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


  1. Gorgeous! How long is the typical window when those snow patches are gone?

    1. It depends on the year. Last time I did the hike, we went in early/mid July and there was no snow (at least not on the trail). Some years the snow patches will linger through August. After that, I've heard it's snow free until about mid October. So 2-4 months depending on how the weather is that year.