Thursday, July 28, 2016

Mt. Rainier National Park: Burroughs Mountain & Fremont Lookout

Stats - Burroughs Mountain
Round trip distance: 9 miles
Highest point: 7,828 feet
Elevation gain: 2,600 feet
Pass: Mt. Rainier National Park entrance fee OR Mt. Rainier National Park annual pass

WTA page:

Stats - Fremont Lookout
Round trip distance: 5.6 miles
Highest point: 7,200 feet
Elevation gain: 800 feet
Pass: Mt. Rainier National Park entrance fee OR Mt. Rainier National Park annual pass

WTA page:

Panorama - click to make larger!

My friend and I went down to Mt. Rainier National Park last weekend to hike the Burroughs Mountain trail. I had done this trail before, but did not finish the entire hike (only getting to Second Burroughs). The trail has 3 different peaks: First Burroughs, Second Burroughs, and Third Burroughs. They're located against the northeast face of Mt. Rainier and offer close views of the mountain.

When I hiked this trail before in July, the trail was snow free. I checked the trail reports for this trip, and while they did mention a couple snow patches, they said it was easily passable and easily navigated.

It was a gorgeous day to visit the park - the sky was completely clear and the sun was out. My friend and I drove down to the Sunrise, the highest visitor center in the park that can be reached by vehicle. We set off on our hike, taking the Sourdough Ridge Trail to the Frozen Lake junction, and once we took the split for Burroughs Mountain, we soon approached First Burroughs. The path to get to the top is cut into the side of First Burroughs and is a steady incline. About halfway up, we reached a patch of snow. It didn't look as easily passable as trail reports had led me to believe. The trail was covered in icy snow and the part available to walk on was not very wide. Having crampons and hiking poles would have been helpful for this part of the trail.

I promise it's scarier than it looks. These people obviously had more chill than I did.

My friend and I began to cross the snow patch. I moved very slowly and clung to the wall on the left, digging my hands into the snow for a feeling of extra security. If I slipped at all, I would most likely slide down the snow slope, eventually reaching the part of the slope covered in rocks. It was definitely treacherous, and while navigating this part of the trail I was somewhat terrified of falling. I'm not a risk taker, so this was more than I felt comfortable with. We crossed the first snow patch only to find a second one. This one was shorter, but after reaching the end, there was a third snow patch. I began to wonder how many there were. Two people behind us had stopped to put crampons on their shoes. There was one guy ahead of us, wearing jeans, a tshirt, and tennis shoes, with a nice camera slung across his back.

We started to cross the third snow patch, which was longer and steeper than the first two. It seemed icier and more slippery, and the snow on the wall to my left was much harder and I couldn't dig my fingers in to get a good grip. I was not liking the situation at all. I was a little over halfway across when my friend told me he didn't think he could make it up this one. He was not wearing hiking boots that day, so his shoes didn't have much traction. The end of the third snow patch got even more narrow and increased in incline, and I had been wondering if I'd be able to make it up that part. We decided to turn around and go back the way we came. It no longer seemed safe enough, we didn't know how many more snow patches were after this one (the trail was curving around the mountain), and we wanted to make sure we could get back down whatever we climbed up. The last thing I wanted to do was to get stuck; able to go neither forwards nor backwards.

The Point of NOPE. It was not going to happen.
Looking back at First Burroughs from the Fremont Lookout trail. This shows how high we were. We discovered there were 6 snow patches total. Looking at it now, it seems silly that we turned around because it looks like we got through most of it, but everything ahead looked worse than what we had already done when we were in the middle of it.
Got a shot of three hikers headed back down across the snow patches.

I was disappointed that we were not even going to reach First Burroughs that day, but I was very happy to be off the snow patches and back on snow free ground. The couple behind us that stopped to put crampons on their shoes turned back as well and had not attempted the third snow patch. We also saw the guy ahead of us with the camera come back down, and we assumed he did not like what he saw after the third snow patch. Since this hike was not going to work out, we decided to do the hike that we could see across the valley. It was called Fremont Lookout, and was a long path along an incline that led to a lookout with views of the surrounding mountains.

You can see where we turned around and headed to Fremont Lookout instead

Once we got to the beginning of the Fremont Lookout trail and started up, we looked back over at First Burroughs and confirmed that our decision to turn around was a good one. There were six snow patches, and the fourth one looked particularly nasty. I was glad we turned around when we did. We continued up to Fremont Lookout, which was awesome. The trail was very rocky, and walking over the loose rocks sounded like we were walking over glass. It was a fun sound. We reached the lookout and had a snack while taking in the view.

Trail to Fremont Lookout
Rocky path
Fremont Lookout
I love the flat green section!
One of the many peaks we could see from Fremont Lookout
These guys were definitely used to being fed and would go right up to people looking for food.
Me with Mt. Rainier 

After coming back down the Fremont Lookout trail, we began to head back to the parking lot, figuring we would cut the day short since we weren't able to do our original hike. We took the long way back to Sunrise, but before we got there we reached a junction near a campground where one of the options was to continue to First Burroughs. I remembered from my last hike that part of the trail was a loop, and that I had come back a different way than I started. We ended up following that trail, which ended up being the other side of the loop that I had been on last time, and was a "back way" to First Burroughs. We were in luck - there was just one snow patch to contend with, and this one was definitely manageable and less dangerous. We reached First Burroughs and continued onto Second Burroughs, hoping that we would be able to get there. I wasn't optimistic because it looked like there was a very large snow patch on the way up to Second Burroughs.

Easy, flat snow patch on Second Burroughs
Third Burroughs. Note the trail heading right into the large snow patch. If you look hard enough, you can see three hikers making their way through the snow.
Part of Mt. Rainier, taken while on Second Burroughs

However, when we reached the snow patch on Second Burroughs, we were happy to find that it was wide and mostly flat, so it was the easiest one we crossed that day. We ended up making it to Second Burroughs after all! We took a few pictures and looked ahead to Third Burroughs, but knew that we wouldn't be reaching it that day. Third Burroughs had several large snow patches that went up an incline, and we decided it wasn't worth attempting, and planned to come back in a few weeks when the snow was all gone.

The top of Mt. Rainier. Note the climbing paths just right of the center!
I'm glad I had my telephoto lens with me - I could zoom in enough to see climbers on Mt. Rainier!
GPS from Second Burroughs back to Sunrise

So, although we failed to go up the original Burroughs path and thought we wouldn't be able to do the hike at all, we ended up partially succeeding by taking a different route, and we had the bonus of doing another awesome hike as well! I definitely recommend visiting this park - the views of Mt. Rainier are stunning and are some of the closest you'll get without being on the mountain. The Burroughs Mountain trail is a fantastic trail, but be sure to hike it when the snow is gone, or come with the proper equipment. The Fremont Lookout trail is not very difficult or long and offers stunning views, so I recommend doing this one also.

Mt. Rainier as seen from Second Burroughs

Monday, July 25, 2016

Trail Report: Granite Mountain

Round trip distance: 8.5 miles
Highest point: 5,629 feet
Elevation gain: 3,800 feet
Pass: Northwest Forest Pass

WTA page:

Granite Mountain is a hike I really enjoy. The first time I did it back in 2013, I was enthralled by the views and the wildflowers and huckleberries along the path. It instantly became one of my favorite hikes. The huckleberries are a tasty snack on the way up, and I've taken a few extra home with me to make huckleberry pancakes. From the top, Mt. Rainier is visible, as well as Mount Stuart, the Teanaway, and sometimes Mt. Baker.

To get to Granite Mountain, take exit 47 and go left, crossing under I-90. At the T intersection, go left again and follow the road to the trail head. Unless you get there early, you'll most likely have to park along the side of the road as the parking lot at the trail head will have filled up.

For the first mile, the trail is mostly flat. Once you reach the split between Granite and Pratt Lake, go right to continue up to Granite. The trail immediately starts gaining elevation. For at least the first two miles, the trail stays mainly in the forest. After the two mile mark, you'll enter the high meadows, which are filled with wildflowers and huckleberries (if the time is right). When you first catch sight of the lookout at the summit, you'll have about a mile left to go from there. The rest of the trail is rocky, with large boulders and talus slopes. Part of this section is flat, but the last quarter mile is steep and is the most difficult part of the hike for me.

Typical view from the summit (2013 hike)

Typical view from the summit (2015 hike)

Ideally, I'd like to hike Granite Mountain when it's a clear day, but the forecast on the day I planned for the hike was overcast and partly cloudy. I accepted that I wouldn't have the usual Granite Mountain views. (However, I've included a couple photos above from my past hikes to show the view). When I left for the trail head, I ended up driving through some rain and noticed that many of the mountains were covered by clouds. Conditions didn't improve much for the first two miles of the hike. I was tired from not getting much sleep, one of my feet was bothering me, and I knew I wasn't going to be able to see anything at the top. It was also raining enough that I had to pull out the rain cover for my backpack and put that on. I didn't want to quit the hike, but I also wasn't feeling it and part of me wanted to go back home where it was warm and dry. I stopped and debated turning around and not finishing the hike, but then I heard people coming up the trail behind me. As stupid as it sounds, I didn't want to quit in front of anyone, so I kept going.

I'm glad that I stuck with it, because it stopped raining once I got further up the mountain. I still couldn't see more than 40 feet in front of me, so it was difficult to figure out where I should be going at times. There are several unofficial trails leading away from the main trail, and since I couldn't see very far and had no concept of where I was on the mountain or if I was heading in the direction of the lookout, I was unsure if I was still on the main trail. Luckily, I ended up choosing the right path, or the path I was on was just a short alternative and joined up with the main trail in a few yards.

I did appreciate the appearance of the mountain in the clouds and fog. The plants and flowers on the trail were covered in water droplets, and the trees appeared out of the fog like ghosts. This weather gave the hike a mystical feel, and I thought it was beautiful even with the absence of the sun and clear skies. The fog and clouds did clear up a little towards the top so that I was able to see further. There were a couple patches of snow still on the ground, but overall the trail was in great condition.

Standing on a snow patch

Panorama - click to make larger!

There were only a few other people at the summit when I arrived around 10am. Some sat under the lookout for protection from the weather, but it wasn't raining at the top and there were a couple minutes where we could feel the sun's warmth and the sky got a bit brighter. If I was doing this hike for the first time, I would have been disappointed about not having any views of the surrounding mountains, but I was okay with the situation since I had done this hike twice before. In the future, I'm sure I'll do this hike again, and I will return on a clear day!

Approaching the lookout at the summit

Panorama at the summit - click to make larger!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Trail Report: Snoqualmie Mountain

Round trip distance: 3.8 miles
Highest point: 6,278 feet
Elevation gain: 3,105 feet
Pass: Northwest Forest Pass

WTA page:

My third hike since moving back to Washington was Snoqualmie Mountain. I usually say that Mailbox Peak is my favorite hike, and Snoqualmie Mountain is my other favorite. Like Mailbox, Snoqualmie goes straight up the side of the mountain, but it's a little less intense than Mailbox and more scenic. 

I really like this hike because of the variety of the terrain: it starts out climbing up loose rocks and over roots through the brush, then goes through a forest, and then breaks out of the forest and climbs a rocky section to get to the summit.

The last time I did this hike was in 2014. The first time the rocky section near the top had too much snow to continue, but I came back later in the summer and reached the summit then. I'll be using pictures from my 2014 hike to show the trail, because I didn't take any for this hike except at the top. For this hike, there was no snow on the trail, and unfortunately the waterfall was dried up at this time of the year.

Waterfall on the 2014 hike

This is as far as I got on my 2014 hike

To get to the hike, take exit 52 to West Summit, and then take a left and cross under I-90, heading towards Alpental. Continue on this road until reaching the large gravel parking lot. The trailhead for Snoqualmie Mountain isn't obvious. It's about 20-30 feet before reaching the Snow Lake trailhead. It's not marked, and it's a narrow dirt path through the brush.

Beginning of the trail

Once reaching the trees, the trail goes over rocks, roots, and branches. I think this part of the trail is a lot of fun, but I tend to like trails that are less maintained and more rugged.

Part of the trail

The majority of the trail is steep and the first portion is often wet and slightly muddy.

After traveling through the trees, the trail opens up to a boulder field and splits. Stay to the left to follow the Snoqualmie Mountain trail (this is often marked by cairns). Going to the right leads to Guye Peak.

Guye Peak

A neighboring mountain seen on the way up

I did this year's hike with a friend, MB, and I'll be using a few of the pictures she took as well. After hiking through more trees, the trail continues onto an open section of the mountain which has a rockier terrain.

MB beginning to get out of the trees and onto the rockier path. Photo credit MB.

The final push to the top. Photo credit MB.

Not at the top yet. Photo credit MB.

The rest of the pictures are mine and were all taken at the summit. I think Snoqualmie Mountain has some of the best views in the I-90 corridor. Usually Mt. Rainier can be seen, but there was too much cloud cover in that direction at the time of our hike.

Looking east to Keechelus Lake.

Looking north

Panorama from the summit. Click to make larger!

MB (left) and I (right) at the summit

I highly recommend this hike if you're looking for a physical challenge and awesome views from the summit!