Mt. Rainier

Words: Joshua Longbrake
Photos: Don Henson

Approaching Mount Rainier National Park from Seattle, I lost sight of the summit, and the mountain as a whole, long before I entered the park. The evergreens are the mountains in those initial lowlands; they gave me a false sense of scale. This mountain couldn’t that tough — it wasn’t even visible. The trees laughed and swayed. The rain said there, there.

The summit was unaware of my presence.
She didn’t care;
she’s seen thousands of me.


From the city the mountain looks formidable, impossibly covered in glaciers year round. But from the park, at the mountain’s base, my eyes deceived me into believing that the ascent was gradual, its slope forgiving. The hike from the ranger station to the base of the glacier felt like every other hike I’ve done — dirt path, mosquitos, helpful signage, and still no view of the summit. Then, snow. It’s July. I slowly began to ascend,one foot in front of the other, slowly, forever, like beginning a long, difficult novel, down to 10,000 feet in the air. It took one full day of climbing just to get to base camp, where I slept and awoke to find myself high above the clouds. It’s beautiful and deeply humbling and I felt my size, a very small dot of atoms on this giant sapphire. Then, as I looked up at the summit, I not only felt small, but weak, as though it was taunting me without words. The summit was unaware of my presence, the femme fatale, unaware of my deep desire, my years of yearning. She didn’t care, and why should she? She’s seen thousands of me.


I saw Seattle, or what I thought was Seattle, far below in the break in the clouds. I saw Mount Adams and Mount Hood in Oregon. As I approached the summit I saw that, yes, I was on a volcano this entire time, steam pouring out the vents in the snow. I’d been living beneath a volcano for years and never cared much at all. But standing on its peak, knowing what lay beneath me, I was humbled, and have been ever since. I was filled with what can only be called gratitude, so thankful for the opportunity to see new things, new worlds, outsize scales of being and believing. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.