Exploring the Tatoosh

Early dawn photograph of Mount Rainier from the crest of the Tatoosh range
Dawn view of Mount Rainier from the crest of the Tatoosh

The large outline of Mount Rainier stretches above the clouds at 5 a.m. The air
is crisp and clear. I watch a ghostly fog 400 feet below me rise and fall
against the flowery crest of the Tatoosh. Still yawning I shake off the dew from
my tripod, cargo shorts and flex my tingly fingertips. It’s mid July and I’ve
been backpacking through tatoosh for the past two days. My intentions to enjoy
the sites along the trail and conserve enough space on my remaining flash cards
to capture sunrise on Pinnacle Peak this morning. Had I seen any of the resident
mountain goats while out on Plumber Peak I’m sure my flash cards would have been
in danger of being full. As it is I’ve left myself just enough room to be able
to justify a private moment of satisfaction while I crunch down what remains of
my granola bar.

After tying the laces of my boots I look around at my
surroundings. The clouds have formed a long white bank seated in the four mile
trough between the Tatoosh range and Mt Rainier. Paradise lodge and the knot of
trailheads heading up to Camp Muir are all but lost in the big lump of mist. The
mountain spikes up out of the cloud bank and fills the entire horizon. After a
few moments of contemplation I spot a shadowy meadow encasing a nearby ledge .
The ledge is thick enough to provide a level vantage point and dotted profusely
with corn lilies and spiking bear grass. I lumber past a smattering of dark
spruce and highland sedges and take up residency on the ledge. Once in place I
recheck my batteries, setup my tripod, adjusted my iso, and take a light
reading. I then set my f-stop, ss and set the camera auto timer. All is well
provided I don’t fog my cool lens with body heat or worse yet a cloudy blast of
hiker breath. Time to soak in the stunning sight, spend a little time in silent
wonder and mentally prepare.

The huge outline of Mt. Rainier fills up
most of my viewfinder on my 14mm isometric lens. I don’t mind. I’m here for the
panorama and to be honest, the conditions are better than I could have ever
hoped for. If you look westward several of the lesser peaks of the Tatoosh are
just peeking up out of the cloud belt. It will take at least 3-4 landscape shots
stitched together to capture the magnitude of the scene. As the sun tips the
horizon and light beams break against pinnacle peak I snap my shutter on queue
and continue to do so until my flash cards are full.

The Tatoosh is
without doubt one of the best places to explore on Mount Rainier for easy
access, wildlife encounters and mind blowing views. It is home to several well
known photographic hideaways and an assortment of small tarns that make the
region a virtual treasure chest. You will usually encounter around 10-30 people
on a weekend visit. They are an assortment of day hikers, campers, photographers
and nature lovers. Just remember that the trick to the Tatoosh is being an early
bird (like 4:30 a.m. early). Everyone else is just going for the hike. On rare
occasions sunset can turn into something special but usually the light is rather
mundane. On the other hand the botanical show you will find among the lush
fields on this jagged little range abutting Mt. Rainier N.P. is top notch.
Around 9-10 a.m. when most hikers start showing up you can shift your focus from
landscapes to marmots, goats and flowering plants. Mountain lupine, avalanche
lilies, shooting stars, queens cup, bunchberry, pink & white mountain
heather, blueberries, black and Sitka sedges, bear grass, mosses, lichens and
indian paintbrush just to name a few. These highland trails while easy to access
are not well maintained so it’s a good idea to bring a well marked map, plenty
of water and a compass.


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