In a year with more typical weather, the meadows in the Paradise area of Mount Rainier National Park would look something like this photo around the first week of August, and the place would be swarming with photographers. This year, while much of the country suffers under sweltering heat, summer has barely arrived in the Pacific Northwest. The La Niña weather pattern brought us a long, cool and wet winter and spring, and lots of snow in the mountains. As a result, the wildflowers are much delayed this year in the Cascades, and some people are even wondering if there will be a bloom this summer.
For many nature photographers, myself included, a visit to Mount Rainier is practically an annual rite of summer. Knowing that the season is a bit skewed, I made some calls and sent some emails to check on conditions on The Mountain. For all you wildflower enthusiasts, here’s what I found:
As of August 9th, a ranger at the Jackson Visitor Center reports that there is some nice flowering along the roadsides in the park, but the Paradise meadows are still under several feet of snow. They are hoping that it will melt out by the end of the month.
Northwest photographer David Cobb, who specializes in wildflowers, visited Rainier the last week of July and found some flowers along Bench Lake Trail (near Reflection Lakes), but says that Paradise was under 4-6 feet of snow at that time. David predicts that the peak of the flowering this year will be the last week in August or the first of September, and that growth will be stunted in comparison to a normal year.
Alan Bauer, a Washington-based photographer for several trail guides for Mountaineers Books, drove through the park on August 5 and found 2-4′ of snow covering much of the ground at Reflection Lakes. Alan says the Sunrise area is probably starting to melt out and the lilies will soon start to pop up, but thinks Paradise won’t happen until the end of August.
Photographer Don Geyer, whose excellent guide to Mount Rainier is written with photographers in mind, did some recent hikes in the park and found good lupine at lower elevations, as well as some nice flowering in Box Canyon and Stevens Canyon. Like the others, Don reports lots of snow around Reflection Lakes, Mazama Ridge and Paradise.
One more expert opinion, from Ron Warfield, retired Assistant Chief Naturalist at Mount Rainier National Park. Ron expects the flowers to peak at the very end of August, about three weeks later than in a normal year. He also says that there will probably not be the wonderful carpets of color anywhere, but there could be some areas of concentrated blooms. On a historical note, Ron points out that this is the third latest melt out since 1972 – a year when there was no summer bloom season at all – and that the flowering could be delayed until early September, as happened in 1999. Ron is also the author of Mount Rainier, a Sierra Press book full of beautiful photos and a wealth of information on the history, geology, ecology and wildlife of Mount Rainier National Park.
Have you been to Mount Rainier yourself lately, or heard from others who have been? If you have any more recent information, please post it here.