Liquid, ice, snow, clouds: Every possible permutation of water excites and enlivens me. Last weekend at Rainier, we were blessed with the complete array of agua, from solid glacial ice to rushing river. Claire even introduced me to the bubbling mineral springs right across the road from the Longmire parking lot.
Longmire itself is named after James Longmire, a settler who arrived in Washington via covered wagon. He "discovered" the previously mentioned series of geothermal springs in 1883 (white people discovering anything on indigenous land requires quotations and a lethal dose of skepticism). These became a main draw for his homestead resort, later the original headquarters of Rainier National Park at its inception. Longmire is still an operational inn, as well as a museum, which sits directly inside the Southwest entrance to Rainier.
I don't usually enter the park through this Nisqually route. In fact I'm pretty sure I only have one other time, when I hiked Rampart Ridge a Summer ago. Since moving to Olympia, I've done quite a few trails at Rainier: Rampart Ridge, Snoquera Falls, Fremont Fire Lookout, Naches Peak, Sheep Lake to Sourdough Gap... It's become my new go-to hike region, despite living right off the 101 and so close to the Olympic National Forest.
We were in search of snow, and though we brought our snowshoes along, we didn't end up using them. Fresh flakes were slated to dump the day of our hike; Instead we were greeted with warm temps in the upper 30's and clouds that parted to reveal clear blue skies as the afternoon unfolded. Yaktrax helped as we made our way up the Wonderland trail a couple miles to a turn off. There, we crossed a foot bridge over the Niqually River, and trudged uphill to small but serene Carter Falls. Looking back now, I wish we had pushed on to Narada Falls, which is another 2 miles in but absolutely gorgeous from the photos I've seen. Carter served as a nice picnic point, where we enjoyed some canned champagne to cheers the New Year.
On our way back from Carter Falls, we stopped off at Cougar Rock Campground, which is probably diassterously overrun with people in Summer but was instead utterly silent and peaceful. There we post-holed our way through deeper, less trodden snow and found a true relic: an operational pay phone! There was also a Wes Anderson-esque outdoor amphitheater that mimicked a scene from his film Moonrise Kingdom (one of my favorites).
We were genuinely lucky to access Rainier despite the government shut down. Unlike the horrific photos I've seen online of places like Yosemite and Joshua Tree, we didn't see trash (or poo) piled to the sky. Though, this is the only park entrance open to the public currently, and majestic tip-top Sunrise is inaccessible until further notice. My heart goes out to the park employees who are without work right now. We appreciate you! We miss you!