It was probably not the best idea to visit Mt. Rainier National Park in the winter, but I got lucky. Lack of snow and rain allowed me to access a few trails in the old-growth forest. Old-growth forests have typically been undisturbed by fire, logging or other types of massive destruction for at least 120 years. In old-growth forests, you'll see the full cycle of nature. Large, dead standing and fallen trees are everywhere, with an abundance of new growth at all stages scattered about.
Life grows upon life, and everything is recycled. Trees grow, weaken and die, and support life and new growth at every stage. Dying and dead trees become the structure for other plants and the home for birds and other creatures.
The old-growth forests thrive at the base of the mountain. Mt. Rainier gets a tremendous amount of precipitation, especially snow. These forests survive at the lower elevations of the mountain, which is actually an active volcano. You'll see beautiful strands of Douglas fir, western red cedar and western hemlock as you hike. Many old trees lie buried under moss and forest debris.
Just getting to Mt. Rainier National Park in the winter takes patience. Numerous road closures required a much longer journey than typical, but the beauty more than made up for the inconvenience.
After entering the park, I started out on Kautz Creek Trail. The trail hugs Kautz creek, which was the site of a massive mudflow in 1947. Heavy rains eroded part of the Kautz Glacier, leading to water and mudflow that covered the highway with 30 feet of mud.
The trail is well marked, with a parking area and restroom just across the street. At the start of the trail is a short path to the creek and an interpretive sign. Going the other way gets you on the hiking trail.
As you can see from the sign above, the trail leads to a group of other trails. The trail is a 2 mile round trip that parallels the creek.
Other than occasional patches of snow, the trail was clear, and the hike was easy and beautifully rewarding.
Mosses and lichen covered the trees and rocks, and the trees grew gnarly and twisted from the weather, making the setting even more haunting and mysterious.
I enjoyed the gentle sounds of the creek while hiking, and the solitude that comes from hiking in the winter. This trail is well maintained, and the beauty of the forest will bring you a tremendous sense of peace and relaxation.
After this hike, it was on to Rampart Ridge Trail, further up the road and near the information center and National Park Inn. You'll cross a small bridge to reach the trail.
I was stunned by the immediate beauty of the forest. The mosses were glowing green with vibrancy, and the foggy moisture in the air gave every breath a taste of the forest.
At this point, my light was fading fast, and a storm was approaching. Snow and rain storms can happen any time here, and it's challenging to photograph in the rain. So, I sprinted up the trail, trying to stay "in the moment" and appreciating the beauty, but also cognizant of the darkness above.
As I climbed, every tree seemed to be shouting for me to take its picture. Stunning beauty was in every direction, and so I took my time and clicked away.
Like Kautz Creek Trail, the Rampart Ridge Trail is in an old-growth forest. You can observe the forest floor littered with moss covered trees slowly being recycled by nature, becoming shelter and a source of nutrients for other forms of life.
The trees here don't have a deep root system. They hold on to rocks and the roots of other trees and cling to life as they grow up on the hip of a volcano.
New life grows in, on and through the collapsing structures of the old giants that used to cast shadows.
Take a moment to just observe and reflect in this forest. Everything is in the process of changing, and the light, wind and shadows put on a show for you.