(Part two of my late July trip to Mt. Rainier National Park)
After hiking all around Mt. Rainer's Sunrise area the first day,
I slept like a log. But the early morning light (and a full bladder) roused me from my slumber. Rise and shine! Today was a big day - I planned to explore a lovely place called Summerland.
Summerland, a high alpine meadow practically under the shadow of Mt. Rainier and Little Tahoma mountains, is one of the most popular hikes in the park. In late summer, when the wildflowers begin to bloom, the place is reputed to get overrun with hikers and backpackers.
|Ranger crossing the White River|
From the official trailhead on the park road, the Wonderland Trail to Summerland is an 8.5 mile round-trip journey. But not wanting to drive from my camping spot, I opted to travel the extra distance from White River Campground. Yes, I was fully aware this would add over five extra miles to my total, but figured what the heck, I had all day.
|Boiling, boisterous White River|
My first bit of excitement came right away with the crossing of treacherous White River, right below the campground. This fast-moving glacial stream looked mighty intimidating and at first I was unsure of how I'd cross. Luckily, the trail led to a series of log bridges, which made traveling over the river an easy task.
I will admit that the third log crossing over the most turbulent channel got my heart racing just a teeny bit!
|Scary river crossing|
On the river's far side the Wonderland Trail continued southward, through a gorgeous, mossy forest.
|Lovely old growth forest|
I'd begun my hike fairly early in the morning, and immensely enjoyed the morning clouds, as well as the cool temperatures. Cloudy skies made for some great photographic conditions to capture this lovely forest.
|Wonderful trees and shade|
The extra 2.6 miles to the junction with Summerland's parking area seemed to take a long time. After a mile of level hiking, the trail dipped steeply downhill, which I soberly realized I'd have to climb back up at the tail end of today's journey.
| A rare viewpoint|
With the exception of a lone trail runner, I was by myself the entire first leg. But upon reaching the trailhead proper, I joined in with the mass of humanity. Large numbers of hikers were already on the trail, everyone heading for Summerland.
|Glaciers and waterfalls|
Although the path climbed steadily, it was mostly forested. The woods parted in a few places, giving visitors great views of the nearby steep cliffs, with several hanging glaciers and waterfalls. A couple clearings offered views into Fryingpan Creek's deep canyon.
|First Mt Rainier sighting|
The morning clouds burned off quickly. Temps were predicted to be toasty, and by mid-morning, I was already sweating buckets. When the trail crossed a sunny area, the air felt much hotter. But I kept steadily climbing, thankful for the thick forest's shade.
|Path through lush greenery|
But after three miles of climbing, the path crossed Fryingpan Creek's rocky bed and entered a bushy, green meadow.
|Flowers and mountains|
It was here I got my first glimpse of Mt. Rainer, her glaciers gleaming a blinding white in the midday sun.
Although I missed the forest's cool shade, I did enjoy the fabulous mountain views. Not only Rainier, but the pointy top of Little Tahoma rose prominently over the horizon.
|Little Tahoma and Mt Rainier|
Another great bonus - this meadow was full of wildflowers! My pace slowed as the camera came out to capture all this beauty.
By now I'd covered nearly six miles. I was hot, sweaty, hungry, and my feet hurt. But Summerland couldn't be too far. I kept walking, thinking it had be just around the bend.
|Fantastic Rainier view|
Except that it wasn't. The meadow kept on going. From reading the hike description, I knew the last half mile was a steep climb up a bunch of sharp switchbacks. My hopes were dashed when I asked a group hiking the opposite direction if I was close, only to be told "about one more mile."
|More lush alpine meadows|
After more hot walking, the trail finally began to rise. And up it climbed! Through a steep, rocky pitch past a lovely patch of avalanche lilies. I puffed and panted, sweating as I struggled up the hilly inclines. It was near one o'clock, and having not eaten much since early morning, my energy level started to flag. It was the beginnings of a massive bonk.
|Glacial stream and flowers|
The last half mile was an extremely slow climb, but suddenly the ground leveled off, and Mt Rainier filled the skyline. Up ahead, a sign directed backpackers to the designated camping area. I saw a stone shelter cabin where several hikers were sprawled out taking a lunch break. I had arrived!
|Truly an exceptional place!|
Gratefully, I claimed a spot on a nearby log. Sitting down had never felt so good! I took off my boots and socks to let my sweaty, achy feet air out. Then I dug into my lunch. It wasn't much - a couple of string cheeses, some salami, an apple and a Cliff bar, but it tasted delicious.
|Back on the trail|
After eating, I made myself sit and rest for a good 20 minutes. The food and mandatory downtime really helped recharge my inner batteries. After a quick visit to the outhouse (yes, there was an actual toilet here! But you had to bring your own tp) I was ready to hike again.
Below the Summerland shelter cabin, I noticed lots of people heading towards a lush meadow. Curious, I followed the trail to a small alpine valley with a creek gurgling through the middle. Mountains rose from three sides, and colorful flowers bloomed at water's edge. Oh it was jaw-dropping!
|Heading back through the flower fields|
A park ranger passing through told me the summer wildflower bloom was just getting started. Boy, if this was just the beginning, I wished I could see this area at peak bloom. I made a mental note to return later next year, possibly in August.
|Sturdy log bridge|
After taking a good half hour to photograph, explore and admire this gorgeous alpine meadow, I knew it was time to head back. My gps said I'd traveled 7.5 miles so far. That meant I had to cover this same distance on my return. It was gonna be a long, tiring slog back to the campground.....
|Final grand view before heading into the forest|
But at least most of it was downhill! The steep half mile climb before Summerland was now an easy cruise. I passed dozens of hikers, all toiling up this slope in the afternoon heat (I was extremely thankful to have this part behind me). Reaching the cool forest, I put my legs into high gear and concentrated on covering ground.
The time passed quickly. I kept promising myself gummi bears for every mile covered. Soon, I was back to the junction with the parking area. Okay - only 2.6 miles left! Except....I had that steep slope to climb.
|A family way too close to the strong current|
The trek through the last couple miles of forest seemed to take an eternity (I swore someone came out and stretched the trail!) My feet were hurting, I was hot and sweaty, and just wanted to be done.
But finally, I saw an opening through the trees, and there was the White River! Boy was I glad to see that swirling glacial stream, even if it meant I'd have to cross it again.
The hot day's snowmelt had swollen the White River, and it was a muddy, churning powerhouse. The current was moving so fast, it scared me. Crossing back over the main channel was even more nerve-wracking than the morning. And, as I prepared to cross, I noticed a family with a small child standing at the river's very edge. The child couldn't have been more than two years old, but the parents weren't doing anything to keep him away from the strong current. I was almost ready to say something when the parents finally pulled their child back. Be careful people! This is how tragic accidents happen!
|Majestic Rainier view from the White River|
As I crossed the White River's rocky plain, not only did I notice many patches of brilliant pink monkeyflowers, but looking upriver, noticed Mt.Rainer peeking behind a patch of clouds. A great final view to end my hike.
My gps clocked a round-trip distance of 15 miles. No wonder my feet ached! Luckily, a tiny creek ran across my campsite and upon my return, the first thing I did was fling off those boots and soak my tired feet in it's icy waters.
But the sweltering climb, long distance, and achy feet were totally worth access to this magnificent alpine meadow.
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