Mount Rainier- Life Zones

I want to start by giving a big thanks once again to Whittaker Mountaineering for helping to bring these weekly posts on Mt. Rainier!

So we’ve started into our series on wildlife in Mount Rainier National Park, and I realized that there is one element we should take a look at before going on any further… Life Zones. 

Because these Life Zones separate where you will typically find specific types of wildlife, it will be good for us to have this sort of “animal map” in mind.  Keep in mind that some animals live across multiple Life Zones, generally driven there and there by the seasons.

These Life Zones also apply to vegetation, which Lord willing we will discuss in future posts.  One of the amazing things about Mount Rainier National Park is that it is one of the few places in Washington where you can see so many life zones in one place.

There are a number of ways to classify and differentiate Life Zones.  Different areas of the world require different systems of classification to account for certain variables.  It would seem that for Mount Rainier the common method of defining Life Zone is by altitude. 

Lowland Forest Zone

The Lowland Forest Zone is the zone in which we enter the park.  Mostly you will find smaller creatures here.  It lies between the 2,000 to 2,900 ft. elevation marks.

Pacific Silver Fir Zone

This zone lies between 2,900 and 4,500 ft, where the air temperature really begins to cool down.  Here you may find squirrels flying around in the trees, and bear cubs up there watching them.

Subalpine Zone

Between 4,500 and 6,000 ft you’ll find the Subalpine Zone.  It’s even colder here than in the Pacific Silver Fir Zone, so look for open meadows so you can soak in some sunlight.    Remember to keep your eyes peeled for elk and deer in this zone!

Alpine Zone

This is where the trees stop.  It starts between 6,000 and 7,500 ft, and goes all the way up to the top of Mt. Rainier (14,410 ft).  Permanent snow and ice can be found here, limiting the number of species that can live here.  Look for big vermin like the Pika or the Marmot.  Alpine insects like the Ice Worm (which “melt” in above freezing temperatures) can also be found here.

With these Life Zones in mind we can have a better idea of where particular creatures can be found on Mt. Rainier.  Tune in next week as we dive further into the wildlife of Mt. Rainier.

A big thanks to ecologist Jim Schaberl, biologist Mason Reid and park ranger/Volunteer Program Manager Kevin Bacher!  All three of these men have a measure of experience on Mt. Rainier, and have given of their valuable time to help make this and future posts possible.

Also, remember to check out this field guide, available from Whittaker Mountaineering.

 Thanks for reading, and praise God who created our beautiful Mt. Rainier!!!

Bear, Run! (Mt. Rainier)

Mount Rainier is an amazing sight to behold.  It’s a beautiful place to be.  It’s a fun mountain to visit.  And it’s a good place to learn about many things.  I personally partook in a great lesson a few years ago… when we encountered a massive bear.  And by massive I mean… well, let me explain.

 

My wife and I had never seen a bear in the wild.  Many of our friends have had experiences with bears.  And we were always told that Brown Bears were not to be messed with.  They said Black Bears were not really a threat, unless you behave foolishly.  But what we were not told is that those names do not necessarily reflect the actual color of fur on the bear.  Specifically, we were never told Black Bears can be brown.

 

Now, take a couple with this mindset, and add in a few kids screaming (with their parents chasing behind them) that a bear’s coming to get them, and put all these people on a 5 foot wide hiking trail with nowhere to go on either side.  Then add in the brown bear that, because of the angle and pathway, looks to be well over 6ft tall at the hunches and somewhere around 1000 pounds.

 

You don’t have any happy campers here.

 

But as it turns out, Mount Rainier is not home to any actual Brown Bears…though it does temporarily house uneducated campers.  As you have probably already guessed, things worked out just fine with the bear (it was actually pretty small), and nobody was hurt.  We look back and laugh pretty hard now, but at the time we thought it was the bitter end for us.

 

It’s easy to avoid an experience like this by taking some time to learn about the wildlife at Mount Rainier.  In fact, you can find a greater enjoyment if you know what to look for, and how to react when you’re around the animals.

 

So I’ll be doing a series of posts on the wildlife in Mount Rainier National Park.  We’ll attempt to look at what animals live in the park, where to find them, and what to do if you do happen to find them.  We’ll also take a look at policies and issues related to bringing pets to Mount Rainer.

 

I want to encourage you to post comments, questions, and suggestions for material to cover in future Mount Rainier posts.  Posts on Mount Rainier will likely be a regular weekly installment on this blog, Lord willing, and I hope you will all enjoy them.  I hope we can all look and see what an amazing thing God has done in regards to this truly majestic place in the Pacific Northwest.

 

For more information on Mt. Rainier or for mountaineering resources, check out Whittaker Mountaineering.