VERO In The Wild: Hiking Mt Rainier Natl Park with Hunter Leroy
What made you to decide on traveling to Mt Rainier?
I had explored around Mount Rainier a few times before, but had never seen it in peak summer season so I knew I had to make another trip back this year. The mountain sits at a massive elevation of 14,410 feet, making it the highest volcanic peak as well as being the most glaciated peak in the contiguous United States. The park blooms full of vibrant wildflower meadows in August and holds endless opportunities for an adventure enthusiast like myself, so it was the perfect opportunity to make the trip.
What were the top things/places on your list while traveling there?
Mount Rainier has a handful of fire lookouts around the park that hold some of the most epic views you’ll find in Washington and they were all on my list of places to hit. The jagged, endless layers of the North Cascades and the Olympics tower across the sky and its one of the most incredible sights I’ve witnessed out in the mountains. A few of my favorite lookout tower hikes are Tolmie Peak (5.6 mi./1,541 ft. elevation gain), High Rock (3.2 mi./1,299 ft. elevation gain), and the classic Mount Fremont Lookout (5.7 mi./1,112 ft. elevation gain).
What was the most challenging part of your trip?
This was the first trip where I spent the first few days backpacking around in such a vast park completely alone. It was a challenging experience the first 24 hours as I had to overcome obstacles and sketchy crossings along the trail that I normally have a partner to help with.
What was your favorite part of your trip?
There’s something special about getting to share these incredible experiences with others who share the same passion for the outdoors. We had 12 photographers/creators with us on our final night and it was one of the best nights I had all summer!
You travel with a ton of gear. Which items were on your “must pack for this trip” list?
Traveling as a photographer already requires a ton of gear, but being in the mountains for multiple days requires even more.
My “must pack” list for this trip included my camera (of course), multiple batteries & SD cards, tripod, ultralight backpacking tent & sleeping bag, headlamp with extra batteries, a water filtration water bottle(this is essential), jetboil stove, snacks, dehydrated meals, a knife, and bear spray.
What is an item you never travel without?
When I’m on the road, I’ll never leave without a water filter or some source of fresh water. Being in the backcountry it’s not always easy to access clean, drinkable water so having a system to be able to filter water wherever I go has been a huge game changer. I highly recommend Sawyers filtered water bottle. It allows you to simply fill up and drink your filtered water in seconds.
What are some helpful tips you would give a first timer?
Always do your research before heading out on a trip, especially if the location you’re traveling to is remote. It can make or break your trip to get informed and be prepared for anything you may run into beforehand! Also, always make sure you have told someone close to you where you’ll be and what your plan is before your trip so that if anything were to happen while you're out there at least someone knows where you are.
What is the most unique part of your trip?
I think the most unique part of my time around Mount Rainier would be the time I spent in solitude. Being alone in the backcountry is such a grounding and re-connective experience, allowing me to reset with my roots in nature and find some peace of mind from the chaos of every day life.
Did you see any animals while you were there? How did you have to prepare for wildlife for this trip?
The National Park is home to over 280 species of wildlife so you definitely need to be informed and prepared before going into the backcountry. I supplied myself with bear spray & smell proof containers for any open foods to make sure that I didn’t have any friends come rummaging through my camp. It’s also important to remember not to feed the wildlife while you’re out there, it messes with their ecosystem and can cause them to actually become aggressive towards future humans.
Did anything surprise you on this trip? Any moments where you learned something new?
I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been on a trip where something hasn’t surprised me, but during my time at Mount Rainier I was quite surprised by how many laws & regulations I saw being broken in the park. I witnessed drones being flown, which is illegal in any National Park, as well as multiple groups of people wandering off trail, which irreversibly damages the plants & soil at that elevation. It’s so important to do your research and be informed on regulations before exploring places like this!
The people I meet along the trail are usually the most unique & humble people I’ve ever met and I often end up taking away some new knowledge after my time with them. During one of my lookout hikes, I ran into a man who was thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. We sat and enjoyed some snacks over sunset as he told me the story of his journey so far. At the end of our conversation, he says “If you're ever looking to change your life, walk 1,000 miles alone in your head. You’ll grow stronger in every aspect of it” and that stuck with me.
It’s the biggest challenges and the scariest moments that truly allow us to evolve and grow into our purest form.
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