Washington lies across the Columbia River just to our north. I’ve spent a lot of time at Ridgefield and I’ve written about my love for that little refuge but there are two more parks that are near and dear to my heart: Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier National Park. The Olympics literally go from the rugged coast (and tide pools) to rain forests to the snow-capped Olympic mountain range, along with plants and animals endemic to the Olympic peninsula. Rainier has its massive namesake where you can easily hike trails from the lodges and within minutes see pikas and marmots. There are many other trails too, such as the Summerland Trail in the Sunrise area where I met this hoary marmot sunning itself on the rocks. Sometimes I saw bears in both parks, sometimes quite close, sharing the trail with me. Deer and elk, birds, ground squirrels, so much wonderful wildlife living in such breathtaking scenery.
Washington has many other wonders I never explored, I never even visited Seattle for that matter apart from one quick business trip. But I could have explored these parks alone for the rest of my life and never gotten bored. Goodbye, I love you.
Spending the afternoon with the hoary marmot colony at the end of the Summerland Trail remains one of my favorite hiking experiences.
While hiking the Summerland Trail in Mount Rainier National Park, I came across this rocket being built by the animals of the forest. Looking good!
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.
A hoary marmot at the end of Mount Rainier’s Summerland Trail eeks out the last bit of warmth from this sunlit rock before the mountains blocked the sun and threw its perch into shadow.