I was at Myrtle Falls on the slopes on Mount Rainier on Tuesday, trying to slow my heartbeat after hiking a half-mile up trails that look like this:

I should note here that this picture was taken with the camera held level. That’s the level of incline. For those of you who know me well, you can imagine what me walking this trail was like. And this was the easy trail. So… yeah. I was breathing hard by the end, when I got to Myrtle Falls:

Skyline Trail to Myrtle Falls - 10

I was sitting there with the water splashing on one side and the wind blowing on the other; so peaceful and serene I can’t really even put it into words. Though of course I tried:

My breathing is labored, but it’s slowing. The roar of Myrtle Falls and the soft sigh of the wind are equally powerful and equally moving. I gaze out at this wondrous vista spread before me, and can’t help but feel that I’m one of the lucky ones; one of the few who makes/gets the time to experience such wonders.

The volcano towers behind me, so large that I already almost feel as though it has always been a part of me. The cold mountain beckons with thoughts of home – my real home – and reminds me of seasons, of how Fall is supposed to feel… of peace, and of tranquility.

A trio of young people (okay, younger people) pass this way, stopping for the requisite thirty seconds their ADD and technology-addled attention spans permit. A couple photos and they’re gone. The mountain won’t notice them. It barely notices me.

I feel as though this is where I’m meant to be – at least part of the time. Among the rocks and trees and amazing views, nearly one with nature.

It is quiet here, a piece of serenity I have been sorely lacking, and I can only hope to return one day to make it a permanent part of my life.

But now, I have another half-mile hike ahead of me.

Eatonville MuralWe went through several small towns on the way up to the mountain from Seattle. Eatonville was a timber hub a century ago, and still processes some of the state’s huge timber business today. They even have a mural on one of their buildings about it.

Another was Elbe, populated by families who lived along the Elba in Germany. They have one of the oldest churches in the state, if not the oldest. They also have an inn that uses refurbished railroad cars as rooms. It’s a pretty cool idea, really.

The last of the towns we went through was called Ashford, home of the RMI – Rainier Mountaineering, Inc, not to be confused with REI, which is based in Seattle. Also called Whittaker Mountaineering, the company was founded by some of the earliest settlers in the area. For a long time, RMI provided the only climbing guides in the area for those headed up the mountain to the summit. Now there’s several, but RMI is still the biggest. They also have a small lodge and motel nearby for those who want to stay in the area.

The woods are majestic, and the old growth forests are huge and awe-inspiring. There’s plenty of room to walk underneath the towering trees. Old growth forests grow so thickly together that hardly any light gets to the ground, leaving all the room. Then there’s the occasional huge tree that falls, leaving space for smaller trees to take root and eventually the big one gets replaced. This big fella – on the Kautz trail – fell who knows how long ago.

This trail led us to two of the biggest Douglas Fir trees in the whole state park. Hundreds of feet high, they are unbelievably large. According to the guide, they’re estimated at 850 – 1000 years old, based on their comparative size to this one, which is 670 years old. Most of the state park is comprised of Douglas Firs and other evergreens. So much so that Washington is known as The Evergreen State.

Here’s one of the Douglas Firs. I’m a big guy, but this tree makes me look tiny. And there’s two of them. And this doesn’t even begin to talk about how big the mountain is. We stopped at a couple other places along the way to the Paradise area, including two waterfalls, Christine Falls and Narada Falls.

But nothing compares to the mountain itself. I’ve seen huge mountains before – I rode down the slopes of the world’s largest dormant volcano, even (Mount Haleakala, on Maui). But this… this mountain just blew me away.

Here’s one of my favorite shots from the day:

Mount Rainier - 05

Here’s another interesting one.

Mount Rainier Climbers

See those two dots in the middle? Those are climbers, heading up to Camp Muir, at around 10,500 feet. Yeah.

I took a lot of pictures that don’t do the scenery anywhere near the justice it deserves.

UPDATE: Here’s a video I put together of some of the waterfalls we saw. They’re really quite stunning.