that encapsulates the experience well, shows off some of the park’s highlight views, glaciers, and wildflower meadows, and can be knocked off in a weekend is the traverse from Mowich Lake to Sunrise. Hiking below Rainier’s north face makes it look so impossibly big it seems unreal, rising 8,000 to 11,000 vertical feet above hikers on trails. Few North American peaks have visible relief of two vertical miles. You naturally react as you might to a full-blown, heat stroke-induced hallucination: Compelled to believe your eyes, you nonetheless struggle with the nagging intuition that the delicate fruit that is your frontal lobe has spoiled badly in the heat.

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Wildflowers, Waterfalls, and Slugs at Mount Rainier

By Michael Lanza

We hike slowly but steadily uphill in the cool shade of Pacific silver fir and Alaska yellow cedar draped in Spanish moss. With melting snow swelling every river, stream, and rivulet in the 470 miles of waterways within the boundaries of Mt. Rainier National Park, the Cascade Range erupts in a riot of greenery all around us. The forest is a happy drunk on an H2O bender.

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