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This is yet another incarnation of my personal blog. Here's where you can read about what I do when I'm not at work: hiking, seeing plays and other shows, eating, traveling, etc.

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TR: Mount Rainier–Skyscraper Mountain

Posted by gck Monday, August 23, 2010 0 comments

This is one in a series of trip reports that I’m back posting.

Book stats: 8.5 miles, 1078 ft elevation gain
GPS stats: 9.2 miles, 2392 ft elevation gain
Trailhead directions and other information on WTA.

Two things you should never fully believe: the weather report and the elevation data in a hiking book.

(left: lots to hike to on the Wonderland Trail, right: MARMOT!)

Most people seem to go to Paradise when they visit Mount Rainier. If you’re willing to do a little hiking, I wholeheartedly recommend Sunrise more. It tends to be less crowded during peak weekends, and there are so many great hiking options in the intermediate difficulty range.

Leaving from the Sunrise lot, we took the Sourdough Ridge trail to Frozen Lake, where it starts to branch out. There are lots of possibilities from this beginning – Berkeley Park, Fremont Lookout, Burroughs Mountain, Dege Peak, etc. There’s something great for any hiking skill level. We took the Wonderland Trail from there, past the Berkeley Park turnoff, all the way to Skyscraper Mountain. Lots of pretty flower fields (perhaps a bit past their peak, but still in great shape) and views of Mount Rainier. Not a ton of people on the trail, and probably over half of the people we saw were people on multi-night backpacking trips.

(left: Skyscraper Mountain, right: clouds come quickly on Mount Rainier)

I think it would be pretty hard to top the conditions during my trip to Mount Rainier last year (pics), and the overcast weather on this hike definitely made for more challenging picture taking. However, there were two things that were better: no mosquitoes (because it was so cold) and marmots! I think we passed about 5 marmots total… probably all eating.

Above, you can see our destination, Skyscraper Mountain. Not too many people go here – it’s not on the map at the lodge – and the ones who do tend to stop at the bottom and enjoy the views from there (which are really good). We took the unofficial trail up to the top.  The creepiness starts here – you can see from the pictures that the mountain went from clear to cloud-covered, and it did that quite a few times since the clouds were moving so fast.

(left: flowers! one the best things about Mt. Rainier, right: the unofficial boot path up Skyscraper Mountain)

Basically, unofficial trail means there’s an obvious path, but it sucks. This one was pretty steep, with rocky, short, somewhat randomly-placed switchbacks. The picture above shows an example of the “trail.” The next two pictures show the creepy view down from the top – it’s a long way to fall, and there wasn’t much between the rocks we were on and DEATH. At one point while we were eating, the clouds surrounded us, and we were on a small rock island with all white around us. I guess it makes sense why no one joined us up there. :) The views are probably pretty spectacular on a clear day, but it was pretty cool being up there with the clouds. We didn’t stay too long, though, because it was probably about 35 degrees up there and windy. Got some misting on the way back, light hail in the parking lot, and the rain started on the drive back. Great timing! But this weather compared to the continuous rain we expected from the weather forecast was a really welcome surprise.

(views looking down from Skyscraper Mountain)

This being the first cool weather hike of the season, I took the opportunity to try a little experiment. My dad got me a Ms. Bento jar during one of his trips to Taiwan, and I’d been itching to try it out. (I also have the Mr. Bento jar, but it’s a little big and heavy for hiking use). I packed my lunch 7 hours before eating it, and my risotto and mac & cheese were still very warm when lunch time came. Not piping hot, but warm enough. Definitely more nourishing than a cold sandwich. I think this has great potential for ski season as well!

(left: lunch, right: more Rainier flowers)

Rainier really lives up to its national park designation as a hiking destination. I’d really love to get out here more – if only it was an hour closer!

(view of Rainier from the saddle before going up Skyscraper)

TR: Snow & Gem Lakes

Posted by gck Monday, August 16, 2010 0 comments

This is one in a series of trip reports that I’m back posting.

10 miles, ~2300 ft elevation gain
Trailhead directions and more information on WTA.

A less popular area of Snow Lake.

Snow Lake is a really popular hike and for good reason. The trailhead is at the Alpental parking lot, which means it's not too far down I-90 and there's a huge parking lot. And it's a big, beautiful lake that you can get to by hiking only about 8 miles with 1300 feet of elevation gain. It's crowded and loud getting to the lake basin (a NWHikers trip report referred to this as the "Conga line"), but most people stop there. Even if you follow the trail up a little around the right side of the lake, you can find a segment of the lake where you'll be relatively undisturbed. On a hot day like I had, it's really tempting to jump in the cool water (and a lot of people were). But if you like pain, you'll decide that the 1300 feet aren't enough and head towards Gem Lake.

Left: trail to Gem Lake. Right: Looking down at Snow Lake.

It's only about 1.5-2 extra miles to get to Gem, but you get some nice elevation gain that starts to hurt really quick. It goes like this: "Ooh, a puddle. Is that Gem Lake? No. Ooh, I see blue water, is that Gem Lake? No, that's still SNOW LAKE. Grr... Ooh, a bigger puddle...." But despite all that, this part of the trail is probably the most beautiful segment. There are little sections of alpine meadow with small tarns, mountain views, plenty of flowers and bushy beargrass, views of Snow Lake from above, and some nice rock paths that couldn't have been easy to put together. And there aren't nearly as many people who go this far. Gem Lake is much smaller than Snow Lake, maybe a little less showy. But it's peaceful and the water's pretty.

Left: Gem Lake (a real gem!). Right: Butterfly.