The Mountain is a Nesting Doll

We all know that nesting dolls contain smaller dolls inside because they like to dominate and CONSUME their inferiors. This is why I am here. To warn you.

Just kidding.

Am I?

In college I studied glaciers at Mount Rainier National Park. For those who do not know, Mount Rainier is a beautiful glaciated volcano about three hours away from Seattle. On a clear day she is distinguishable from the other mountains by her graceful slope and snow-capped peak. To do this research I needed to hike, camp, and collect samples in the back country - a monumental task for a city girl from the midwest. I knew nothing about being outdoors for extending periods of time and mountains were foreign territory to me. Existing only on the horizon.

I positioned my dorm bed to get the best view of Mount Rainier.

From my dorm window, hundreds of miles away I could see Mount Rainier. Poking into the clouds. A noticeable bump on the horizon. A shell. Full of secrets. Her gravitational pull was undeniable making me want to stand on the flanks. Under the trees with the volcano beneath my boots.

In the summer of 2015 I started an internship with my geology professor. Every week we went to Mount Rainier to collect data. As we drove towards the 14,410 ft stratovolcano she became more than a distant blip. For 2.5 hours we would catch small glimpses. Like a flip book - reading through the break in the trees and around each turn. With each glimpse the trees became individuals instead of a giant green blob. The white frosting turned into dirty dwelling ice masses. If she looked big on the horizon, she only grew as we drove closer and closer until we finally passed under the timber arbor with "Mount Rainier National Park" carved into the wood - welcoming us.

Cue the Jurassic Park theme song.

Hello Mountain. We have arrived.

Is it a giant rock pile? No! It is Winthrop Glacier flowing all the way down from the peak. She's dirty.

But there was always so much more. By entering the park we were cracking open that largest nesting doll to find what was inside. We trekked into the back country. Walking over glacial moraines and through meadows. Turning a switchback to see endless pipes of columnar basalt. Watching the glacial mouth spit rocks out. A nesting secret always leading to another. Listening to people-sized boulders tumble through the glacial melt. Always going deeper. Witnessing the meltwater velocity change between 2am and 6pm. Uncovering more. With each observation a new shell of the mountain opened.

Volcanic columnar basalt

I have never summited the mountain. When collecting samples at 4am I would look up at the peak and see a line of headlights slowly traveling up the mountainside. Some folks climb to the top and stand over the rest of the Pacific Northwest with tired legs and a heart full of satisfaction. I can only imagine it is an unbelievable sensation - an experience of the mountain I will someday crack open. But in my opinion, the summit is not the treasure. It is one secret among thousands. You cannot climb the peak without acknowledging the other layers that make Mount Rainier the amazing place that she is. She is the trees, the rocks, the elk, the glaciers.

The deeper we ventured the bigger Mount Rainier became. She is not a single item to discover. You have to experience the layers - open her up and glance inside. This is why I fell in love with the outdoors. Because nature is a nesting doll. Holding secrets you will only discover if you go ahead and look.

Me after collecting water and sediment samples in front of Emmons Glacier

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