Bear Meadow: Adventure for the Hardy Hiker

posted in: Mount Saint Helens | 0

Rating: Moderate  

Distance: About 12 -13 miles, RT

Wind along a conifer-bristled ridge to an idyllic mountain meadow cross-hatched with mini waterfalls, wildflowers, and choice views of Windy Ridge and Mounts Saint Helens, Adams, and Rainier.

Starting on the opposite side of the Boundary Line viewpoint across from the parking lot on Forest Road 99 out of Randle, the rugged Bear Meadow trail cuts through a well-shaded forest along a ridge overlooking the 1980 blast area, then descends to a beautiful meadow. 

Overgrown and sorely neglected, this trail doesn’t look like it’s had any real attention since Daniel Boone cleared the Cumberland Gap. The trail head is well marked, but that’s about it as far as signage goes. 

After crossing the road to the trail head, the trail begins with a gentle climb roughly paralleling Forest Road 99. It turns away from the road, crosses a slight draw, and starts climbing at about one mile. Also at this point, there’s a junction. And no signs indicating what’s what. Turn left at the first switchbsck to continue to Bear Meadow. The trail mostly levels our along this side of the ridge. There’s some undulation, but no hard climbing. You’ll pass three small waterfalls and scramble over or under numerous downed logs. Turn around occasionally for peek – a – boo mountain views.

Note that although the initial portion of this hike is through thick forest and good shade, the final stretch was affected by the 1980 eruption. That is, no big trees. And little to no shade. The switchbacky descent into Bear Meadow, though not particularly steep, is exposed, in direct sun. If you hike this trail in summer, plan on an early start. Wear a hat. Slather on the sunscreen. Also, this is a “dry trail,” with little or no water sources. BYO H2O.

Keep in mind that the return hike may be challenging. Much of it is in direct sun, over a lousy trail. Be sure to fuel up the after-burners.

The BearMeadow trail would get higher marks if it was in better shape. Unfortunately, this scenic trail is in deplorable condition. It’s littered with fallen logs, many of them sizeable, especially on the northwest-facing side of the ridge heading down to Bear Meadow. Choked with overgrown bushes and brambles in places, the trail all but disappears more than once. A hiker has to push through shoulder-high foliage to regain the trail on the far side of the ridge. As the trail narrows to ribbon-width, it sometimes disappears into a mere suggestion. The bridge is also out at Bear Meadow. 

When we hiked this trail in July, mosquitoes were minimal. But black flies were out in force and voracious.

As previously noted, signage is non-existent after a lone posting on a tree at about Mile 1 indicating the Forest Service Road is 5.5 miles further. Inexperienced hikers may easily get lost or confused as a result.

Indeed, the Bear Meadow trail has the dubious distinction of being the worst maintained, most neglected trail I’ve hiked in a decade. Maybe more. If you’re up for a rough trail, however, the hardy hiker will appreciate the from-here-to-eternity vistas, truckloads of emerald green, wildflowers by the bushel, and endless blue skies.

Hike to Bear Meadow on You Tube:

4 ‘Go To’ Hikes at Mount Rainier

posted in: Mount Rainier | 0

I’ve been hiking Mount Rainier National Park since shortly after the discovery of fire. (Well, actually, since the 1960s. But who’s counting?) People sometimes ask me, “What’s the best trail at Mount Rainier?” Or, “What’s your favorite hike inside the park?”

Man. That’s like asking a mom which kid she likes best. But the short answer is: that depends.

For one thing, “best” is highly subjective. Does that mean trails crocheted with gurgling streams and thundering waterfalls? Smooth-as-glass mountain lakes or tarns? Spectacular old growth forests? Alpine meadows marinaded in wildflowers? Stunning views of the Mountain?

Also, when people pose this question, they often mean, “What spectacular Mount Rainier trail can I do in ten minutes, without burning more than nine calories in the process?”

Good luck with that one.

Although Mount Rainier National Park offers a wide variety of hiking trails ranging from rookie to seasoned veteran, most of the jaw-dropping vistas and eye-popping landscapes require effort. You usually have to climb, often steeply. Switchbacks are standard. So is thin mountain air, especially if you’re coming from sea level.

For those willing to put in the effort, however, Mount Rainier has a stunning network of breathtakingly beautiful trails like Iowa’s got flat.

Here, in no particular order, are my four “go to” trails at Mount Rainier. I never tire of these favorites:

  • Mazama Ridge
  • Naches Peak Loop Trail
  • Panorama Point/Skyline Trail
  • The Palisades  
  1. Mazama Ridge

A perennial favorite. This loop trail of about 5.5 miles can be accessed at Reflection Lakes or at Paradise. We’ve started at both sites and hiked this trail both clockwise and counter clockwise many times. Our favorite route is counter clockwise from the small Reflection Lake (east) along Stevens Canyon Road.

This amazing hike includes a good climb up to Faraway Rock and breathtaking views of the valley. Continue climbing past a pristine alpine tarn. The trail opens up into a glorious riot of wildflower color along the ridge before you descend into Paradise Valley. Watch those knees!

Stop at the Jackson Visitor at Paradise to refill your water bottles or stiff your lunch go back into your chest. Regain the trail across the road at the sign. The initial trail is rutted and may be muddy here as you descend. Meander past a crashing waterfall, criss Stevens Canyon Road, and start climbing again. Youll switchback into big Reflection Lake, wondering why you didn’t take this beautiful trail sooner.

Getting there

From Tacoma, drive east on State Route 7, turning left onto SR 706 at Elbe. Continue east through Ashford and the Nisqually Entrance of Mount Rainier National Park. Pass Longmire. Take the cut-off to Steven’s Canyon Road to begin this hike at Reflection Lakes. If you want to start at Paradise, keep going up the Longmire to Paradise Road. Park in the lot at Paradise. The trail sign is on the right, overlooking the Nisqually Valley. If you want specifics, pop in to the Jackson Visitor Center and ask a ranger. A topographical model is also on display inside the center.

 

2. NACHES PEAK
This 3.5 mile loop trail has it all: a beautiful lake, steady but not too difficult climbs, a clear as glass mountain tarn (great lunch stop), and an outrageous view of the American River Valley from Chinook Pass at Highway 410. There’s also that amazing Mountain looming in the distance.

Park in the lot at Tipsoo Lake. There’s a vault toilet and picnic tables here. The trail starts above the west shore of the lake. You’ll cross Chinook Pass. Start climbing. You’ll meander into the William O. Douglas Wilderness and dip into the Pacific Crest Trail briefly before re-entering park boundaries above Dewey Lake.

Round a bend and the Mountain bursts into view. One of the best panoramas of Rainier from this side of the Mountain. Ravines and meadows are awash in wildflowers in season both on the trail and clustered around Tipsoo Lake.

Tip: Hike this trail clockwise for best views of the Mountain. You can hike counter-clockwise but the Mountain will be at your back from this direction.

Getting there:

Park at Tipsoo Lake, .5 mile west of Chinook Pass on SR 410. For a clockwise hike of the Naches Peak Loop Trail, follow the trail from the picnic area to Chinook Pass and the Pacific Crest Trail.

 

3. PANORAMA POINT/SKYLINE TRAIL

This hike offers in-your-face views of Mount Rainier. It’s also about as close as you can get to the Mountain without an ice axe. The 5.5 mile RT trail begins at Paradise behind Jackson Visitor Center. It includes an elevation gain of about 1,625 feet. The trail is paved for the first half mile or so.

From the trailhead, head straight through two junctions for about a quarter mile. Warm up the ‘ole hamstrings cuz it’s a good uphill jaunt from here, with an elevation gain of about 200 feet over the next quarter mile or so to a junction with Dearhead Creek Trail. Keep chugging. Stay to the right through the junction. Make a left at the next junction with Alta Vista Trail. The pavement peters out here, along with the less hardy. The next 1.25 miles stair-step up about 850 feet to Panorama Point.  In season, you’ll pass through perfumed flower fields, streams and snowfields and canyons ribbed with waterfalls. Watch for marmots and rock pikas.

Postcard-perfect, Panorama Point offers some of the most breath-taking views this side of Eden. (Not that I’m biased or anything.) It’s a good lunch stop, provided you can tear your eyes away from the snowy colossus behind you or the jaw-dropping views of the Tatoosh Mountains as well as Mounts Adams and St. Helens. The site includes a solar toilet (I’m not making this up). It’s always been clean and well-maintained whenever we’ve hit the Point.

Continuing on, there’s a “short cut” from Panorama Point along the Lower Skyline Trail. It includes a hazardous trek through a steep snow shelf, lopping off about a half mile from your hike. Park rangers don’t recommend it.  We opted for the upper trail, adding a climb of about 300 feet – with much better footing. The upper trail joins the lower route eventually and winds through a rocky “moonscape,” with the added bonus of maintaining all your limbs in the process.

Continue another half mile or so until you hit the Golden Gate Trail. You get to choose here. Skyline Trail descends another two miles to Myrtle Falls, brushing Sluiskin Falls along the way. The Golden Gate Trail is more direct, reuniting with Skyline Trail at Myrtle Falls after a descent of about a mile.  We’ve done both. (Hint: This isn’t a road race. Take the longer route and enjoy.)

The pavement resumes at Myrtle Falls. From the falls, you’re just a hop, skip and a jump from Paradise and the conclusion of one of the best trails in the park.

Tip: Hike this trail in the clockwise direction. You’ll get most of the uphill out of the way at the beginning, while your legs are still fresh.

Getting there

Drive east from Tacoma on State Route 7 and bear left onto SR 706 at the town of Elbe. Continue east through the Nisqually Entrance of Mount Rainier National Park. Proceed up the road to the Paradise parking area. The trail starts behind the visitor center.

 

4. THE PALISADES

A popular trail that skirts seven lakes, this trail is named for a rocky escarpment called “The Palisades” which towers over the lake near the end of this hike. A good alternative to Sunrise’s more crowded trails.

This trail begins with a steep descent. The first lake is Sunrise Lake, at about .5 miles. Clover Lake is at about 1.5 miles. Continue through a small grove of lightning-gashed ‘ghost trees’ past one pristine mountain lake after another, including Tom, Dick and Harry Lakes. (I’m not making this up.)

Upper Palisades Lake is less than a mile past the spur trail to Hidden Lakes (You won’t want to miss these on the way back!). In season, you’ll cross a lovely meadow dripping with purple lupine, scarlet paintbrush, and sunny bursts of yellow cinquefoil.

U.P. Lake is just over the next rise. The descent to the lake is switch-backy and somewhat steep. A popular trail, it’s named for a rocky escarpment called “The Palisades” which towers over the lake near the trail’s end. A good alternative to Sunrise’s more crowded trails.

 

Getting there

Drive 10.5 miles (some sources say “13 miles”) beyond the park’s White River Entrance to the parking area at Sunrise Point. The lot skirts a hairpin turn, about 3 miles before you get to the Sunrise Visitor’s Center. Cross the street. Head east and down.

Mildred Point: A Big Climb With Big Views

posted in: Mount Rainier | 0
  • Rating: Strenuous
  • Distance: About 9.0 miles RT
  • Elevation Gain: 3,200 ft
  • High Point: 5,935 ft

A tough climb topped with big views of the Mountain, the Mildred Point hike begins on the southwest side of Mount Rainier National Park off the trail to Rampart Ridge.

Most people take this trail out of Comet Falls. When we hiked this trail last November, we started near park HQ in Longmire on The Wonderland Trail. From this start, you’ll hit a trail junction off the Rampart Ridge trail about a mile or so in. The brown sign notes mileages for Mildred Point, Rampart Ridge and other destinations. Veer right and start climbing.

Much of the lower trail winds through conifer-choked forest. After the Van Trump Park junction, the trail steepens. A burbling brook slices through alpine meadows studded with wildflowers. The last half mile is narrow, rutted, and steep. Pause to stuff your lungs back into your chest and turn around for awesome views of Mount Adams.

The Mildred Point promontory offers magnificent, uncrowded views of the south side of the Mountain and the Kautz Glacier. If you time it right, you can watch the sun slide over the summit like a giant egg yolk.

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Getting there

Enter the park via the Nisqually (west) entrance, 13.5 miles east of Elbe on State Route 706. Continue north past Longmire to the parking area, about .4 miles north of Longmire. It’s on your right. Cross the street to join up with The Wonderland Trail towards Rampart Ridge and VanTrump Park, taking the spur trail to Mildred Point.

Crystal Lakes: Back Country Bonanza

posted in: Mount Rainier, Videos | 0

Rating: Strenuous

Distance: 6.2 miles, round trip

Elevation gain: 2,300 ft. over three miles

 

The Crystal Lakes trail probably isn’t a great choice if you have a heart condition. This is a tough, steep climb. For the stout-hearted and strong-kneed, however, this hike offers a back country bonanza of Renoir-petalled wildflowers, mountain meadows cross-stitched with birdsong, skipping creeks, and two pristine mountain lakes.

The first 1.5 miles or so is a tough climb switchbacking through a thick forest. Crystal Creek canters along the trail to your right for about half a mile. Later, you’ll cross a wooden boardwalk over a bog. The trail then junctions with Crystal Peak at about 1.5 miles. The junction is well marked, noting that the peak is 2.5 miles to the east and Crystal Lakes is another 1.5 miles up.

Keep climbing and switch-backing. Cross another boardwalk and creek, which you’ll hear before you see. Pause a moment to stuff your lungs back into your chest. You’re almost to the lower lake. Shimmering and acquamarine, the lower lake is fine. But access to the shore is limited and there’s almost no where to sit. (There’s also an outdoor toilet – sort of – near the camp sites. It’s well-marked.)

Continue climbing another half mile to the upper lake. You can catch a break on this stretch of trail between lakes. The trail is mostly uphill, but the grade isn’t as demanding as the initial portion of the hike. It also levels out in places so you can take a breather and meander through superb alpine meadows marinaded in scarlet paintbrush, purple lupine, and snowy bear grass. Crystal Creek sings on your right as it rushes downhill. Buck up for the final climb up and over a series of log steps to the upper lake.

The larger upper lake is spectacular, with plenty of boulders for a great lunch break. Trekking poles highly recommended, especially for the descent. Unless you’re 23. With titanium knees.

Getting there

Take 410E from Enumclaw and drive under the Mount Rainier National Park arch/boundary. Look for pullouts on both sides of the road after about four miles, post-arch.  The trail head sign features a “hiker” icon on the east side of the road. About 36.5 miles from Enumclaw, between mile markers 61 and 62. If you hit the sign for White River and Sunrise, you’ve gone too far.

 

Wildflowers Laugh It Up At Mount Rainier!

posted in: Mount Rainier, Videos | 0

“… the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings.”

– John Muir on wildflower meadows at Mount Rainier’s Paradise

 

Mount Rainier’s wildflower meadows are world-renowned. Indeed, it’s peak season right now and wildflowers are laughin’ it up all over the park! From last week’s Old Iron Knees Expeditionary Trek to the northwest corner of the park (Mowich Lake/Tolmie and Paul Peaks, Crystal Lakes):

In Lummi Indian legend, Mount Rainier left her husband, Mount Baker, taking the choicest flowers and fruits with her. When Chinook summer winds flutter alpine frocks and cyan skies frolic over blushing swells of mountain heather, Western anemones, and the flaming heads of mountain paintbrush, you can’t help believe that the legend is true. And that John Muir was right.

***

Getting There

To Mowich Lake:

From Buckley, head south on Highway 165 through Burnett, Wilkeson, and Carbonado. Cross the one-lane Fairfax Bridge. Continue until you hit a “Y” in the road. Take a right. The route to Mowich Lake is clearly marked. The Paul Peak Trailhead is about 11 miles in and six miles from Mowich Lake. The sign is on your right. There’s a parking area and a couple rustic bathrooms.

Note: About 1.8 miles after leaving the “Y,” the road is unpaved. It’s rough and rutted. It takes about 45 minutes to cover 17 miles to its terminus at Mowich Lake.

To Crystal Lakes:

Take 410E from Enumclaw and drive under the Mount Rainier National Park arch/boundary. Look for pullouts on both sides of the road after about four miles, post-arch.  The trailhead sign features a “hiker” icon on the east side of the road. About 36.5 miles from Enumclaw, between mile markers 61 and 62. If you hit the sign for White River and Sunrise, you’ve gone too far.

Note: The Crystal Lakes trail probably isn’t a great choice if you have a heart condition. With an elevation gain of 2,300 over 3 miles, this is a tough, steep climb to two pristine mountain lakes.

The lower lake is fine, but access is limited and there’s almost no where to sit. The upper lake – another .5 miles, still climbing – is spectacular, with plenty of boulders for a great lunch break. Trekking poles highly recommended, especially for the descent. Unless you’re 23. Or have titanium knees.

Tolmie Peak: ‘Haagen Dazs’ of Day Hikes

posted in: Mount Rainier, Videos | 0

Rating: Strenuous

Distance: 6.2 miles round trip

High Point: 5,939 feet

Elevation Gain: 1,120 feet

A challenging climb to a jaw-dropping view of Mount Rainier, the trail to Tolmie Peak is the Haagen Dazs of day hikes.

You can break this hike down into about three one-mile chunks: 1) The first mile from the trail head at Mowich Lake to Ipsut Pass; 2) Ipsut Pass to Eunice Lake; 3) Eunice Lake to the Tolmie lookout.

The trail begins at Mowich Lake, at the terminus of one of the worst unpaved roads in the park. Plan on about 45 minutes to cover the 17 rough, rutted miles to Mowich Lake. The trail head is on the left just before you reach the dirt parking lot/campground. It’s clearly marked with an obvious sign (look back over your shoulder).

Begin with a brief downhill as the trail hugs Mowich Lake. Wind through a splendid mixed forest with plenty of shade. Turn around to catch Mount Rainier peeking through the trees above the lake.

About a mile in, you’ll find a spur trail to Ipsut Pass. Take it. You’ll be rewarded with commanding views of the Carbon River and Ipsut Creek valleys.  The spur trail is 200 feet and clearly marked. Well worth the extra few minutes.

The trail starts climbing shortly after Ipsut Pass. Watch out for tree roots, rocks and boulders and tangle foot. About 2.2 miles from the trail head you’ll crest a rise blanketed with a kaleidoscope of wildflowers. Top the rise and Eunice Lake marches into view. This beautiful turquoise lake offers postcard perfect mirror images of Tolmie Peak. It also has plenty of lakeshore boulders to sit on and soak your tired feet or eat lunch.

The final .9 mile from Eunice Lake to the lookout is steep, rocky, and switchbacky. On a clear day, portions of three switchbacks offer some of the best views of Mount Rainier this side of forever.

It’s not the mileage that kicks you on this hike. It’s the switchbacks. And the altitude. Especially if you’re starting from sea level. Plan on a pace of about 1.5 to 2 miles an hour. Most of the return trip is downhill, but save some fuel for the one mile-ish stretch between Eunice Lake and Ipsut Pass. This portion of trail is mostly uphill on the way back.

The Tolmie Peak hike is not recommended for children under age 10 unless they’re strong hikers.

Figure on about 4 hours round trip for this hike, without stops. But on a fine, clear day when the sky pours out an infinite bowl of blue and the Mountain is holding court, the Tolmie Peak trail is worth a whole day. Maybe more.

Getting there:

From Buckley, head south on Highway 165 through Burnett, Wilkeson, and Carbonado. Cross the one-lane Fairfax Bridge. Continue until you hit a “Y” in the road. Veer right. The route to Mowich Lake is clearly marked. About 17 miles.

After leaving the “Y,” the road is unpaved at about 1.8 miles. It’s rough and rutted. Make sure your suspension is in good shape.

 

Why You Need to Work at Rest

posted in: Just for Fun | 0

I know, I know. You’re TOO BUSY to take a break. You’ve got too much to do! And the world will stop spinning the minute you take any time off. Right?

Wrong!

In a culture that worships workaholics and doles out brownie points based on exhaustion and 24/7 work skeds, taking time off seems… irresponsible. But guess what? That old adage about, “I’d rather burn out than rust out”? Well, whoop-de-doo. Either way, you’re out. So listen up. Because you need to change. If not for your own sake, then for the sake of those who have to live and work with you.

I know, I know again. Taking time off sounds irresponsible. We may even feel guilty about taking time off to recharge the ‘ole batteries. Of course we need to be responsible. But working non-stop and refusing to take a break or schedule in a regular day of rest earns us a gigantean merit badge in the Who’s More Exhausted/Committed/Successful/Awesome/fill in the blank category, right?

Wrong again!

Because here’s the deal: no one is effective if they’re constantly running on fumes. You might surprised at how much more productive you can be following a season of rest. How much and when are up to you.

Misty lake, pine

Here are some “Rest Tips”:

  • “Rest” is whatever lets you take a breath. Power down. And return to work refreshed and recharged. I recommend taking one day off a week and unplugging. If you can’t do that, try every other week, or maybe a few morning or afternoon hours.
  • Be intentional about resting your mind, soul, spirit, and body. Put rest on the calendar. Schedule it in. Seriously. If you don’t, you’ll probably be “too busy” to make it happen.
  • Speaking of which, only you can make your rest day happen. Do it.
  • A well-rested person is happier, healthier, and easier to work with and for. S/he is also far more productive in the long-run than that stressed-out, crabby, cranky curmudgeon who hasn’t learned the value of rest – until they wind up in the hospital with a heart attack.

A regular day or half a day of rest may seem irresponsible. Don’t listen to that lie. You’re doing yourself a favor, stocking up your store of energy by working at resting. When you return, you can hit work twice as hard and be much more productive having taken some time off to recharge.

 

NARADA FALLS RAINBOW RESIZE

Rest Ideas:

  • Watch a movie or listen to music
  • Go out to dinner (best with a friend)
  • Read something that’s not work-related. In other words, just for the fun of it.
  • Hike
  • Turn off the TV. Step away from the computer. Put down the mobile device. Turn it off. Yes. O-f-f. You won’t die. Promise.
  • Fly a kite
  • Take a bicycle ride or a road trip
  • Go outside
  • Hike
  • Wash the car. Wash the dog. Wash the dishes, kids, windows…
  • Sleep late and/or take a nap. It’s okay. The world will keep turning while you’re catching some extra zzzzs.
  • Pick some flowers
  • Bake some cookies (even better if you share)
  • Walk on the beach
  • Hike
  • Visit a neighbor
  • Find your neighbor
  • Go window-shopping
  • Hike
  • Take the dog out for a walk
  • Make ice cream
  • Eat ice cream
  • Hit the tennis court, basketball court, gridiron, soccer field, ice rink, track, or whatever “field of dreams” appeals
  • Hike
  • Journal
  • Go fishing

Did I mention hike?

One other thing. If at all possible, go somewhere quiet. Treat your heart and mind to some solitude. If that means locking yourself in the bathroom, hiking the Himalayas, swapping babysitting with another parent, asking the grandparents to take over once in awhile, or booking the next flight to the dark side of moon, do it. Find someplace secluded or nearly secluded. The attic. A beach. The garage. Forest. Lake. Dark side of the moon. Lose the ipad and the smart phone. Forget Facebook (It’ll be there when you get back. Promise.)

Give yourself permission to take a break. Rest. Disconnect. Be intentional. Deliberate. It may look/sound like this (trail to Crystal Lakes at Mount Rainier National Park):

Don’t look at rest as an irresponsible waste of time. You’d be amazed at what a little peace and quiet can do for your soul – and how it can boost your creativity and productivity. Some of the most productive people I know are those who’ve learned to work at rest.

As for me? I’m headed out the door shortly to hike Mount Rainier’s Tolmie Peak. I can’t wait!

How do you work at rest?

 

 

A version of this article first appeared on the author’s blog, Roads Diverged.

 

Best Sunrise Trails 2: Forest Lake

posted in: Mount Rainier | 0

Hiking hordes and masses at Sunrise got you down? Looking for some solitude? Something off the beaten path?

Have I got a deal for you.

In fact, the Huckleberry Creek Trail to Forest Lake Camp may be one of the best Sunrise secrets in Washington State’s Mount Rainier National Park.  That’s because you have to be part mountain goat to hike out.  Yep, the return trip is almost entirely uphill.  Think Empire State Building without an elevator.  But this is one trail that’s worth every grunt, groan and creaking knee.

Forest Lake

 

You’d never guess that a world-class wildflower meadow, gurgling creek and glassy tarn are tucked into the conifer-clad valley below Sourdough Ridge at Sunrise on the eastern flank of Mount Rainier.  Their secrets are revealed only to the truly intrepid or utterly clueless.  Consequently, we had the entire hike to ourselves on a beautiful Thursday in late September, save for one other couple from Holland.  And they were lost.

See?  Everyone with brains headed toward Frozen Lake or Mount Fremont.  We, on the other hand, opted for “the road less travelled.” We were rewarded with one of the most beautiful alpine settings in the park. And aching knees. But I digress.

There’s a lake down there. No, really.

There’s a lake down there. No. Really.

Dog-legging off Sourdough Ridge, the Huckleberry Creek trail narrows and turns treacherous as it juts into Huckleberry Basin, especially through a rock-strewn avalanche chute below the basin.

 

Avalanche chute – watch your step!

 

Past the chute, the trail slims further to ribbon-width as you dip into a riotous romp of Renoir pastels cleverly disguised as a serene alpine meadow.  Wildflowers aren’t as plentiful on this higher, more exposed side of the Mountain as they are in Paradise. But they still paint the landscape in rich floral hues with yellow mountain daisies, purple aster, and lupine. Fire-engine red Indian paintbrush and white-tufted bear grass splash the landscape like a Louvre-worthy canvas.

 

Huckleberry Creek winds through tall, thick grass and plays hide and seek with the trail as it skips around gentle knolls and ridges bristling with evergreens. Once you’ve reached the valley, cross a couple split-log foot bridges and elbow the creek to your left. It’s a short walk to Forest Lake Camp.

While its shores are lined with the sun-bleached bones of fallen trees, Forest Lake is as still as the Sphinx.  If you’re part polar bear, go for a swim.  We lunched at the camp for about an hour, listening to warbling wrens and varied thrushes.  Chipmunks scurried nearby as gray jays, those shameless panhandlers, thought we were opening a traveling cafeteria.  We left reluctantly as afternoon faded and snow-scrubbed breezes began whining off the Emmons Glacier.

The trail probably won’t be melted out till July. But it’s worth the wait.

As for the return hike, well, be sure to fuel up the after-burners. Both creek and camp are well worth the hamstring-hollerin’ climb out.   Just don’t tell anyone.

Best Sunrise Trails 1: Burroughs Mountain

posted in: Hiking 101, Mount Rainier | 0

The Burroughs Mountain Trail at Mount Rainier’s Sunrise is a two-fer. If you’re on the lookout for dazzling mountain vistas, this is the place.

First Burroughs Mountain is 4.8 miles RT, with a 900 foot elevation gain. Second Burroughs Mountain – i.e., the good stuff – is 6.0 miles RT, with a 1200 foot elevation gain.

To get to Burroughs Mountain, start at the upper end of the picnic area at Sunrise, elev. 6,400. Chug up the nature trail to the Sourdough Ridge Trail. Head left. Take the SRT to the junction at Frozen Lake. From here, follow the Burroughs Mountain Trail. It winds uphill to the southwest. The trail is steep and hits the top of First Burroughs Mountain at about 7,000 feet. It’s rocky and barren as you march up the mountain. But on a nice, clear day in September, the sky hangs out an impossible sheet of blue that bounces off the Emmons and Winthrop Glaciers like a neon sign.

If you’re legs are up for it, keep going. Pass an intersection to Second Burroughs, climbing 400 more feet in about half a mile. Second Burroughs offers grand views into the Glacier Basin below, Little Tahoma to the south, and views of the park to the north. The latter includes Skyscraper Mountain, Fremont Lookout, Berkeley and Grand Parks, and Skyscraper Mountain. Wear a hat and bring plenty of water, because you’re above the tree line. Return via the Sunrise Rim Trail.

Getting there: From the White River entrance to Mount Rainier National Park on Hwy 410, follow the road to its end and the Sunrise parking lot.

 

Note: Not recommended for families with little ones of if you’re not in decent shape.

Colonel Bob Trail: Tough Trail, Big Rewards

posted in: Olympic Peninsula | 2

Looking for emerald rain forests dripping with verdure, rushing creeks, cascading waterfalls, jaw-dropping mountain vistas towering above the Quinault River Valley, and enough switchbacks to drop a Yetti?

Check out the Col. Bob Trail in Olympic National Forest.

You don’t have to be part mountain goat to navigate the steep, serpentine coils of this 4.1 mile trail (one way) to one of the most rugged, spectacular, and isolated peaks in the Olympic Mountains. But it helps. Ditto BYO bottled oxygen.

I recommend starting from Pete’s Creek. (See below for directions.)

We tackled this trail in mid-June, starting out at about 0830. The trail was wet and steamy. Pockmarked by mini-Amazon rivers, the path was choked with enough undergrowth in places that Sasquatch would have cause for pause. It was also quite muddy.

The trail is also strewn with enough tangle foot, rocks, tree roots, moisture-slicked boulders, and downed trees to warrant a warning from the Surgeon General. Wear. Waterproof. Boots. And keep a sharp eye out to avoid that pesky trip to the E.R. for a twisted ankle or worse.

The trail also includes a couple creek crossings that involve foot logs and/or rocks drenched in rain forest ‘perspiration,’ and thus slick. Watch your step.

The trail isn’t that strenuous for the first mile or so along cantering Pete’s Creek. After you hit a small clearing with a charred stone fire ring (on your left as you head out, just below the two-mile mark), the trail begins to climb sharply.

Think Sherpa.

A chunk of this trail below Moonshine Flats includes a series of switchbacks through a rocky slide area. It’s steep. It’s narrow. It’s exposed to direct sun. Turn around for eye-popping vistas of the Olympic Mountains to the south while you stuff your lungs back into your chest.

Bring plenty of water. Wear a hat. Use sunscreen.

Most of the trail snakes through the Colonel Bob Wilderness and a dense forest with soaring evergreens and moss-draped conifers. It’s lush. Remote. And scenic. Wildflowers – lupine, trillium, bunch berry dogwood, rainbow hues of mountain paintbrush – can be outrageous in season.

This emerald-green region has temperate rain forest conditions, with an annual precipitation of more than 150 inches. When we hiked this trail yesterday, an anemic sun combined with overnight precipitation created clouds of humidity, making for a sticky day. We sweated buckets. Bring plenty of water. We had to turn back less than a mile from the summit due to impassable snow. (Some obstacles just aren’t worth risking life and life. That’s not a typo.)

The trek down requires concentration and focus. It’s easy to stumble over all the tangle foot and treacherous footing. (I wouldn’t even attempt this trail without a pair of good, solid trekking poles. They’ll save your knees on the downhill, big time.)

Note: Some trail guides put the total RT hiking time for the Col. Bob trail at about four hours. Sure. If you’re half jack rabbit. Or Secretariat. For the rest of us mere mortals, figure about six to eight hours for the round trip. Factor uphill progress at a rate of roughly one mile an hour. (Jack rabbits and Secretariats may be exempt.)

The Col. Bob trail is a tough, hamstring-hollering climb with an elevation gain of about 1,000 feet per mile. The summit is at just over 4,500 feet. But on a clear day, you can see forever from the top. Even if you’re a jack rabbit. Or Secretariat.

Directions:

From Hoquiam, drive north for 25 miles on US 101. Turn right onto Donkey Creek Road (Forest Road 22, Wynoochee Lake). Follow the road for 8 miles then turn left onto FR 2204. Continue 11 miles to the Pete’s Creek trailhead. It’s clearly marked. The road is only paved part-way. After the second bridge on FR 2204, watch for pot holes the size of Manhattan.

Northwest Forest Pass is required.

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