Climbing on Mt Rainier is very popular. The views en route are strenuously scenic. Besides huge crevasses - some of which can be hidden - there is further dangers from altitude and how fast it is gained, quickly changeable weather, avalanche, icefall, rockfall, freezing or searing temperatures, solar exposure - direct and indirect off the ice and snow, and other potential dangers. Many skirt around these issues by signing up with the guide services. The guides can help immensely on the mountain, but learn all you can before setting out. Be in very good physical condition and know your limits. The sport of mountaineering is a very rewarding endeavour, but it must be taken very seriously or the results can be ugly.
The park roads will take you up past the snow line in early summer to the Paradise Visitor Center. It is a great location for hikes to view Rainier's glaciers and to see the other peaks in the Cascade Range. However, the footing can be treacherous. Probably best to wear good hiking shoes and to keep your wits about you. The weather can change instantaneously on Rainier. Mt. Rainier is massive enough that it creates its own weather systems. It can be a beautiful sunny day in neighboring Tacoma while heavy snows fall on Rainier. Each year people die on this mountain, but usually those are climbers who are up at very high altitudes on the peak. The casual visitor and hiker will not get that far up on the mountain.
When traveling in Mount Rainier's backcountry, you must treat all water sources before drinking it. This can be done chemically, by boiling or with a filter. Of course, this is if there is a water source. When all our our chosen backcountry routes turned out to be closed due to late snow melt, we went with ranger's suggestion of camping on Shriner Peak. This turned out to be a great choice except there was no spring near the campground. The last water is a mile back down the trail and that's a little too much work for the average person. Luckily, there was still quite a bit of snow in the campground. All we had to do was melt it. We boiled up some to make dinner and we thought we had enough to drink but it turned out I really underestimated how much we needed to drink at that elevation, especially after the hot exposed hike up there. In the middle of the night, Doreen got a really bad headache and I had to fetch aspirins from the bear pole, not much fun in the dark.
Always drink plenty of water when at altitude especially when exerting yourself. It's better to have too much than too little so treat or melt what you need before you call it a night.
Mount Ranier is actually an active volcano. Although it has been dormant for some time, it could erupt at any time. This concerned me, so I asked my friend Doug about it. He said not to worry, that there would be some warning before it erupted. I hoped there would be a lot of warning because it would probably be hard to race out of the path of lava and rock and, after all, we were driving a rented Ford Taurus, which doesn't race anywhere. Fortunately, the volcano didn't erupt that day and has yet to do so.
Wildlife in the park are remarkably accustomed to people. The deer and chipmunks are, at least. We were only a few feet away in a car and that didn't seem to faze this deer. But even though they appear tame, these are still wild animals. Do not feed or approach them.
This is a very rugged and desolate area. Emergency response will be difficult and require some time. There are a lot of steep drops with questionable footing so stay away from the edge. This is also bear country so always be on the lookout for bears and other wildlife. Do not feed the wildlife. Be extra careful crossing streams and creeks. Stay aware of the weather and watch for changes. Obey all warning signs they are there to protect you and the park.
Every year, several climbers who attempt to summit Mount Ranier lose their lives in the attempt. Climbing Ranier requires technical skills that go beyond mere hiking experience. Climbers have to know those skills and be prepared for any extreme weather along the way.
Well, those of you who do big time hiking are probably used to these sorts of things, but for those of us that just do some of the smaller hikes, encountering a log bridge across a raging river is a novelty. This particular one was along the Wonderland Trail en route to Carter Falls. Not a big deal since it has a railing, but I didn't have the family with me this time. I guess I'll categorize this picture under "architecture."
Yes, in fact there are bears in the park, and the chances of seeing one are very slim. They are very shy of people, unlike their relatives in other national parks. Typically, they will be doing what you see here: running away from you, or your car, or any other artificial sound that is strange to them.
You will also run into foxes, which will also do what they can to find food, even if it means taking it from people. Some are bold enough to even wander right in to the very busy Paradise visitor's center and lodge area.
There are grey jays that are quite common near the high ridges of the Cascades. These are very outgoing birds, and will even take food right out of your hand if you happen to get distracted. They have been nicknamed "camp robbers" among those who frequent the high country, and generally make the stellar jays, ravens, and scrub jays that also frequent the region look shy by comparison.
As implied by the rock formation named Cougar Rock, cougars and bob cats may also be found in the high country of the Cascades (indeed, both have wandered into city parks in Seattle at times).
Deer and elk may be found in the area as well.
As shown in the photo here, the mountain slopes represent a very significant barrier as they are steep, difficult to climb, and have a lot of loose rock. Thus, the roads and trails represent a very easy way for wildlife to get from one place to another. There is a 35 mile per hour speed limit in effect in most places and this drops to 20 miles per hour in a number of other places. You do not want to suddenly come across a 1,000+ pound elk in the middle of the road if you are blasting along much too fast. Chances are, you will take its legs right out from under it and it will come through your windshield and kill you and the other occupants of your vehicle, so don't drive at stupid speeds on the roads in the park, especially when driving in the dark or at dusk.
Generally, the wildlife is more aggressive in its feeding habits in autumn (especially in October when the snows may have set in) as that is when everything is looking for food to store for winter consumption, and/or looking to eat heavy in preparation for hibernation. However, the bears seem to wake up a bit grumpy anyway, and they will also have young with them when they come out of hibernation so be especially careful of them in spring - and be on the lookout for young ones. Be sure to make a bit of noise as you walk, even maybe have a bit of hard metal or plastic banging against your stainless steel water bottle, as that is a bell sound that will carry enough to alert them of your coming.