Snowshoe in Paradise

Every year for as long as I can remember, my friend and fellow Seattle Mountaineer, Scott, has been leading a winter snowshoe photography trip to an area within Mount Rainier National Park called Paradise. Last year was no exception.

According to the National Park Service, the area got it’s name when local homesteader James Longmire’s daughter-in-law, Martha, first saw this site and exclaimed, “Oh, what a paradise!”. And it would be difficult to argue with her assessment.

Paradise is known for its amazing views and its wildflower meadows, but it is also the prime winter-use area in the park. At 5,400 ft. (1,646 m.) it receives an average of 53.6 ft. (16.3 m.) of snow a year, making it a great spot for Scott’s annual photography event.

Last year we went out on January 14th, a beautiful sunny day at Paradise. But peaceful, sunny days can be deceiving in the winter when snow and mountains are involved. Clear days like this often follow periods of intense new snowfall, and that new, loose snow has not had time to settle and become stable yet. So we always, ALWAYS, check the avalanche forecast at the Northwest Avalanche Center before going out. And then we constantly evaluate slopes before going near any areas that look like they may be prone to avalanches.

In fact, a few years ago when Scott and I were in the area, we saw an absolutely huge avalanche way up on Mount Rainier. We don’t believe anyone was that high up on the mountain at the time, but it was a sobering reminder of the dangers that exist out there.

Slopes Above Paradise, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

The heavy snow along steep slopes above Paradise sluffs in places, creating interesting patterns in the snow, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Note in the photo above the “sluffing” that naturally occurs when small amounts of snow start rolling downhill on a steep incline. This type of activity is normal and frequent, and doesn’t pose any danger, but it’s a reminder that a real avalanche could occur without warning.

Sluiskin Falls in Winter, Mount Rainier National Park, Washingto

Sluiskin Falls is only partially visible through the deep surrounding snow, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

After getting our gear on and finding what we think is a reasonably safe route up the mountain, we usually first head for Sluiskin Falls on the Paradise River. The river itself is not visible under the snow-pack at this time of year, though you can find it if you know where to look, but at the falls there is enough flow and slope to melt the snow immediately around the waterfall.

The falls is usually our first chance to stop and spread out a bit looking for good compositions, trying to find different angles above and below the falls from the other side of a deep ravine.

After spending some time in the area of the falls, we backtracked to a point where we could cross the ravine and head to higher ground. From the area above the falls the views open up all around, giving us spectacular views for miles around.

Up here along what would be the Skyline Trail in the summer we found lots of snowshoers and skiers. There’s a popular and rather large monument here called the Stevens-Van Trump Historical Monument, erected to commemorate the historic first ascent of the mountain. In the winter it’s completely obscured. In fact, it’s probably right under those ski tracks in the photo below!

Ski Tracks, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

The Paradise area is popular with skiers, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Mt. Rainier Snowshoe & Photography Group, Mount Rainier National

The Mt. Rainier Snowshoe & Photography group heads down after a successful outing, in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

We found a good lunch spot in the sun and relaxed for a while before starting our descent back to the parking lot. While we usually like to hang around until sunset to get that beautiful “Golden Hour” light on the mountain, reduced park funding is causing the rangers to close the road up to Paradise earlier and earlier each year, it seems. The gate to the Paradise road is all the way down at Longmire, where views of the mountain are much more restricted by trees than up above. But we had no choice, so we packed up our camera gear and snowshoes and headed out of the park two miles to our favorite stop, the restaurant at the Copper Creek Inn, home of some of the best blackberry pie you’ll ever put in your mouth.

Part of me was OK with having to leave the park a bit early.

The Beaten Path, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

A lone snoeshoer makes his way along an established ski track in Paradise Valley, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

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2 Responses to “Snowshoe in Paradise”

  1. Linda Charleville says:

    Just beautiful !