Wedding-cake white and looming large over her Cascade brethren, Mount Rainier seems to sprout solo from sea level at the western edge of the Cascade Range, stretching her glistening crown nearly three miles into the sky. Her beauty is so bold and feral, she draws visitors by the truckload eager to hike, camp, and explore her ample acres. One of the most heavily visited areas of the park are its world-famous flowers fields of Paradise, elev. 5,400 feet.
Most people who spend a day at Paradise focus on the clogged, paved paths through the wildflower meadows. We usually do the same. But not on this June morning. No siree, Sir Edmund Hillary! Today’s stroke of genius: forget fighting crowds and congestion on the road.
I mean, why drive up the Longmire-Paradise Road on the Mountain’s snow-sleeked western flank when we can trudge through the frozen tundra like twin polar bears instead? Yes, friends. The Fearless Lowders will hike cross-country from Narada Falls to Paradise today. In hip-deep snow.
Be still my heart.
Aside from the fact that anyone tackling this trek today should be equal parts Inuit and mountain goat, the “trail” is buried under six feet of snow. Lilliputian trail traces can be detected here and there, buried under rivers of white.
The idea gives me cause for pause, but not Chris, my husband of thirty-five plus years (Aka: Snuggle Bunny). Snugs can’t wait to get lost amid the frozen tundra. Get a lifetime dose of frostbite… tumble into a crevasse… get eaten by a yeti…
So we scurry uphill like a couple of turtles, slogging up saw-toothed canyons cobwebbed by waterfalls and shushing with snow melt. Keeping the Paradise River to our left, Snugs is blazing a trail “where no one has gone before.” No, really. Not even Captain Kirk would tackle this puppy in these conditions.
“Hey, why take the easy way when we can do the scenic route?” Snugs opines. He stops suddenly. Bends over. Adjusts his glasses and peers at the snow under his feet. Points out a set of paw prints. “Look, sweetheart” he crows. “Fresh cougar tracks! Stay close, kids. There are major predators nearby.”
Nothing like a little sheer terror to thaw the blood and kick start your heart. We continue on. Briskly.
Unable to detect the remotest shred of a verifiable “trail” after half of forever, I hesitate. “Uh, um, do you know where we are?”
“Of course!” Snugs declares, flinging an arm due north. “Paradise is straight ahead.”
“Is that bear scratching?” Snugs asks a few minutes later as I lean against a Douglas fir for a water break. The bark has been ripped apart with the delicacy of a back hoe. On steroids.
This just keeps getting better and better.
“We best keep going. Paradise is this way” observes Snuggle Bunny with the confidence of Roald Amundsen.
“This way” is an endless expanse of Siberian tundra shot through with frozen fir trees. Along an ice-crusted river galloping hard toward Puget Sounds. Scouring breezes sting our ears and noses like flung gravel. As far as the eye can see, every rock, tree, and chipmunk is wedding cake white and buried under snow. Lots and lots of snow.
“I can’t feel my toes” I offer.
“Don’t worry, hon.”
A few minutes later: “I can’t feel my feet.”
Snuggle Bunny assures me such minor discomforts are “all part of the adventure.” Besides, he’s neck-deep into Daniel Boone mode, off and running up the next hill that’d give Sasquatch cause for pause. I scramble to keep up. Doubtless the Cumberland Gap is just over the next iceberg.
Gulping in huge chunks of conifer-crisped air, we emerge from the frozen tundra ninety minutes later, less than fifty feet from the entrance to the Paradise Visitor’s Center.
Not bad for navigation by “dead reckoning” and “lucky guesses” (emphasis on “dead”).
Snugs struggles to suppress a smug smile: “See. I told you I knew where I was going!”
Right. And my name is Rumpelstilskin.
Located along the eighteen-mile Longmire to Paradise Road on the west side of Washington state’s Mount Rainier National Park, Narada Falls is a popular attraction and favorite photo spot. The waterfall drops 188 feet in two tiers of 168 feet and 20 feet.
From the Nisqually Entrance to Mount Rainier National Park, follow the road 14 miles to a signed viewpoint and parking lot. It’s on your right. You can’t miss the falls.