The following pictures are just a quick sampling of what we saw on our 4 day sojourn around the Northern Loop, in Mount Rainier National Park. The trail is approximately 35 miles long, and part of it is on the Wonderland Trail.
Even though we traveled the Loop trail at the end of July, they consistently tell you to prepare for all kinds of weather, and from this trip, I can tell you that this is information that should be well heeded…As, one of our three found out the hard way. Who would have thought that it would snow at the end of July??? Proof again, that the Mountain makes it’s own weather…
Merge right onto WA-167N towards WA-410E, Yakima/Seattle, go 1.1 miles. Get ready to leave freeway to the right.
Take the WA-410E exit towards Sumner/Yakima, then merge left into WA-410. The merge lane becomes an exit lane, so get over quickly. Follow WA-410E 11.7 miles, through the town of Bonney Lake.
At Buckley, make a slight right onto WA-165. It will now be about 25.5 miles to the Mowich Lake Campground. During the summer months, plan on being there early, as the parking lot fills up quickly. Shortly after crossing the single lane bridge over the Carbon River, the road “Y’s”. At the “Y”, stay right, which takes you uphill. To the left, takes you to the Carbon River entrance to the park. Once at Mowich Lake, you have several choices. You can head clockwise on the loop, (the direction that we took), and hike down Ipsut Pass, (the steepest section of the trail) to the Carbon River. Or, take off CCW, down to the Mowich River crossing first. OR, you can go up and over through Spray Park, another great trail for mountain views above treeline.
Maps: We used the National Geographic “Trails Illustrated” map, a water proof and tear resistant map that encompasses all of the park. We found this sufficient for this hike, as I’ve noted before, the trails are relatively easy to follow, and the map shows the locations of backcountry camps.
Permits: You will have to get a permit to camp overnight anywhere in the Mount Rainier National Park, Especially those camps that are located on the Wonderland Trail. March 15th is the date that they start accepting reservations. Please check the website for Wilderness camping and Hiking. It should have all the information that you need to plan your hike. Of special Note: The floods of 2006 did heavy damage to the Carbon River Entrance, and as the ranger station at Wilkerson has been closed, your permit will have to be picked up at the Carbon River Entrance. At least, that’s the closest ranger station to Mowich Lake, so on the website, be sure to pay particular attention to this detail.
Northern Loop Trail added 7-2-2010
The first day took us from Ipsut Creek campground, up along the Carbon River, to our cut-off point towards the Yellowstone Cliffs.
Very scenic here, and so far, the weather was perfect, low 70’s, just right for picture taking, and hiking uphill!!! Just past the cliffs, we reached the high point for the day, at Windy Gap, appropriately named, as you can hear the wind in all the video that I took from this spot.
From here, there was a side trail, about a mile long, to get to the Natural Bridge. On the downslope side, it’s an appx. 100 ft drop. The arch is so large, that it can be seen from the lakes below with ease.
From Windy Gap, it was all downhill to Lake James Camp. The biting black flies and mosquitoes made it a rather unpleasant place. In fact, to pay homage to the little bloodsuckers, they named a flat after them, called, “Mosquito Flat”…Couldn’t begin to imagine why…
We leave from Lake James, and head to Grand Park, and grand it was, indeed!!! I’ve never seen such a flat, wide open meadow, so high in the mountains! It was incredible, we stopped here to relax, and refuel for awhile, taking in the sights.
One could easily imagine herds of elk and deer roaming about. From Grand Park, we dropped down some to Berkeley Park, a very pretty valley, filled with wildflower meadows, and a very scenic mountain stream running through the middle of it. As we made camp along the stream, we noticed that with grey skies, the evening was getting colder. In fact, it was so cold, that I had put on practically everything that I had brought to fight it off, and one of our group, all he had was short sleeve shirts, and a vest!
So, he had nothing to cover his arms! We sat around shivering for awhile, watching the thermometer drop to below 40, and once it reached 38, he gave up, and crawled into his sleeping bag, where he remained huddled the rest of the night. He was so cold, that I heated up his dinner and served it to him in his tent! Try and get that on any other hiking trip!!!
We awoke the next morning to bitter cold again, and as we were drinking our coffee, we were hit with a rain/snow mix shower. Those little white flakes were all Russ needed to see to decide that as soon as we reached the cut-off for Sunrise, he was jumping out.
It was cold, and I don’t blame him. The last thing we need to worry about in the wilderness, is having someone suffer hypothermia. We reached the cut-off, and bid Russ farewell. Ed and I continued up to Skyscraper Pass, amidst the now mainly snow showers, and cutting wind. Brrr…From there, we dropped down to the Winthrop Glacier, across Winthrop Creek and the White River, to Mystic Lake.
…Once the hot water was safely poured into the freeze dried pouches that contained our dinners, I played with my food…
Again, amidst rain showers, and gusty winds. We took some pictures of the lake that day, with the wind churning the surface of the lake. One of the pictures that I have included here, was from that day, a very cold Dave standing on the porch of the Mystic Lake Ranger Station, you can see the rain coming down. It was amazing to see the difference the following morning with the surface as smooth as glass.
That night, we spent another night huddled around our stove, not for heat, as it wouldn’t put enough out for that, but because we were busy boiling water for our dinner. Once the hot water was safely poured into the freeze dried pouches that contained our dinners, I played with my food…It made a great hot water bottle, and I put it under my windbreaker to keep warm, rubbed it on the back of my neck, etc, in an attempt to get some heat.
After breaking camp, we headed out early, and dropped down into Moraine Park, Where we watched a couple of bucks foraging. They let ups get fairly close, but still kept a wary eye on us.
Marmot where in full song, their whistling a constant refrain on the wind. From there, we continued down past Dick Creek camp, under the watchful eyes of the Northern Crags, along the snout of the Carbon Glacier, to our final destination at Ipsut creek.
Another great hike, filled with sights that can only be seen by venturing out into the backcountry.