Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Burroughs Mountain Loop

(The adventure two recap from my late August trip to Mt Rainier National Park)

The one hike I didn't do last year and regretted - the Burroughs Mountain Loop.  My hiking book described it as a "trail between earth and heaven."  Blogger buddy Richard, author of the blog Richard Hikes glowingly called it "a magical hike so transcendent it stands well apart from the rest" and on a scale of 1 to 10 rated it a least a 57.  With such high praise, Burroughs Mountain became numero uno on my Mt Rainier NP "must hike" list.

Mt Rainier and White River from Glacier Basin Trail

Nothing, not even an aching toe, unhappy from the nine miles I'd covered the prior day, was gonna stop me from traversing this spectacular trail.  (That's what ibuprofen is for)

Little Tahoma Peak

Many routes access the Burroughs Mountain's high alpine tundra.  One can drive up to Sunrise Lodge and hike from the parking lot (a mere 5 miles round trip and 1200 feet elevation gain), one can start from Sunrise Point (which tacks on an additional 5 miles and 1000 feet of climbing), or take the route I did - begin this trek from the White River Campground (which clocked in at a grand total of 11 miles and 3000 feet elevation gain).  Yeah, I like to do things the hard way.


But it started so easy.  All I had to do was walk a few hundred feet from my campsite to access the Glacier Basin Trail, my journey's first leg.

Lots of crevasses in this snowfield!

The Glacier Basin Trail began on a miner's old wagon road.  Paralleling the White River, it gently climbed through forest.  At the one mile mark, the trees cleared to give hikers a marvelous view of Mt Rainier and the White River's gravelly channel.  Little Tahoma, the pointy peak to Rainier's east was front and center, it's white glaciers gleaming in the early morning sun.  Zooming in, I spotted numerous crevasses in the adjacent snowfields.

Lovely flower-filled alpine meadow (xt)

From the viewpoint it was another 2.5 miles of following the Glacier Basin Trail, continuing to climb through alternating forest and low bushy creek crossings.  Not much for wildflowers, save for an occasional patch of vibrant pink monkeyflowers.

Stunning field of asters

Although I'd been gradually gaining elevation the entire time, it wasn't until I met up with the Burroughs Mountain Trail that the real climbing began.  A tough two uphill miles, ascending nearly  2000 feet, it led hikers from the valley floor to the top of Second Burroughs Mtn.  The only saving grace was a fantastic midway meadow full of pink and purple asters.

Loved the pink ones

And the views of Mt Rainier were constant and impressive.

My "Sound of Music" moment

A gorgeous, sunny blue-sky day, lovely mountain range lining the sky, and a verdant green meadow full of wildflowers.  Despite the tough uphill march, life was pretty good!


As I climbed higher in elevation, the surroundings switched from forest to open, rocky tundra.  Passing through a rock garden I was startled by a series of very loud high-pitched whistles.  Nearly made me jump out of my skin!  I stopped for a moment to locate the source, and a large marmot crawled out of a crevice and onto a nearby boulder.

As close as he'd let me get

A marmot!  It had been years since I'd seen one in the wild.  Excited, I zoomed my camera lens as close as it would go, trying to get some good shots of the furry rodent.  Unfortunately, the harsh midday light didn't help my photographic endeavors, nor did my attempts to get closer to Mr. Marmot.  Every time I moved, he'd dive back into the rocks.  By accident, I discovered if I was patient and waited a couple of minutes, he'd always pop back out.  But finally, I moved too close for comfort, and the marmot sought cover under some bushes.  That was the end of that.  Still, a very exciting wildlife sighting!

Lush green meadow

Beyond the marmot, patchy tundra meadows soon transitioned into a continuous rock slope.  No more shade, I sweated under the hot sun, gasping as the trail switchbacked steeply across an endless talus field.

Lunch view of the grand mountain

Boy, it felt like I'd been climbing all day!  (Well, technically I had so far)  I could see a wall of steep cliffs above, and the outline of three peaks towering along the sky.  I assumed these were the three Burroughs Mountains.  But it didn't seem like I was getting any closer.

Rockfall near the summit

Finally, well past the noon hour, I took a break, perching myself on a nearby rockpile.  Famished, my meager trail lunch had never tasted so good.  While resting, I took in the amazing front-row view of Mt Rainier's upper reaches.  The mountain was so close, it filled the sky.  Zooming in with my camera gave fantastic glimpses of crinkly snowfields and steep, rocky slopes.  I even witnessed a few small rockfalls.

Hikers heading to Third Burroughs Mtn

Rest and lunch helped revitalize my flagging body.  Energized again, I continued my uphill march through bleak, barren tundra.  Although desolate, the silver lining was all the fantastic views opening up the higher I climbed.

Trail to Third Burroughs

Finally I reached a saddle, where my trail made a T-intersection with another path.  One skinny track stretched west across the bleak landscape, heading up a nearby peak.  I spotted several groups of hikers slowly moving uphill.  Was this Second Burroughs Mountain?

Looking back down Glacier Basin Trail

Turns out the peak to the west was Third Burroughs Mountain (which I'd find out later that evening after consulting my hiking guidebook).  The trail to the east switchbacked up yet another steep hill.  I could see people sitting on top of this peak, and they didn't look very far away.  Although curious about the mountain to the west, it looked like a much longer distance with more elevation gain (and by now I was tired of climbing.  I began to think this hike was gonna be uphill both ways)  So I opted to go east, and head up what turned out to be the summit of Second Burroughs.

Mt Fremont Lookout - yesterday's hike

Now that I was on the main Burroughs Mountain Trail, I found myself in the midst of hiker grand central.  After seeing a total of six hikers thus far, it was a shock to encounter group after group of backpack-toting people, heading in both directions.

Fantastic 360 degree mountain views

Climbing up the side of Second Burroughs Mountain, I learned right away why this trail was so popular.  The views were absolutely amazing!  Looking northward, peaks and  green valleys spread out towards the horizon.  I spotted Mount Fremont Lookout's barren slope, where I'd been just yesterday.  To the south, Mt Rainier's massive base filled the sky.

Top of Second Burroughs Mtn

After much huffing and puffing, and dodging of hikers, I finally reached the top of 7,400 foot Second Burroughs Mountain.  It's rocky summit was packed with people of all shapes and sizes.  Some were snacking, others taking photos (I noticed quite a few tourists with selfie sticks), while others were sitting back and enjoying the view.  And what a grand view it was!

Smoke from Norse Peak Fire

Mt Rainier dominated the southern skyline.  All the other peaks and valleys dropped away in every direction.  Some great 360 degree panoramas!  I even spotted smoke columns from the Norse Peak Fire, burning just east of the park boundary (a few weeks later this same blaze would force a temporary closure of the White River entrance and evacuation of nearby Crystal Mountain Ski resort).

Trail from Second to First Burroughs

Due to the crowds of people, I didn't linger long on Second Burroughs.  I followed the path snaking down the side of this mountain (Hooray!  Finally some downhill!)  It then crossed a narrow, rocky ridge before climbing to the top of First Burroughs.

Berkeley Park

This path was extremely busy.  I found myself in a conga-line of hikers.  Every time I stepped off the trail to take a picture, I had to wait for several folks to pass by before I could rejoin.  And I found myself leapfrogging a few of the same people multiple times.

Looking towards top of First Burroughs Mtn

But - oh was the scenery fantastic!  I looked down into the green, alpine meadows of Berkley park.  I spotted Frozen Lake, from yesterday's trek.  Traversing the ridge, I felt as if I was on top of the world.

First Burroughs Mtn summit (xt)

The top of First Burroughs Mountain wasn't quite as spectacular as it's neighbor.  It was 100 feet lower in elevation, Mt Rainier was farther away, and there wasn't as much room to sit and rest.  Plus, since it sat at a junction of two trails, the mountain became a natural stopping point for most everyone.  I didn't linger long here either.

Fall colors starting to show

From First Burroughs, I had my choice of two return trails.  I could either follow the left hand path to Frozen Lake (where I'd already been) or take the right hand trail to Sunrise Camp.  Since the right hand one got me closer to the final leg of my day's journey (the trail back down to White River Campground), it was an easy decision.

Trail cut into the cliff

This turned out to be the best part of the day's journey.  The trail hugged the very edge of a steep cliff.  Oh my, the views from this perch were stupendous!  The cliff dropped 2000 feet straight down into the White River Valley.  Due to the steep drop-offs, this trail was not for the faint of heart.  But I moved slowly, carefully watching my step, and managed just fine.

Emmons Glacier Moraine

Of course, there were more stunning views of Mt Rainier and all of it's glaciers.  I spotted the rocky moraine of the Emmons Glacier and located the exact point where this glacier's icy wall abruptly ended and the White River began.  The White River's tiny white ribbon looked far, far below.  Farther downstream, I spied a lovely turquoise glacial lake hidden in the forest.  Looking east, I could see the river winding between tall foothills.  Somewhere, way down there, was my campground.  I had a lot of descending still ahead!

White River wayyy down below

For only a mile and a half, this trail seemed to take a long time to finish.  By now the midafternoon sun was hot, I was tired, and the steep descent had triggered aches in my injured toe.  (Time for more "vitamin I")  But finally I climbed down into a lovely green basin, and Sunrise Camp's log cabin and outhouse came into view.

Turquoise glacial lake

Hooray!  An outhouse!  I'd been needing to answer Nature's call for some time, but the side of that rocky cliff  provided nowhere to hide.  I was so happy to see that little privy, I didn't even care that it was out of tp.

Outhouse at Sunrise Camp

From Sunrise Camp, I cruised a scenic 3/4 mile along the Wonderland Trail, passing lovely green alpine basins, and tiny Shadow Lake.  A few dark blue gentians were still blooming on it's shores.  Finally, the Wonderland Trail veered from this high meadow, and began the final leg of my journey, a steep 2.5 mile descent back to White River Campground.

Since most visitors access Burroughs Mountains from the Sunrise area, when I hit this final leg, I left the crowds behind.  It was a relief to have the trail to myself once again.  The path quickly dipped back into thick forest (yahoo-shade!) and abruptly rocketed downhill.  Having hiked this trail last year, I knew to expect monotonous forest, so I put my head down, and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other.

Shadow Lake

Losing nearly 2000 feet of elevation so quickly isn't a lot of fun (especially if you have a sore toe).  I can't begin to tell you how much of a relief it was to see the campground finally come into view.  Time for dinner and some cold beers!


My, oh my, what a day!  Those glowing reviews of Burroughs Mountain Trail?  I'm happy to say they were all true.  A wonderful day in the mountains, and a fantastic adventure.  Richard was right - this trail definitely rates a 57!

(On my last post, I had a few people ask how I liked my new Fujifilm XT-1 mirrorless camera.  After exclusively using Canon products for two decades, it's been a huge adjustment to try another brand.  I've had a steep learning curve trying to figure out where all the controls are located and how they work.  That said, I'm liking the smaller, lighter camera body, and the lens (18-55) seems to take sharp images.  Since this trip was the first time using my new camera, I don't feel the images I took were quite as good as those taken with my old Canon 7D.  But I think this will improve as I become more familiar with the XT-1.  In case you're curious, I've marked the captions of the images from my new camera with an "XT" so you can compare.)

Friday, September 22, 2017

Mt Rainier NP - Mount Freemont Lookout

Last summer I took a solo trip to the Sunrise area located in Mt Rainier National Park's NE corner.  There were so many wonderful trails to explore I couldn't fit them all into a long weekend.  Of course, that meant a return visit was in order to check out the stuff I missed.

Foggy day at Sunrise

For this trip, I had three hikes on my "must do" list - Naches Peak Loop, Burroughs Mountain Loop, and Mount Fremont Lookout.  All were trails I'd missed the previous time.

Sourdough Trail

Hoping to catch the wildflower bloom, but miss the eclipse crowds, I chose a weekend near the end of August.  After such a hot, dry summer, imagine my surprise when the morning of departure, I awoke to clouds and cool temperatures.  At first I was thankful for the sunless, chilly weather, even though it meant driving over Cayuse Pass in a fog bank.  However, upon arrival at Sunrise Lodge, I realized these low clouds also meant no mountain views.

Lots of fluffy "Hippy on a Stick"

Since I'd arrived in early afternoon, I'd chosen the five-mile round trip trek to Mt Fremont Lookout as my first hike.  However, the foggy weather was making me reconsider.  Why climb all the way up to the lookout if there was nothing to see?

A few pink asters still in bloom

Still, I'd driven a winding mountain road to get here, I might as well hike something.  So I wandered to the trailhead between the Sunrise Lodge and snack bar/gift shop building and trudged up a paved pathway leading to the Sourdough Trail.  Not far uphill, the trail made an east-west split.  I almost decided to head west towards Mt Fremont anyway, but then a slope full of shaggy Western Pasque flowers (aka "Hippy on a Stick") tugged me in the opposite direction.

Mountains trying to emerge from the fog

The hillside was loaded with the mop-headed little blooms.  Roaming around, snapping photos, I continued working my way eastward, following the Sourdough Trail towards Dege Peak.  A few patches of past-prime asters provided a little color, as did some gold and red bushes already sporting fall hues.

Early fall colors

I'd recently purchased a new camera.  There had been a lot of good buzz about the mirrorless cameras - photo quality as good as a DSLR but much smaller and lighter.  My Canon 7D was a great camera, but paired with my go-to 24-105mm lens made quite a heavy load.  Throw in an extra backup lens and it became lot of weight to lug 8+ miles up a mountain.  So I snagged a great deal on B&H Photo's website and was now the proud owner of a Fujifilm XT-1 mirrorless camera.

Tons of "hippies" all over the slope

Of course, having only had my new camera a grand total of one week (and still learning how to use it) I wasn't quite ready to ditch my old standby Canon.  So I brought the old and new cameras along on my trip, and lugged them both up the trail.  (Yes, I looked like quite the geek with two camera bags hanging off my hipbelt.)

Kinda looks like the Alps

Although I'd hoped to catch peak wildflower bloom, it became quickly obvious I'd missed it by a couple weeks.  Aside from the Pasque flowers, the only other floral color came from a few straggler asters, and most of them looked tired and wilty.

A few more purple asters

But happily the mountains decided to cooperate after all.  After spending the better part of two hours wandering the Sourdough Trail, I began to notice the fog and clouds slowly lifting.  By the time I'd arrived back at the trail junction again, Mt Rainier was emerging from behind her white veil.

Mt Rainer decides to say hi

Should I try for Mt Fremont?  The lookout was 2.6 miles away, and it was already 4 o'clock in the afternoon.  Could I make it back before it got too late?  There was no guarantee the clouds wouldn't move in again, obliterating views.  Despite all that, I decided to give it a go.

Busy bee

This time, I followed the Sourdough Trail in the westerly direction, climbing up to a barren ridge offering great views of the green meadows below.  A few more asters lined this path, these full of fuzzy bumblebees intent on harvesting the last bits of pollen.

Curious ground squirrel

I neared Frozen Lake, a high mountain tarn that remained covered with snow and ice most of the year (although by late August it was all water).  A curious ground squirrel popped out of a crack between some boulders, and I wasted precious minutes trying to get a good photo of the little guy.

Iceberg Lake from Mt Fremont Trail

The wind was blowing hard as I reached Mt Fremont's Trail junction beside Frozen Lake.  I still had another 400 feet to climb.  What would conditions be like at the lookout?  I almost talked myself out of continuing, when a group of hikers came waltzing down the trail.  I quickly pumped them for information.  How strong was the wind on top?  Was it foggy?  Could you see the adjacent scenery?  The hikers all assured me the weather up there wasn't that bad, and the views were totally worth it.  Just the encouragement I needed!

Mountain goats!

So up I trudged, climbing a moderately steep path rising high above a fabulous green alpine meadow.  The views behind me were spectacular - clear blue Frozen Lake ringed by a wall of tall snowy peaks.  I kept looking back so much I almost missed a large herd of mountain goats grazing in the meadow below (thanks to a helpful group of fellow hikers for pointing them out).  Although fairly far away, I was able to zoom my lens to the max, producing one halfway decent image.

The lookout waayy on the end of this bare ridge

On top of the first rise I got a good look at my path ahead.  The trail followed a barren ridgecrest across rocky talus fields.  At the tip of the furthest ridge, I could see the fire lookout tower perched on it's very edge (can you spot it in the above photo?)

Finally I made it!

Although only a little over a mile away, this leg seemed to take a long time.  Winds buffeted my face, chilling my body.  But I kept putting one step in front of the other, and finally rounding a bend, the tiny brown fire tower came into view.

Views in every direction

Although I'd heard the tower was occasionally staffed, by the time I arrived it was locked up tight for the evening.  I was able to climb up onto the deck area, and traverse the entire perimeter, snapping photos as I went.

Some of the adjacent hills and valleys

Luckily, the clouds behaved themselves, and I was treated to some wonderful views of the adjacent mountains and valleys.  Looking towards the SW gave visitors an amazing up-front view of Mt Rainier, so close up you felt as if you could almost touch it.

Looks kinda lonely up here

Since it was after 5 pm by the time I arrived, I had the place almost to myself.  A couple of young women were the only other visitors.  After they climbed the tower for a few quick photos, the girls took refuge behind a wall at it's base.

Lookout selfie

I, of course liberally used both cameras to capture every detail of this unique lookout building and 360 degree mountain panorama.  And if that wasn't enough I also pulled out my GoPro for some wide-angle selfies.  (Okay, I'll admit it....I was actually carrying THREE cameras.  Told you I was a geek.)

Mt Rainier swallowed up by fog

By now it was dinnertime, and my tummy was making it known a snack was urgently needed.  So I climbed down from my perch and huddled behind some rocks to quickly scarf down a cliff bar.  A very persistent chipmunk snuck out of a crevice and decided my cliff bar looked mighty delicious too.  The little critter wouldn't leave me alone.  When he finally gave up on begging, the pesky chipper tried to sneak into my backpack.  Between defending snacks and backpack, I was too annoyed to grab a photo.  The local small mammals definitely appeared to be well-fed and fearless.

Fog descending into the meadow

As I was finishing up my snack, I noticed the clouds and fog had begun to creep back in.  Mt Rainier started disappearing in the mist, and all the adjacent peaks and valleys vanished under a white blanket.  Pretty soon even the lookout tower became obscured.  Boy, had my timing been good!

Fantastic evening light on the mountains

By then it was nearing 6 pm, and I realized I needed to start on my return trip.  I didn't want to be stuck out here after dark.

So back across the rocky ridge I traveled, down the incline towards Frozen Lake (sadly, the mountain goats were now nowhere to be seen).  The early evening light was fabulous, illuminating adjacent peaks and meadows, creating rich, vibrant colors.  Despite the lateness I couldn't resist a few more photo breaks to capture these lovely scenic views.

Alpine valley

At the time, I was two weeks post toe-jamming accident, and although I suspected something was wrong, still didn't realize the toe was broken.  Although my foot had behaved itself most of the afternoon, by the return trip it began to rebel.  Downhill hiking is hard on toes anyway, and the sore toe's continual bumping against the end of my boot became quite uncomfortable.  The final mile was a long, slow painful slog.  Finally, the Sunrise Lodge base area came into view, and I was never so happy.  Not only was the hike nearly over, the low-angle light of late evening produced such rich colors, I had to stop and capture the scene.  A wonderful end to what started out as an iffy weather day.

Sunrise Lodge

I raced daylight back to my site at the White River Campground, and after a quick supper, cold beer, and many ibuprofen, settled into my sleeping bag to rest up for tomorrow's big hike - Burroughs Mountain Loop.

Recap in my next post!

Stats for the day:  9 miles,  1400 feet elevation gain

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