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Hiking Mt. Rainier Trip report Washington Washington Cascades

Mt. Rainier National Park – Northern Loop Day 3

Day 3 started with the sound of water dropping onto the rainfly for our tent. We guessed by the sound that the rain had finally relented and what we were hearing was the water falling from the surrounding trees. We had managed to stay relatively dry inside the tent save for a small amount of condensation that had built up during the night. I ventured out to use the toilet and retrieve our bear bag and discovered we had guessed right. We decided to have a bar for breakfast instead of trying to cook under the dripping trees and then began packing up. There was another couple at camp who had arrived after the rain had started. We learned that they had gotten pretty soaked and it sounded like it had been a pretty miserable night.

We got our first good look at Yellowstone Cliffs as we headed back toward the Northern Loop Trail.
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The clouds were breaking up and it looked like it might be a pretty nice day. The forecast had called for a slight chance of showers in the morning followed by a mostly sunny afternoon. We were treated to more great views as we passed through the meadows below the cliffs.
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As we neared the end of the meadows we noticed a doe and fawn staring down at us. A third deer briefly appeared further up the hillside before disappearing back into the trees.
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As we climbed higher Mt. Rainier began to peak out from behind Crescent Mountain. The summit of the mountain was a pristine white having been coated in a fresh layer of snow overnight.
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We had been climbing gradually toward Windy Gap where we planned on taking a .7 mile side trail to visit Natural Bridge, a rock arch high above Lakes Ethel & James. The scenery along this section of the trail was magnificent even without the flowers being in bloom.
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We took the trail toward Natural Bridge which wrapped around an unnamed butte before descending to a viewpoint of the arch. The view included both Lake James and Lake Ethel as well as the West Fork White River which we would be crossing later in the day.
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After returning to the junction at Windy Gap we began descending down the Northern Loop Trail to Van Horn Creek which feeds into Lake James. The alpine meadows gave way to a beautiful forest as we neared the lake.
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We headed for Lake James to cook our breakfast which had now become brunch.
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It was a little chilly at the lake but it was also very peaceful. The area is notorious for mosquitoes but we didn’t see any signs of them as we enjoyed our Mountain House Biscuits and Gravy.
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After breakfast we sallied forth dropping from the lake and passing beneath the fireweed covered Redstone Peak.
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We were in a lush forest with mushrooms and birds.
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We were heading for the crossing of the West Fork White River. The footbridge over the river had been washed out and we would be crossing on a log that was acting as the temporary bridge.
We had met a couple of ladies who were hiking the Northern Loop in the opposite direction and they told us they had chosen to scoot across the log instead of walking across it. That had been my plan as well having once done that to get across the Muddy Fork River on Mt. Hood. When we arrived at the log I briefly reconsidered and started to walk across but quickly reverted to the original plan as soon as I looked down at the muddy water.
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Heather scooted across after me and we were ready to continue. Looking back across the river we got a glimpse of the lowest portion of Van Horn Falls. Like Garda Falls on the first day the only decent view was from across the river. Looking at the falls on Google Earth it’s clear that there is much more to it than is visible from the trail but it was still a pretty waterfall.
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We met another pair of hikers shortly after crossing the river. They had come up the primitive West Fork Trail and asked us what animals we’d seen so far. We told them about the mountain goats and deer as well as the pikas, marmots, and chipmunks. The asked about any elk or bears and we said we hadn’t seen either of those yet. We took our leave and continued on passing the junction with the West Fork Trail.
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Not long after passing the West Fork Trail junction something off to my left caught my attention. I turned just in time to see a large black bear emerge from some huckleberry bushes and race off into the forest. He had only been about 20 yards away and when his paws hit the ground they made a loud thumping noise. He was only visible for a matter of seconds and Heather had missed seeing it. It was amazing how quickly something that big could disappear into the forest.

We had another big climb ahead of us to reach our next camp. Fire Creek Camp was located in a quiet valley part way along the trail up to Grand Park.
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We took the .4 mile trail down to the quiet camp which was the most private of all the camps we’d seen thus far. A small stream draining from Grand Park above supplied a water source. We chose site #2 partly because we had chosen site #2 at both of our previous camps as well but it was also the nicest of the spots here.
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We set up our tent and spread out anything that was still damp from the day before to dry.
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It was a chilly evening and we wound up using our rain gear as a windproof layer to keep us warm. It was certainly a more peaceful evening than the rain filled one the day before. It had been a great trip so far and we were eagerly anticipating what the final day would have in store for us as we turned in for the night. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157657420370715

Categories
Hiking Mt. Rainier Trip report Washington Washington Cascades

Mt. Rainier National Park – Northern Loop Day 2

The possible thunderstorms forecast for our first night had never really materialized. We heard a few rumbles in the distance but nothing had seemed close and we didn’t experience any rain overnight. The sky was a little cloudy as we packed up our tent but they seemed to be breaking up. We stopped at Mystic Lake to eat breakfast and enjoy the beautiful morning that was developing around us.
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From Mystic Lake the Wonderland Trail climbed through gentian filled meadows to a saddle between the mountain and Old Desolate.
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We were hiking with the animals this morning passing birds, frogs, chipmunks, and an owl who silently flew over our heads and down into a lower meadow.
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The owl flying low over the meadow just before disappearing down the hillside.
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Mt. Rainier was visible beneath the ever shifting clouds as we crested the saddle. The Carbon Glacier filled the valley before us and beyond that was Echo Cliffs and Mother Mountain.
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Further down the glacial valley a mass of clouds covered the terrain. We were heading down toward those clouds and we remembered the rain that had been in the forecast for the day.
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We followed the trail down to the meadows surrounding Moraine Creek. Along the way we spotted several pikas and had great views of a huge waterfall below Observation and Echo Rocks.
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As we continued along Moraine Creek we entered the clouds.
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About four and a half miles from Mystic Lake we came to the junction where the Northern Loop Trail split from the Wonderland Trail. The Wonderland Trail crossed the Carbon River on a suspension bridge while the Northern Loop Trail continued to follow the river down the valley. We took a short break here and took a peek at the bridge.
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We continued on the Northern Loop Trail for another mile passing through a damp forest to another trail junction.
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This junction was located near the lowest elevation point of our whole trip. From the junction the Northern Loop Trail turned uphill for a steep climb to Yellowstone Cliffs. We would be gaining some 2200′ in less than 3 miles to reach the spur trail to Yellowstone Cliffs Camp where we were to camp for the night. The park ranger who had given me our permits said the climb consisted of 38 switchbacks so we began counting them as we climbed. As we trudged up the hillside we were thankful for the clouds since they were keeping the temperature down. We were pleasantly surprised when we ended the switchbacks after about two dozen, well short of the 38 we had expected.
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Heather coming up the switchbacks.
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The trail became less steep after the swtichbacks before entering the meadows below Yellowstone Cliffs. The cliffs were shrouded in clouds as we started down the spur trail to camp.
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By the time we arrived at the tent sites we were soaked due to the moisture on the plants. We quickly picked out our site and set up our tent.
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Shortly after getting set up the rain began. It was early afternoon when it started and it wouldn’t let up until sometime during the night. This was our first experience with backpacking in the rain and we were a little concerned about our ability to stay dry. This became more of a concern when I noticed water pooling up outside of the tent near our heads. The ground was so dry and hard that the water wasn’t being absorbed at all. I quickly grabbed our trowel and attempted to drain and steer the water away from the tent. We’d also managed to forget to keep any food out for dinner. When it had started raining I ran the bear bag down to the bear pole and hung it without pulling anything out for dinner. We were left with some peanut m&ms, a small package of green olives, and a meat and cheese stick package apiece.

We stayed in the tent except for a quick trip the bathroom before attempting to sleep. Heather didn’t seem to have any trouble but I had a difficult time. The rain kept coming and I couldn’t stop wondering if we would stay dry and on top of that there was an occasional sound of large rocks falling from the cliffs. The camp was far enough away that I wasn’t worried about them at the time, but I wondered what would happen if they were still falling while we were on the trail in them morning. To top it all off my stomach decided that it really would have enjoyed dinner and that made it just a little harder to get any sleep. I managed to get a couple of hours of broken sleep waiting for morning to arrive. Happy (dry) Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157657416432875