Mount Rainier Wilderness through Floyd Schmoe

A Year in Paradise: It has a little climbing, a little nature and a lot of outdoor living. (The cover image was provided as a courtesy by The Mountaineers Books.)

I recently read a book by Mount Rainier National Park’s first on-staff naturalist and an early professional guide of the peak. A Year in Paradise by Floyd Schmoe, originally published in 1959, and reprinted by The Mountaineers Books in 1999, tells about the first four seasons he spent in the Paradise Valley in 1920 after World War I. It tells about the natural splendors of Mount Rainier and the enjoyment in struggling with wilderness living.

The story is true and told in a positive way that promotes the idyllic qualities of nature. Others that don’t enjoy nature would surely only perceive the suffering of wilderness living, though Schmoe certainly doesn’t promote it that way.

After the war, Schmoe and his wife moved to the Puget Sound area looking for work. He is lured to Mount Rainier in January with the same intoxication that draws climbers. On a lark, and without any climbing experience, he seeks a job as a guide. Fortunately, he doesn’t lead the uninitiated up that easily, but his timing was impeccable because the park needed to station two people at the Paradise Inn to satisfy the insurance provider’s requirements; one other building’s roof had already caved in because of the 30 feet of snow. They dug their way into a their winter home, tended the roof, learned to ski, recorded weather readings and conceived a child (not surprising) that season.

During the spring, Schmoe moved out of the Paradise Inn and into one of the many tents that were scattered in the Paradise Valley. He and his pregnant wife would live here while he learned to be a guide. He explains the role of being a guide and also provides several anecdotes with some groups on the lower part of the mountain; he did not start heading to the summit until late in the season. On one occasion he relays a story of being lost and having a member of his guided party doubtful of his navigation capabilities.

Schmoe was not yet a naturalist when he live this life in 1920, but his skills and knowledge of the parks flora and fauna as well as the glaciers and their now long melted caves that he acquired since then and by the time he wrote this book were well integrated.

While the book did not take some opportunities for drama — mainly because of the perspective and the author just coming out and telling you everything — the book is a pleasant and informative read about living around Mount Rainier. It might be a little romantically inclined toward the land at times, but I’m okay with that. I wouldn’t have said it any differently.

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