Legends of Mount Rainier and the Pacific Northwest

So we’ve heard of the legendary Bigfoot, a creature of Pacific NW fiction.  Recently the fictional vampires of Twilight have become well known beyond the Northwest.  Some have tried to figure out the non-fictional “Grunge Rockers”, who originally roamed the great lands around our beloved Puget Sound.

Well, another creature of legend calls the Northwest home.  They can only be found in the coldest of the coldest places around.  One of their favorite hangouts is on the top of a little hill we like to call Mount Rainier.

Try telling someone to go up to the snowfields and glaciers on Mt. Rainier and look for worms, and they may ask you if they should then use them for snipe hunting.  If you describe the worms in more detail, they may ignore you all together.

But here’s the difference between Bigfoot and Ice Worms, between vampires and Ice Worms… the Ice Worms are as real as grunge rockers!  And besides the crazy thought of little one inch worms burrowing through rock hard ice, there’s another reason people think Ice Worms are fake… when they get warm… they melt!

Want to see what they look like?

You can see a good picture from the Seattle Times at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/ABPub/zoom/html/2002818692.html, or check out one of the pictures below…

Ice WormsIce Worms

So how can you see on in real life?  Well, you’ll have to find a day when the sun isn’t so bright and when the air is cooler.  Then you get your gear together and head up to the snowfields and glaciers on the top of Mt. Rainier.  Wait for the sun to find the horizon, and then just look on the snow.  You may have to dig, but if it’s cold enough and you find some “Red Snow” then you’ll likely see millions of them wiggling about and searching food.

Make sure you pack the right gear!  It’s very cold up there even on a hot day.  And walking about on the snow and glaciers in good daylight can be dangerous enough… it’s worse when you have less light to see what’s going on.  Browse through Whittaker Mountaineering’s online store to see if you have everything you need.  You can also call them and tell them your plans, and they should be able to give you a good checklist of things to pack.

For more information on Ice Worms check out this site… http://www.nichols.edu/departments/glacier/iceworm.htm

The creativity of God is truly amazing!!!

Life in Mt. Rainier’s Pacific Silver Fir Zone

Mount Rainier’s Pacific Silver Fir Zone, also known as the Montane Zone, is found between 2,900 ft and 4,500 ft.  Our favorite campground, White River campground, can be found here.  It’s a beautiful area, lots of fir and pine trees.

It begins to cool down in this zone.  There aren’t many large animals there for hikers and campers to see.  But here’s a small list of what you will find there.

 

 

 

Black Bears roam across many areas of Mt. Rainier National Park, looking for inexperienced campers to scare… well, ok… they don’t really.  And as I found out a few years ago, just because their fur is brown does not mean they are a grizzly coming to eat you!

They love to visit the Pacific Silver Fir Zone, especially in the late summer and early fall.  Low growing huckleberry bushes flood the area with a nice red color, and draw the bears in for huckleberries.  Remember, leave them alone and they should leave you alone.  Do not give them food!

 

445.jpg northern flying squirrel image by camper-mike

Northern Flying Squirrels float about in the Pacific Silver Fir Zone.  These little guys only come out at night.  They love to eat mushrooms, and they also eat nuts, insects, eggs and other small things.  They like to store up lichens and seeds for when food is less abundant.  Make sure to pack up your food and get rid of your garbage, otherwise you’ll have these midnight bandits raiding your campsite.

Often the flying rodents will share nests with others of their kind.  It helps them to keep warm in the winter.  Usually there’s only a few, but one nest was found to have over 50 of them crowding in!  If you happen to be out in the park at night in May or June you’ll likely see them flying about looking for mates.  Take one of these to help you find them in the dark.

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There are lots of other animals in the park, and even in the Pacific Silver Fir Zone.  Remember to leave nature as it is, don’t try to feed the wild animals and don’t get too close to them.  It’s dangerous for them and for you!

If you’re planning a trip to Mt. Rainier National Park, you’ll want to check out some of the good deals from Whittaker Mountaineering at http://www.whittakermountaineering.com/pg/on_sale  These guys know a lot about the park and about climbing Mt. Rainier.  They can guide you to the best products to have for where you’ll be on the mountain, and for what you’ll be doing there.

Remember that as the snow starts to melt, the waterfalls swell with water and beauty.  Go check them out in a couple months, and be careful that you don’t get swept away.

Praise God for this wonderland in the Pacific Northwest!!!  He is so good to us!

 

 

 

 

Critters of Mt. Rainier’s Lowland Forest Zone

God has placed inside the Pacific Northwest a vibrant and beautiful region, known to us as Mount Rainier.  The variety of “life zones” on Mount Rainier creates an environment in which many types of wildlife can live.  The first life zone that one encounters when entering the park is the “Lowland Forest Zone.”  The dense forest shades most of Ohanapecosh, Longmire & Carbon River from sunlight.   A number of animals prefer this environment.

American Beaver.jpg

Beavers love the Lowland Forest Zone of Mt. Rainier.  The waters flow at a slower pace here, making for a gentler place to build their dams and lodges.  These constructs can be made of the softer spruce, fir, cedar or hemlock; though the beavers prefer the harder willows, alders and maples.  The like to eat the inner bark on the harder trees, as well as various roots, water plants and pond algae.

Tamiasciurus douglasii (Oregon coast)

Douglas Squirrels can also be found in the park’s Lowland Forest Zone.  You can tell they’re about when you hear their alarm call… chickareeeee!  These squirrels mostly eat seeds from coniferous trees, but they also like acorns, berries, mushrooms, fruit and even the occasional bird egg.  Unlike most tree squirrels, Douglas Squirrels do not have a cheek pouches to carry their food in.  Wandering through Mount Rainier’s Lowland Forest Zone, one might happen across a pile of pine cone scales.  Douglas Squirrels will use the same pile for years, sometimes over multiple generations.

 

Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons are attracted to the Lowland Forest Zone of Mount Rainier.  Critters like the ones listed above serve as tasty meals for these birds of prey.  Though these birds are often seen there, Mount Rainier’s website states that there are no reports of the birds nesting in the park.  Apparently they like to dine and dash.

The Northern Spotted Owl is another bird of prey that is attracted to Mount Rainier National Park.  They are the only bird species on the USFWS list of threatened & endangered species that call the park home.   These owls like to swallow their prey whole, and vomit up the indigestible parts in pellet form.  Don’t count on seeing much of these owls during the day, as they are mostly nocturnal.

Many other species of animals can be found in the Lowland Forest Zone of Mount Rainier.  For more information on these animals, check out ” A Pocket Field Guide to the Plants and Animals of Mount Rainier,” available at Whittaker Mountaineering‘s online store.

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!!!

Mt. Rainier- Cascade Red Fox

 A big thanks to Whittaker Mountaineering for helping to make this series on Mt. Rainier possible!

There are many cool animals on Mount Rainier.  Some of them are not exactly “cuddly” looking.  They’re big, with big teeth, or dangerous claws, or maybe they’re dirty and they stink.  You don’t want to pick them up and pet them.  You don’t even want to be near them.

But animals like the Cascade Red Fox are a different story.  They look more like something you want to pick up and play with.  Unique among foxes, they have bigger ears, softer thicker coats, and bushier tails that are quite large compared to their bodies. 

Unfortunately, too many visitors to Mt. Rainier have let the “cuteness” of these unique foxes get the best of them.  While people aren’t picking the foxes up and taking them home, they have been feeding them.  And there’s a good reason why that’s against the park rules.

Mt. Rainier has a lot of traffic flowing throughout the year.  When people throw food out to the animals from their cars, it draws the animals closer to the road.  Sometimes the foxes will even build their burrows close to the road for this very reason.  And it’s not hard to figure out the problem there.  The foxes aren’t so cute and thankful after being hit by a car.

Feeding the foxes has also created a “pest” problem at campsites and visiting centers.  The foxes have begun snooping around camps and getting into cars, looking for food.  This puts both the fox and the campers in a dangerous situation.  Each is capable of harming the other.

The population of Cascade Red Foxes is already a concern on Mt. Rainier.  Feeding the foxes not only ruins the wild element of the park, a big part of what makes one desire to visit the mountain, but it makes it even less likely that one will be able to see these foxes in the future.

Please remember to respect the Park and its inhabitants.  More information on the problem of feeding Cascade Red Foxes at Mt. Rainier can be found here.  For general information on wildlife in Mount Rainier National Park check out this field guide, available from Whittaker Mountaineering.

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.