On my daily drive to the SeaTac, Tukwila, and Des Moines area of Seattle, Mount Rainier fills my windshield on most sunny mornings. Above the slow crawling I-5 freeway, the sun reflects against the snowcapped peak, giving the mountain a salmon pink color which reminds you that this is the Mother Mountain of early Native American tales. At over 14,000 ft., the mountain has been used for Everest summit training and is the inspiration for REI. I have read many books and viewed numerous movies fantasizing about mountain climbing; this has led to a slow burning interest to climb Mount Rainier myself.

Paradise Wildflowers at Mount Rainier
Any mountain trek starts with finding a knowledgeable guide to lead the way. I booked the first Mount Rainier tour of the year with Tours Northwest, as I have trusted them with many other tours in the past. On a rainy April morning, my fellow hikers from Mexico, Australia and other parts of America met our guide Rick at the Seattle Southside Visitor Center* and we were on our way.

The first thing needed for a mountain tour is supplies to last the 10-hour journey there and back. Rick led us to his favorite outpost for supplies: a Safeway south of Puyallup. Rick has reached the summit once before and had packed leftover pizza for the one night stay at base camp. Cold pizza is full of carbs and doesn't need to be reheated so it made the perfect packing food. Using Rick’s knowledge and experience and learning hot pizza wasn’t possible on the mountain, we loaded up with yogurts, water, and snacks. man in yellow jacket standing at base of giant cedar tree in forestOn the way to Longmire at the park entrance, we saw geo springs bubbling, a peek of the summit and enjoyed the history of the lodge. After some light exploring and a few turn offs for a scenic view, we reached 5400 ft. and the Henry Jackson Visitor Center at snow covered Paradise. Due to snow levels snowshoes were supplied by Rick, as was a 5-minute lesson. Getting used to the shoes rather quickly, I was soon exploring trails in a snow swept landscape. After taking many snow cap pics, it was time to head into the visitor center. The park rangers were very helpful with maps to trails and photo ops, but remember, you only have slightly under two hours in Paradise. Coming out of the cold, we stepped into the warm glow of a fireplace and the scent of cooking food drifting from the cafeteria. We got some maps from the rangers to plan our next trip and decided to eat a hot lunch. We dined on lasagna, taco salads, and a small chicken soup. After feasting and wandering through the gift shop, it was time to go back out in the snowstorm for a final ascent up the mountain, or as close as I could get in 15 minutes.

Rick the guide brought us back down the mountain to a hiking station and ice cream shop to end our time on the mountain. Yes, I was in a heated travel coach with a cooler full of snacks and a guide with an almost compulsive hourly stop for bathroom breaks. But I felt a sense of what it would be like climbing this mountain a century ago. Rick was not just a guide but a mountaineer who had previously reached the summit, making the experience pop with real stories and vivid Mount Rainier history. If you want to take a tour of Mount Rainier please try to get on a tour with him as your guide. Rainer in the summer is a great time to visit as well with the Tours Northwest company as they drive through the meadows and around the north end of Rainier to head back to Seattle.

I have now traveled to Paradise with my personal car and Tours Northwest. Driving myself, I missed too much scenery, so my next trip up will be with Tours Northwest in the fall. Overall, it was a fun, educational, active day with Rick and my new Facebook friends from the tour group and I highly recommend it.

*Now closed

Michael Dean