Mt. Rainier Weekend

Greg and I had originally planned to go to Mt. Rainier for a three-day weekend in August. But this crazy dry year we’re having meant the wildflowers started blooming there about five weeks early. So we quickly changed our plans and went up there the weekend of July 10-12. Unfortunately for us, Mother Nature was a bit of an asshole about the weather.

Camping in and around Mt. Rainier is challenging. When we pulled into the Ohanepecosh Campground around 10pm on Thursday there were no signs saying the campground was full, even though it was. After slowly making that discovery in the dark, we went down to La Wis Wis, which is a Forest Service campground run by a concessionaire. We managed to snag a spot (the first-come first-serve spots are hard to find in the dark), set up the tent, and fall into our sleeping bags exhausted. (More on our experience at this campground at the end of the post.)

Friday: Looking for wildflowers in Berkeley Park

We were driving in a cloud for much of the way to Sunrise and it was very damp. We got to Sunrise Point and got out to look around. We had gotten above many of the clouds by that point, so we had some views, although we probably only saw about half of what was out of there.

Below the viewpoint on the north side was a nice-looking lake and meadow. So we decided to hike down there. When we were almost to the lake we encountered the first of two grumpy photographers on this hike. The guy had a long lens so I asked if he had seen any wildlife. “Yep,” he said, without looking at me. “Deer, elk….?” I asked, just trying to be friendly. “Lots of elk tracks” he said, without looking at me. Okay then. I’ll be on my way.

Sunrise Lake was quite lovely, and amazingly enough we had the place practically to ourselves!

A few little side trails from the lake go up to the edge of the meadow, but no further. Lots of great lupine there.

On the way back up to the car we passed grumpy photographer #2, except this guy was more than just grumpy. He gave us the most vicious and menacing glare as he hiked past us. Wanting to say something to Greg, I looked back to see if the guy was out of earshot and he had stopped on the trail to turn and stare at us. He gave off major creepy vibes and I was glad I wasn’t alone.

On to Sunrise and the hike to Berkeley Park. This hike starts in the alpine and stays in the alpine, which is a fun experience since there are almost no hikes in Oregon that do that.

Then there was this guy. Talking on his cell phone. While hiking. 🙄 🙄 🙄 🙄

Stopped at the Frozen Lake viewpoint for a snack and a rest. Lots of fat ground squirrels around here, no doubt getting plenty of handouts despite signs warning visitors not to do so. Greg got this nice up-close shot:

Continuing onward to Berkeley Park.

The best of Berkeley Park’s flowers were over, but there were still some blooming.

Marmot! (as photographed by Greg)

After circling the bowl, the trail bends toward the center of the park. Right at that bend is an unnamed snowmelt creek which was utterly delightful. Lupine, monkey flower, valerian, paintbrush, aster, and this yellow flower (can’t remember it’s name) were blooming all over. It reminded me of that creek that goes through Elk Cove on Mt. Hood.

Greg got a very nice shot of a butterfly here:

On the hike out we saw another marmot:

The clouds had lifted a bit to reveal the near mountains, although there was more in the distance we still couldn’t see.

Back at Sunrise:

Saturday: In which we hike in a cloud

We really wanted to do the hike to Summerland. It’s HUGELY popular because of it’s combination of views and wildflowers. The weather forecast for Saturday was almost identical to the day before. Since the clouds had lifted for partial views on Friday, we anticipated that happening again on Saturday. Mother Nature had other ideas.

There is very little parking at the Summerland trailhead considering how popular it is, so we got up very early, had a quick breakfast, and managed to snag a parking spot by 7:20. Then set off for three miles of hiking in a forest in a cloud.

After three miles we crossed Fryingpan Creek. We’re still in a cloud. This is not looking good.

We passed a nice patch of fireweed, which turned out to be the best patch of wildflowers we would see all day.

After climbing up, up, up from Fryingpan Creek…

…we arrived in Summerland and saw – wait for it – the inside of a cloud!

Except for the lousewort the flowers were past peak.

It was cold and damp and unpleasant. The hike isn’t worth doing without the views and wildflowers, and we felt pretty crushed to not get either of those. If we had known the clouds weren’t going to lift, we never would have done this trail. It was a very disheartening and discouraging day.

On the way out we passed at least a hundred hikers heading in. We thought the meadow area had felt crowded at 10:30. I can only imagine how packed it must have been by early afternoon. We also saw a group with a dog. Off-leash. No dogs are allowed on national park trails, and I’m sure they later got a warning from one of the three park volunteers we had seen earlier. On the plus side we saw a WTA crew doing trail maintenance. Yay!

Sunday: The Skyline Trail

Washington gave us a nice send-off Sunday morning by raining just enough to make our tent wet and un-put-awayable. We shoved it in the car and headed for Paradise. Our plan was to hike the Skyline Trail, which is a loop that starts and ends at Paradise. This was the “view” of the mountain when we arrived.

We debated whether to even do the hike. We were fed up with the weather after the previous day, and not feeling the love from Washington (this was the second trip to that state in less than a year in which the weather went sour on us). But we decided to go for it.

Saw two deer just a few feet away from the Paradise Inn.

The “view” of the mountain.

Here’s how that scene looks on a nice day:

The wildflowers in those meadows near Edith Creek were DONE. But further along we found this patch still in bloom.

And the western pasque flower was still hanging around too

And then, gasp! The clouds cleared for a brief moment and the mountain came out! It lasted for only a few minutes, and we never saw the mountain again the rest of the day.

There is this delightful little stream where thousands of monkeyflowers were blooming. I’ve never seen this many in one place before!

Me walking through the flower craziness, as shot by Greg:

Up ahead we could see people crossing a snowfield. Surely our trail doesn’t go there, does it?

Guess it does, because that’s Panorama Point on the other side.

So off we go. We were fine with our poles, but I wouldn’t want to try this without them. There is a higher alternate route that probably bypasses this snowfield. We had seen a junction a little earlier, but hoards of people had been standing around in front of the signs and we had just continued straight. I bet one of those signs said something like “less dangerous route this way.”

From Panorama Point the clouds had lifted enough that we had views of the near mountains, but we couldn’t see anything beyond.

Of course the locals were out and about looking for handouts.

On the descent from the point we saw several good patches of wildflowers that were still going strong. Crazy that we had to hike to 7,000 feet in mid-July to see wildflowers still blooming!

We saw several marmots on this hike. One of them was gobbling up the lupine blossoms at a very high speed.

Greg has a 300mm zoom lens now and got this great shot:

There’s a mountain in there somewhere.

By the time we got back to the car we had encountered several hundred people on the trail. The upside to hiking in a national park is the fabulous signage and the customer-oriented attitude of the visitor centers (which are – GASP – open on weekends!). The downside is the HUGE crowds.

As for La Wis Wis Campground, I’m not entirely sure I’d ever say there again. It is the most poorly-managed Forest Service campground I have ever stayed at. The three main issues we experienced were: 1) The first-come first-serve sites are scattered around and hard to find in the dark. There is no list or map of these sites. 2) The post-10pm quiet time was not enforced, and boy was this a LOUD campground. 3) The bathroom in our loop deteriorated over the course of our stay, from being clean and stocked Thursday night to being out of TP and not clean by Sunday morning. I wrote a letter to the GP Forest and to Hoodoo about it and have actually heard back from both parties, to my surprise.