The last time I was in Summerland was too many years ago I realized – while I have been back a couple of times it has been too early in the season so I never get into the good stuff. I saw Summerland in the summer of 2004 when we did the Wonderland Trail. But as I realized this morning we came too late for the flowers that year, and were so tired from the long/hot days that I did not enjoy it. No sitting in the meadows that trip. We made it to camp and fell asleep after eating. I remember it getting dark not long after we got to camp.
Today though I realized JUST why so many people flock to this section. It is steep in areas and the last mile of switchbacks has one cursing but oh, seeing it in full bloom it sinks in why so many come. You earn the wildflowers here – by sweat and tired legs as you climb steadily uphill. Cool forest to canyon creek views, to avy slopes, to lower meadow, to the switchbacks and then you come out into the meadows. But you cannot stop – you must keep climbing, towards Panhandle Gap. It only gets better with every step, your tiredness falling away so fast.
Jared joined Ford and me for some very early hiking – we left just after 5:30 am to head for the hills. Why so early? To beat the heat and the crowds.
The sun was just rising over the peaks as we got our first views:
Fryingpan Creek with the first views of Rainier:
Not long after you cross the creek the trail winds up into a lower meadow that was SOLID flowers. Oh hello!
Jared and Ford ahead of me:
Rainier from the lower meadow:
From a section higher up, American Bistort, I believe:
As the trail left the meadows and started the steep switchbacks to Summerland, Avalanche Lilies were everywhere:
The higher you climb, the flowers started popping out. More and more with every switch in the trail. It was one of the most impressive displays I have seen in years!
And…just when you are about to fall over you step up and a meadow opens up. Looking back at Rainier:
Since neither Ford or Jared had been to Summerland I showed them the group site, which is the shelter. The view from it is unfreakingbelievable, one of the best to be had from a backcountry site in Rainier. Ford decided the shelter needed to be swept.
We went back to the trail and headed down to the two streams that run through Summerland, through the meadows. Looking down the draw you can see the White River far below and even the road to Sunrise.
Looking back at Rainier and Little Tahoma on the left:
You climb up another 150 feet or so of elevation gain and as you go around a bend in the trail it goes from green meadows to harsh raw rock:
Pan Handle Gap is in the far distance, the upper crossing of a feeder of Fryingpan Creek is visible. The creek does have a large planed log this year once again.
People crossing the bridge:
Since I had been to Panhandle Gap, I encouraged Jared to go and have fun. Ford and I loitered in the rocks, taking our time as we dropped down. Looking back down towards Summerland:
Hoary Marmot – something Summerland does not lack!
Marmots are soooo cute when they plop down on boulders with their buck teeth hanging out.
As Ford and I continued to walk back down marmots were popping out everywhere. You could see one every few feet. One thing I don’t think I had ever noticed is just how agile they are in jumping creeks! Rolling, chasing, eating, lying in the middle of the trail like an overfed pair of jammies……
Looking back towards Panhandle:
We pulled up on a large boulder above one creek and waited for Jared. I did a lot of marmot studying while half falling asleep in the breeze. No bugs either due to said breeze. Ford played in the creek the whole time, while sitting on a boulder in it…..
Eventually Jared came back from his adventures and found he had gone all the way to Panhandle Gap (photo by Jared). You can see down the other side, still holding snow above Indian Bar with Mt. Adams in the distance:
The snowfields are still holding up quite nicely at Panhandle with the last being a steep one (just as I remember it being in 2004).
A final photo of me with Rainier behind me:
One last look at the streams and meadows:
Then it was a quick hike downhill, with a photo of me crossing Fryingpan Creek on the high bridge: