They’re big, they’re high, they’re sharp and they reign over the local landscape like as many kings on their respective kingdoms. They are the volcanoes of the Cascades mountain range.

My last visit to the American part of the Pacific Northwest dated back almost two years. I had driven around Mt. Hood, observed Mt. St. Helens from a distance, glanced at Rainier from the highway and marveled at the fact that Baker was not only so close to the Canadian border, but to Vancouver itself. However since then, even nearby Mt. Baker had remained out of reach and almost hypothetical.

It took a very serious reason to lead me back south across the border. I went to visit a very dear friend whom, I thought, might need some company and support. It turns out that while company is always welcome, support is for the weak, and weak she isn’t. Kudos to her, and my utmost admiration and respect.

From Olympia, WA, we decided to go for a ride to Mt. Rainier, despite the heavy rain and low ceilings. If we couldn’t see it, we would at least stand at its foot. A pleasant drive lead us from the bottom of Puget Sound into rolling hills announcing the proximity of the giant. The forest got thicker and greener and the clouds seemed to be thinning, but still nothing appeared above us. The mountain remained invisible, hidden in its lingering shroud.

Wildlife was everywhere even before entering the park. The rain had stopped and the sky was hesitant. The slope steepened, the road began to twist and turn and we arrived at Paradise, highest civilized point south of the mountain, altitude 5400 ft.

Deciding to go for a short walk on a looping trail, we hoped for a sneak preview of the Nisqually glacier. By the time we got to the view point, the clouds were lifting further, revealing the mountain’s base and some blue glacier ice soiled with brownish debris. We grabbed a bite to replenish our energy supply and chose a new hike, longer and higher, but conservative enough for our shape.

A deer passed nearby, then a mountain marmot came out of nowhere, crossing the path just behind us to go gorge on flowers below. The clouds were still receding. Finally, 4,392 m high Mt. Rainier appeared in most of its majestic height.

But energy was fleeting. This was enough for a start and quite a remarkable effort in itself. We walked down to the car and headed slowly back to the lowlands, stopping here and there for more deer and marmot pictures, for elks, for hummingbirds and for pizza.

The following day, the rainy drive back to Vancouver took me six and a half hours! Traffic is an evil thing. But I had food for the road and music to play.

Here are the first pictures (but you should start the slideshow at the top), I’ll post the rest soon.