Bellingham slideshow will focus on nearly 100-mile circuit of 'sacred' Mount Rainier



Participants in a backpacking meditation retreat led by the Red Cedar Zen Community hike past Mount Rainier in this photo taken in September 2012. Six people completed the two-week retreat, hiking the nearly 100-mile clockwise route around the mountain while performing a series of rituals at sites along the way.


Last fall, six people backpacked the Wonderland Trail around snow-capped Mount Rainier in silence.

They woke at 5:30 a.m., meditated, ate, started hiking for the day around 9 a.m. with the mountain as a companion, ate lunch, finished hiking the strenuous trail in the evening, ate, meditated, slept - repeating the ritual for nearly 100 miles.

At four cardinal points in their clockwise circuit of Rainier, they performed mini-circumambulations around specific features, such as a lake, and performed Buddhist chants.

The backpacking meditation retreat emulated the "rituals and patterns of pilgrimage and circumambulation associated with Tibetan and Asian sacred mountains," wrote Bob Penny, a Zen Buddhist and Bellingham-area resident who organized and led the September trip.

With him were another Bellingham resident, two people from Colorado, and two residents of Seattle and Olympia.

At the end of the trip, they drove up to Paradise by car and did a final four-mile loop up there.

"In essence, through this set of rituals, we revealed a mandala overlaid on the mountain's topography, sanctified with chants and prayers dedicated to all beings," Penny said.

A circular design, a mandala is a sacred symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism that represents the universe.

Penny will discuss the trip during a slideshow 7 p.m. Saturday, May 4, at Red Cedar Dharma Hall, 1021 N. Forest St. in Bellingham.

He hopes that people who attend the presentation will realize, in part, that they don't have to travel far to be part of a sacred ritual that has been common in Asia for centuries.

"That's an amazingly sacred mountain, as significant as any mountain or as any sacred place in the world," Penny said of Rainier.

He believes the effort is the first known ritual circuit performed around Rainier.

Penny has a master's degree in environmental education and has been involved with Zen since 1979. A founding member of the Red Cedar Zen Community in Bellingham, he has been leading back-country wilderness meditation retreats for more than 12 years, mostly by Mount Baker.

He plans to offer such retreats to Mount Rainier again, rotating those in with other longer trips, as well as the shorter Mount Baker outings. This September, Penny is leading a 70-mile circumambulation of the Three Sisters in Oregon - with a program to study the Three Treasures of Buddhism - and also would like to lead a similar meditation retreat at Mount Hood in Oregon.

No matter the mountain, Penny hopes to impart a reverence for wild places here that goes beyond the picturesque or the practical.

"My sense about doing this sort of work is that only when we as a society understand the earth and the landscape around us to be sacred - not just as a commodity, not just as a vehicle for recreation, and not just as a pristine laboratory for scientific inquiry - then we will finally be on the right track to correcting our damaged relationship to the environment," Penny wrote in an email.


What: "Opening the Mountain" slideshow presentation. The event is free.

When: 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, May 4.

Where: Red Cedar Dharma Hall, 1021 N. Forest St. in Bellingham.

Details are online at

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or

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