At the beginning of the year Mt. Rainier National Park was near the top of our list of places we still needed to visit. On our initial hiking schedule I put down four days at Mt. Rainier and began researching possible hikes. The Northern Loop Trail looked to be the perfect choice coming in at close to 40 miles. We decided to submit a request for the necessary wilderness permits in hopes that we would be lucky enough to acquire them. In order to camp in the parks wilderness we needed to have permits and the number of permits are limited due to the limited number of designated camp sites available. The park began accepting permit applications on March 15th and ours was in the mail that day. All requests submitted between 3/15 and 3/31 were collected and on April 1st they began to process them. We found out on May 1st that our application had been accepted and our planned itinerary approved. We had requested Thursday 8/13/15 thru Sunday 8/17/15 with our camp sites being Mystic Camp, Yellowstone Cliffs Camp, and Fire Creek Camp.
We had been excited about the possibility of this trip even before finding out that we got our permits and that excitement only grew when we got the good news. As the date of our trip approached we kept a close eye on wildfire and weather information. Although it has been a bad year for fires none were affecting the park which was good news. The weather news was a little less exciting. The forecast called for a chance of showers or thunderstorms Thursday afternoon and evening and rain on Friday, possibly up to half an inch. There was also a slight chance of showers Saturday morning before becoming sunny for the rest of the weekend. We had our reservations though so we made sure we had plenty of waterproof gear before heading to the park.
The weather was beautiful when we arrived at the Sunrise Visitors Center on Thursday morning. Mt. Rainier was as massive as we’d been led to believe and we couldn’t wait to get started.
We took the Sourdough Ridge Trail up toward the Wonderland Trail (the 93 mile trail that loops the entire mountain) marveling at the views along the way.
In a typical year the flower displays would have been near their peak but just like the rest of the Pacific Northwest they had bloomed at least a month earlier than normal. It didn’t matter though because the scenery and views were spectacular and the few flowers that remained gave us an idea of what it might look like in full bloom.
We met the Wonderland Trail near Frozen Lake. This lake acts as a domestic water supply and was roped off.
Two other trails met at the junction, the Mt. Freemont Trail and the Burroughs Mountain Trail. Both of these looked interesting but would have to wait for another day.
We took the Wonderland Trail which passed below Burroughs Mountain where we spotted over two dozen mountain goats lounging in the shade of the cliffs.
We continued down to another junction, this one with the Northern Loop Trail. This would be our return route to complete the loop on Sunday.
From the Wonderland Trail we had a good view of the climb that awaited us on that final day.
The Wonderland Trail then climbed to a pass on a ridge below Skyscraper Mountain where we took our first snack break where we were joined by a marmot.
From the pass the trail then headed downhill into a forest passing Granite Creek Camp.
We were on our way down to the Winthrop Glacier and to a crossing of Winthrop Creek. The sky had become rather hazy by the time we made it down to the glacier making it difficult to see the mountain. The glacier was much larger than any we’d been around on other mountains in the Cascades.
We passed under Garda Falls which was hidden from the trail, but after crossing Winthrop Creek on a foot bridge and climbing a bit we could look back and see the falls in the forest.
We climbed out of the glacial outwash plain and back into the forest.
Shortly after reentering the forest we arrived at a sign announcing Mystic Camp where we picked out a site and set up camp.
The camp was below Old Desolate and near Mystic Lake. The rocks on Old Desolate were very interesting.
After setting up camp we headed up the trail to Mystic Lake. It was a pretty alpine lake nestled between Mineral Mountain and Old Desolate. The lake shore was dotted with gentians.
We decided to have our dinner at the lake but hadn’t brought it with us so Heather headed back to camp to get our stove and food. When she got back she told me she met a doe and her two fawns along the trail. After dinner we headed back to camp and discovered the deer were still in the small meadow where she had seen them earlier.
Back at camp we found another deer. This one was a buck who was leisurely passing through camp eating as he went.
The showers had never materialized as we turned in for the night. We did hear a couple of rumbles of thunder during the night but never saw any lightning and it never did rain. It had been a great start to the trip and we were looking for to the rest of it. Happy Trails!