Yesterdays hike was the polar opposite of Saturday’s – it went uphill steeply and fast, went to alpine and was covered in snow in the higher elevations.
Jeff joined me for a trip to probe the snowline of Crystal Lakes at Mt. Rainier NP. The trail is one the couple trails that do not require a parking pass or an entrance fee. It does though require leg stamina 😉 I often do this hike in early summer before other trails have melted out. Two lakes, views of Rainier and the White River Valley and later in summer an option to bag Crystal Peak as well….
The trail starts at 3500 feet elevation right off Hwy 410 and crosses the outlet creek on a standard Rainier bridge (planed/hatched log with a sturdy handrail). The creek was thundering white water, very pretty! Then you do the switchbacks of boredom. Up, up and up you go. Going early is a good for keeping cool in this hot and airless forest. I would love to know the history of this second growth – the lower section of the trail is pretty ugly. You can remnants of many burnt stumps and the trees are crammed in, pencil thin. No undergrowth either. A tinderbox overall. Yet, the trail IS worth it. Soon enough as you pull high up you start zigging back and forth across a avy chute. The 3rd crossing gives you this view:
There was a triple lenticular cloud above Rainier all day but then it started floating away….
When we reached 5,000 feet in elevation we started hitting snow patches, then went to solid snow. The trail though was well defined, the snow was that perfect condition – not icy and not falling through to your knees either.
Looking back the views of the Sunrise section of the park became more visible through the trees, with Sourdough Ridge obvious.
Onward up we went…..
Just below the lip for the lower lake I decided I had hit my ‘snow comfort level’ and told Jeff to keep going on to his heart’s contentment. So part of the photos below are courtesy of Jeff! I stopped at just below 5400 feet and less than 2-3 minutes to the lower lake. The view of the peaks that surround and loom over the two lakes:
Lower Crystal Lake, just starting to melt out. Lower Crystal has 2 campsites, a privy and a bear pole, nestled in a lower basin. You can see the upper peaks and to the right, out of sight, is Crystal Peak.
This peak, when at the upper lake looms right above.:
Jeff came back and we headed down a little till we hit a bare patch of the summer trail and had lunch there. I think this was one of the first hikes this year I have done in full boots. Normally I hike in aggressive tread low cuts, but for deep snow boots do better for me. The snow levels were varied, from bare to 8 feet deep – in say a 50 foot section! The trail up high often was on a snow platform running between melted out tree wells.
For lunch I made up a bag of Packit Gourmet’s Cheddar Jack Cheese Spread. I had stopped at the local Safeway on the way up and picked up a tiny loaf of piping hot, just baked cheese bread. I was using the one person version of the spread, which was plenty for two people so Jeff enjoyed half the bag with his Jalapeno cheese bagel.
We packed up and decided to head down. A few feet down I hear a couple coming up who called out “Hi Sarah!” to us. The Benz is indeed a very recognizable trail car! It is always nice to see people on the trail that also read the blog (and come to Trails Fest as well!)
On the way down we passed a handful of groups – mostly families out for the day. As Jeff and I talked about it….in comparison to the trails off of I-90 this was a dead trail. Over there, not far away really, we would have had 100-300 people pass us heading up as we came down. Even on a busy summer weekend the trails of Rainier are not that bad compared to some areas.
Chatted with a really nice ranger as well who was heading up to do patrol. The down to the airless forest where a quick drive downhill took us to Wapiti Woolies for cold smoothies. Yum!