After climbing between 6,000-7,500 feet, one may notice a big change… no trees! The air is freezing cold, snowfields and glaciers can be found. The flowers grow short, and the animals are few. It’s the hardest place on the mountain to live, and the air is the best I’ve ever breathed. This is the Alpine Zone.
This is where we ended our hike from White River campground. We were at the bottom of Inter-Glacier Snow Field. If I had to pick any place on Mount Rainier to live in (during the summer at least) that place would be it! I hear that Panorama Point is another beautiful Alpine area, found at the lower end of Muir Snow Field.
Most of the animals in the Alpine Zone only live there during the summer, when it’s not extremely cold. Let’s look at a couple that you might see crawling about up there.
Hoary Marmots are the largest of North America’s ground squirrels. Because of their high pitched warning whistle, and their pudginess, they’re also called “whistle pigs”. They hibernate during the colder months in burrows, usually near or under boulders. During the summer these large rats are seen a lot. They don’t spook very easily. Marmots are the largest animals that are regularly seen in the Alpine Zone, although other animals such as bears do venture through this cold region of Mt. Rainier.
Pikas are another type of critter found in the Alpine Zone of Mount Rainier. They are small, hamster/chinchilla like Critters. Like tailless mice, but big and fat with rounded ears. Like their neighbors, the marmots, they let of a high pitched warning sound when they sense danger. They’re not as brave as marmots though, if they see people they’ll likely hide. You’ll have to look a bit harder to see these little guys.
Sometimes they are called “rock rabbits”, “coneys”, or “whistling hares”. Pikas do not hibernate. They collect grass, dry it, and stuff it in their burrows for warmth. And they need all the warmth they can get in this cold area.
If you’re traveling this high on Mt. Rainier, there’s a good chance you’re going to want to climb up on the snow, and you may possibly be on your way to summit Washington’s greatest peak. Make sure to get the proper gear, available from Whittaker Mountaineering. They are experts on climbing and on Mount Rainier, and they can be found at the foot of the mountain. Currently they offer free shipping on any order over $75. Check them out!
Thanks for reading, and Lord willing we’ll see you in a couple weeks! Praise God for our beautiful Mount Rainier!!!