Ricksecker Point

Mount Rainier Lemons

Lemons. Whattaya do you do with them??

I was really looking forward to some plans I had made with a friend this weekend to return to the Ohanapecosh River valley in Mount Rainier National Park to revisit Silver Falls and possibly the Grove of the Patriarchs. We made this hike about two winters ago but I never made it across the hiking bridge to the closer viewpoint of the falls. Leading up to the weekend, the weather forecasts were calling for snow at a low elevation followed for sunshine for the day of our hike. I was excited.


Two years ago, we turned onto SR-123 from US-12 and had to immediately park because the highway was snow covered. This year, in the dead of winter, it was completely snow free so we kept driving. We didn’t see ANY snow the entire way up to the gate at the entrance of the park. I thought we’d be able to get a nice cross country ski in on our way to the falls but there was no snow to be seen anywhere.

Entrance to Mount Rainier National Park along SR-123 on February 19, 2011
Entrance to Mount Rainier National Park along SR-123 back on February 16, 2009
This was a big letdown but we decided to hike up the road without our skis. We had traveled about 0.75 miles before we encountered any snow on the road and probably another 0.25 mile for it began to build a solid base. It was still thin, and that was reinforced by a Park Service truck which sped past us and then turned into the Ohanapecosh Campground. Just before the turnoff for the Stevens Canyon Road, you reach the trailhead for Silver Falls (2.25 miles from the winter gate).

As the trail dives into the forest away from the road, the snow disappeared. In fact, the short trail to the falls were pretty much free of snow and there were barely any patches of snow in the vicinity of the falls. This “La Nina” winter has really done a number on us in the Pacific Northwest. It should have been snowier in the mountains but it never has delivered. The log bridge crossing over the Ohanapecosh was snow free; 2 winters ago, it had a 3-4′ mound of snow up to its railing.

On the far side, we settled in at the viewing area and I attempted to take some photos. The sun had crested the eastern ridges and was shining brightly on the falls. The photo taking was extremely tough and I resorted to taking bracketed exposures. These weren’t the conditions I was expecting (or hoping) for but an interesting thing began to happen. The spray from the falls was beginning to develop a rainbow and, as the sun rose more, it was getting stronger.

Silver Falls rainbow along the Ohanapecosh River in Mount Rainier National Park
I kept firing off bracketed exposures from the top of the cliff. There are some rock slabs below but they appeared to be icy and very slippery. My friend explored it further and found out that there was a narrow but safe access along the rocks to a better vantage of the falls. I gathered up my gear and headed down to the spot my friend had described. It was better but the spray that was generating the rainbow was also coating the front of my lens rather quickly.

Silver Falls rainbow along the Ohanapecosh River in Mount Rainier National Park
Clear waters of the Ohanapecosh River in Mount Rainier National Park
Thus began a repetition of wiping off the front of my circular polarizer, rotating around, and taking my bracketed shots. I’ve done this dance several times before so now I always carry three microfiber cloths with me to help ensure I always have a dry cloth. We spent about an hour at the falls before hiking out. Originally I expected this to be a day long affair but the lack of snow really sped up our outing. Originally, I had hoped that we would finish with enough time to head a little further east on US-12 to the Palisades viewpoint for sunset but now….now we could double pack and head towards the mountain for sunset and I knew where we should go: Ricksecker Point.

This, of course, didn’t prevent us for still visiting the Palisades since it’s just around the corner from the SR-123 / US-12 intersection. The Palisades are a neat volcanic feature right along US-12. Across the small canyon from the viewpoint is an exposed columnar volcanic formation. There’s also a nice bonus view of Mount Rainier in the distance. The timing of our visit couldn’t have been WORSE because the sun was directly overhead of the formation. Photographs were impossible without glare I ended up with just this lone shot of the Palisades and this zoomed panorama of Mount Rainier:

Mount Rainier as viewed from the Palisades Viewpoint along US Highway 12, west of White Pass
Detail of the Palisades formation at the Palisades Viewpoint along US Highway 12, west of White Pass
The day was starting to get long so we needed to double back towards the Longmire entrance of Mount Rainer National Park. North of Morton, I noticed some puffy clouds were developing around the west flank of the mountain at around 5-6,000 feet. By the time we entered the park, it was too late to make it up to Paradise so I made Ricksecker Point our primary destination. This spot is a short loop road that has a couple turnout viewpoints of Mount Rainier, the west end of the Tatoosh Range and the Nisqually River valley to the west. In the winter, this road isn’t plowed so it provides a short opportunity to cross country ski. By this time of the afternoon, we had the backside of the loop all to ourselves.

The few clouds I had seen back near Morton turned into a thick mess at Ricksecker Point, obscuring the mountain. The views were otherwise fabulous and we came across an interesting set of animal tracks. If anyone knows what they are, please leave a comment! Only thing I could come up with was maybe a raven hopping across the snow & returning in the same track:

Unusual animal tracks in the snow at Ricksecker Point in Mount Rainier National Park. Please leave a comment if you know what it was!
Tatoosh Range ridgeline east of Eagle Peak in Mount Rainier National Park
Anyways, the afternoon light was beginning to warm up so we made are way back in hopes that the mountain was once again visible. It wasn’t- but the light was transforming into that classic pink winter light. I concentrated on the view towards the west but Mount Rainier began to show through some expanding windows in the clouds. I shifted locations and then concentrated on Mount Rainier. At the best time possible, the clouds began giving way and we were treated to it’s snowy slopes basking in pink light. Just magnificent!

Nisqually River valley in late afternoon light from Ricksecker Point in Mount Rainier National Park
Beginning of alpenglow light on the south slopes of Mount Rainier. Photo taken from Ricksecker Point
Mount Rainier revealed before the peak of sunset. Photo taken from Ricksecker Point
Mount Rainier Alpenglow from Ricksecker Point
Alpenglow light on the southern slopes of Mount Rainier. Photo taken from Ricksecker Point
Mount Rainier Alpenglow from Ricksecker Point
Mount Rainier Alpenglow from Ricksecker Point
Due to the NPS policy of shutting the gate in Longmire nightly, we couldn’t stick around too long after the show ended. We hurried back to my truck and drove back down the hill before the 6:30pm closure. The day turned out to be NOTHING like what I had envisioned. By remaining flexible and knowledgeable about where I was going helped me salvage the day. In fact, I ended up with some photos that I never would have taken had I followed through with my original plans!

In other words…make some lemonaide!

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