In my explorations of Mt. Rainier, until now, I'd only been to Paradise and Sunrise. These are the two most popular visitor areas, on the south and east side of the mountain, respectively. For this hike, though, we were headed to the north side of the mountain, entering via the Mowich Lake entrance, which follows an increasingly rough gravel road for several miles until finally passing into the fee area of the national park.
The weather was overcast and cooler than we'd expected, and we were almost shivering as we started down the trail-- after a couple weeks of steady temperatures in the eighties and nineties, the cooler temperatures had caught us off guard. But we got warmer as we hiked, and the Sun began to peek through the clouds here and there.
A couple miles down the trail we took a side branch to Spray Park Falls, which both Lisa and I agreed was the most beautiful waterfall we'd ever seen. It was a tall, intricate cascade over a broad rock face, with lots of little outcroppings and crevices that added to the beauty and complexity of the falls, which seemingly got even more impressive as we got closer and could see more and more of the falls. The trail followed a scramble up the hillside right to the base of the falls, and had the day been warmer, I might have wandered into the cavern behind the falls, or explored the pools a little more closely.
But I was still chilly, so I settled for admiring it from a distance, and resolving to come back on a warmer day, and also to bring a tripod.
We headed back to the main trail, which ascended steeply over rough terrain for the last mile before getting to Spray Park, which is a patchy network of open meadows on the slope of Rainier. The wildflowers were out in full bloom-- in fact, the wildflower cycle appeared to be near its end, unlike normal years when the wildflower season might have just started in early July. We had lunch and took some photos of flowers and bees, then explored a bit and found a side trail that led us to the best views of Mt. Rainier we'd had all day.
Clouds still obscured the upper slopes, and didn't appear to be going away anytime soon, so we headed down. On the way back, a viewpoint at Eagle Cliff, which had previously been socked in by fog, gave us some more views down the length of the valley and up toward the rocky landscape high up on Rainier-- though the mountain's summit was still hidden.
All in all, it was a good hike, and we'll almost certainly be back, to Spray Falls, at the very least. At the parking lot, we walked down to Mowich Lake, and explored the shoreline a bit before heading down the bumpy gravel road back to civilization.