It’s hard not to be jealous of how well-adapted some animals are to their environment. It was a little humbling to watch these tiny little pikas sprinting across the talus field with plants in their mouths. I don’t think I’d be quite so quick if I had to drag several 12 foot tall trees in my mouth as I ran across a boulder field with rocks as big as a school bus.
The higher elevations in the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier got a light dusting of snow on the morning of my last day there but it melted when the sun rose. After hiking a bit on the Sourdough Ridge Trail early in the day hoping to see marmots, pikas, or grouse (and not seeing any), I went a little lower in elevation to the trailhead of the Summerland Trail. The trail is an uphill march mostly through a forest before you pop out into a mountain meadow at the very end of the trail, I chose it since there was a chance of seeing hoary marmots and elk in the meadow (the mountain views from the meadow are also spectacular and make up for the lack of views in the forest).
I didn’t see any elk but I did see a few marmots when I first entered the talus field. The afternoon sun didn’t make for good light for pictures but this marmot was shadowed by rocks where the snow hadn’t melted. I followed the trail through the rocks and saw more and more marmots until I realized just how large the colony is at the end of the trail, this was by far the largest marmot colony of any species I’ve come across.
I spent the rest of the afternoon watching the marmots as at least one was usually close to the trail, taking advantage of every passing cloud to improve the light. I had thoughts about staying until sunset but I still had a long hike back down and while I had my headlamp, I was hiking alone and didn’t want to risk it. When the marmots that had been near the trail were no longer around, I took that as my cue and headed back down the trail.
I saw at least four species for the first time on my Washington trip, three of them mammals and two of them marmots. In addition to the hoary marmots I saw at Mount Rainier, I was lucky enough to see Olympic marmots in Olympic National Park, one of the species that is unique to the peninsula. I expected to see them in rock formations along the trails in the Grand and Badger Valleys but neither saw or heard them. I did see a couple on the road between Obstruction Point and Hurricane Ridge, I would have missed them if a friend hadn’t seen them there on an earlier visit. The road is quite narrow with occasional steep dropoffs and made me more nervous than any of the trails I hiked, but in this particular location there was enough room to park on one side of the road and be clearly visible to traffic from both directions.