A few years ago I crafted a trip around Mt. Rainier which would provide (in my opinion) the most intimate connection with the park, using the encircling Wonderland trail as the main avenue but departing in appropriate places to forge over largely unvisited areas like the Elysian Fields and probing up the myriad cleavers and ridge lines for in-your-face views. One such prominence, The Colonnade, is a place where an overnight bivy was in order to soak in the west facing flank of the mountain in sunset alpenglow. This ridge is accessed about 1.5 miles out of Golden Lakes heading CCW. As is typical for such "off trail" travel, there is an unmaintained trail that pops in and out of view on the way up the ridge, sometimes faint and sometimes obvious. My destination was a flat area on a high point affording a commanding view of the mountain and 360 degree views with the Puget Sound metropolitan city lights aglow behind me. Remnants of some structure were evident there, with rusted cables and old bolts, and further research uncovered the fact that an old fire lookout occupied the site, built in 1930 but quickly abandoned and dismantled for another spot. A discrepancy exists in that the lookout was listed as occupying a spot at 7,176 feet, yet my map and GPS indicated I was at 6,700 foot elevation. Continuing beyond my bivy spot would require much more scrambling and rugged terrain, but I did scurry out on an adjoining fin of rock, at one point just a few feet wide, to experience a more lofty environment. Oddly enough there was a bench mark on this fin from the National Center for Earthquake Research. See complete photo set here.
With perfect weather I was able to bike the West Side Road to its end (9 miles), then hike the remaining 9 miles or so to my spot on the ridge, arriving at 6 PM with plenty of time to set up my bivy and prepare for the coming pinkathon on the rock and ice before me. I set up my GoPro to time lapse the sunset, snapping photos with abandon and climbing out on the fin. When the color faded from the mountain, I crawled into my bivy to await darkness for some night photography. However, the rising, nearly full moon tracked most of the night from behind the mountain over my right shoulder, finally setting behind me around 5 AM. Bright enough to cast deep shadows and see details, I sometimes had to turn to my left side because it was like trying to sleep with a flashlight shining directly on my face. Such problems are good ones, though, and despite abundant light from the moon and predawn glow, the night was starry nonetheless. The temperature was crisp enough for me to don my shells inside the bivy with my 30 degree quilt, and I stayed cocooned until the morning sun was assaulting me, once clearing the rock obstacle before me.
Most of the high spots on the Tour are designed to be visited by day, retreating to lower elevations for slumber, but this perch on The Colonnade demands an overnight. Another such spot comes to mind, that being Curtis Ridge. I have but one more high point to hit to complete the Tour, and if weather cooperates that may come next week. But if not, The Colonnade will be fresh in my memory as one of the most spectacular spots to spend a night on the mountain.