July 28, 2007

Scouting Rainier Northeast

Today was another day of sunny skies with clouds shrouding Rainier, so I decided to scout another area outside the park for views, this time to the northeast. I'd explored the area around Sun Top minimally before, but that day had been completely overcast and the gate closed. This time proved better for views, but just as tricky for access. There was some kind of footrace along the road, and the parking lot at the top was overflowing. I was able to scout enough from a turnout to see the logging scars in the foreground that marred an otherwise great view of Rainier and knew there were no photos there.

Rainier From Sun Top

Those logging scars were on Huckleberry Mountain and promised better views into the park, so I headed down FS-73 and explored all the side roads and spurs. There's an intricate network of roads where FS-73, FS-74 and FS-74 converge and several of the spurs end near the park boundary. These promised views into the park without a scarred foreground, and several of them did indeed turn out to be decent access points with potential for sunset photos.

Mt Rainier and West Fork White River

There were some interesting clouds hugging the ridge tops across the West Fork White River Valley, and I wanted to cross over to explore around the Clearwater Wilderness for additional viewpoints, but much to my surprise, the entire length of FS-74 is closed due to the floods. The person I talked to at the closure said the bridge had washed out upstream and it would probably be several years before the road was repaired. Until then, all the roads to the west of the river were inaccessible, including access to Clearwater Wilderness -- and all the trails therein. I ended up exiting the road network via FS-75 so I could head down to Sunrise for evening photos, and caught a hazy glimpse of Rainier from Haller Pass.

Mt Rainier From Haller Pass

On the way to Sunrise, I drove up to the Crystal Mountain ski area and explored the small amount of roads there. They proved to be uninspiring, without so much as a view into the park, but I did find one that connected with the road network near the Goat Falls Trail. I always wondered where that road went. I made it to Sunrise Point as the clouds were rolling in, and I had hopes of the sunset light arriving before the clouds obscured the area, ala Kolob Canyons at Zion. I only managed a quick photo of Dege Peak as they rolled in, and after driving the road between Sunrise and Sunrise Point several times looking for breaks in the fog, I finally conceded defeat.

Dege Peak in Clouds

July 21, 2007

Glacier Lake Trail

The main event for the day was hiking the Glacier Lake Trail. Here's the trip report I posted at NWHikers:

Glacier Creek is rather photogenic downstream where it meets Johnson Creek, so when I saw a trail seemingly following it upstream to its headwaters in Glacier Lake, I put it on the top of my list. I had hoped this would be a trial along a creek, rather it is a trail to a lake. In fact, there is only one point along the trail where the creek is accessible at all and in the second half you are far enough away you can't even hear it.

The trail starts on an offshoot of Johnson Creek Road (FS-21) in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, south of Packwood. According to the map, it's only a net 700' elevation gain in 2 miles, but that is rather deceptive. From the trailhead, it immediately plunges downhill to Glacier Creek (the steepest part of the hike is climbing back up this part) then undulates with the terrain. About half way to the lake, it crosses into the Goat Rocks Wilderness and climbs steadily upward to the lake.

Almost the entire hike is in a lush mossy forest, and there is much evidence of damage from the winter windstorm. There are a large number of down trees, but thankfully the trail has been cleared and is easily passable in all but one or two spots. It was very humid, which kept me from cooling off for most of the hike, and while the mosquitoes weren't bad, they were persistent -- always two or three every time I stopped to rest.

The coolest part of the hike is just before the lake where, according to the Forest Service website, a rockslide about 600 years ago created a large boulder field that dammed the creek and created the lake. The trail passes through this boulder field, which is now covered in thick moss. There's lots of exploring to be had here if you are so inclined. I climbed around a bit, but ultimately headed to the lake, There are more boulders at the lake, but the most noticeable features there are the massive number of vine maples. That place must be fantastic in the fall.

The lake itself was rather uninspiring. I tried once to push through the brush to the shore but got into some nettle and decided it wasn't worth it. Rather, I found a flat mossy boulder and splayed out for a while. The breeze was blowing enough to keep the mosquitoes at bay, and a light drizzle finally cooled me off. I had the entire place to myself, so I just laid there and enjoyed the solitude and silence. I even dozed off for a short nap. That was the best part of the trip by far.

I only stopped for photos in one place, just inside the wilderness boundary, where the trees and moss caught my eye.

Tree and Fern in Moss

I kept my camera out on the way back down so I could take some snapshots.

Glacier Lake Nice Resting Spot
Trail Through Boulder Field Trail Through Boulder Field Vine Maple Arch Over Trail Wilderness Sign Tree Oddity

Afterward, I wasn't quite ready to call it a day, so I spent some time exploring FS-48 along Hall Ridge, since it promised potential views of Glacier Lake from above. This turned out not to be the case, however, as the road became impassable and the forest too thick before I reached any viewpoints.

Packwood Lake From Snyder Mountain

I took some other side roads just for exploration's sake, and spent a few minutes at Hager Lake on FS-4830. I considered following the road on to where it connects to FS-1260 and loops back to Packwood, but instead I decided to drive FS-48 to its end on top of Snyder Mountain to see if it offered any views of Rainier. Unfortunately, it didn't. But it did offer a nice view of Packwood Lake in the Goat Rocks Wilderness.

July 14, 2007

Scouting Rainier Southeast

I started the day by heading to the newly opened Stevens Canyon Road at Mount Rainier, to see what kind of flood damage remained. Surprisingly, the only noticeable washout was in one place along the eastern edge of the valley where part of the road had slumped down hill, now protected by a wall of barriers and a stop sign for the one lane road.

I stopped at Box Canyon to use the restroom and on a whim decided to jump the low fence to check out the view downstream from an exposed granite outcropping, hoping it to be better than from the official viewpoint. It was a nice overlook for the debris slope leading down to the river and the forest beyond, but nothing of the river itself. I could see what looked like a relatively easy path down the talus closer to the river and decided to try it. It was precarious in parts, and I am far from surefooted, but I eventually made it down the slope to the river edge itself.

There was a mass of whitened driftwood logs from the floods at a bend in the river, and the sandy shore was volcanic gray. Climbing over the mass of logs onto the boulders jutting from the river, I found the view I had always speculated about -- the view up the narrow canyon from the river. While it was nice, it wasn't the view I had imagined, but still I kicked myself for not bringing my camera and at least documenting the view. The climb back up to the parking lot was much harder than it looked, particularly in the hot sun without having eaten lunch, and I had to stop to rest several times.

In the bright midday sun, I decided to head out of the park and scout for views of Rainier from the southeast. I ended up across US-12 south of Packwood, in the FS-46 road network on the side of Coal Creek Bluff. There were some decent views from clearings on the switchbacks up FS-4612, even if they were rather far away, but clouds were now blanketing the mountain enough that I couldn't quite place it on the horizon. I tried to do some impromptu creek hunting along FS-410 along Coal Creek despite the sun, but the road abruptly washed out at the first major tributary. Another victim of the floods.

Scouring the map for a closer viewpoint, I settled on Laurel Hill, back on the northern side of US-12, just outside the southeast corner of the park. The most promising road was an offshoot of FS-4510 up the face of the hill, but once on the road I realized that Backbone Ridge was too near and too tall, blocking most of the view. Deep ruts in the road from the winter floods prevented me from making it to the end, but by then I already had another destination in mind.

The main road up Cortright Creek (FS-45) circled around behind Laurel Hill and climbed to the top, termiating near its summit on the map. It was a long drive, and flood damage was very evident in two areas of slumped hillside that had been cleared from the road. It wasn't until I made it farther up the road that I realized it was the road itself that had slumped, taking out half the road in two different spots. Fortuantely they were still safely passable, but any more slumping and it won't be. The trailhead for the Cortright River Trail is beyond them so there is hope they will get fixed. I stopped at the trailhead for a moment, but I was unable to find the trail, even with a delapidated trailhead sihn pointing me in the right direction.

Rainier From Laurel Hill (Snapshot) Continuing on toward the end of the road finally brought me to the views I'd sought. There are several points along the latter part of FS-45 that are clearcut and open up to views into the park of both Rainier and Little Tahoma. The clouds had begun to break, so I was able to grab snapshots enough to document the area. There are plenty of place to camp, so this could prove to be an excellent destination for sunrise photos. I dutifully documented the view from each of the viewpoints from the road fork to the end of the road, and even explored the lower fork enough to realize the good views from were above.

Maiden Hair Fern I drove back along Stevens Canyon Road on my way back, as the sun was setting behind the clouds that still huddled around the mountain. This gave me the cloudy conditions needed to photograph a roadside cliff face decorated with maiden hair fern I'd noticed several times over the last few years, but had never bothered to stop. These turned out to be my only serious attempt at photography for the day, but they only turned out mediocre. Even though I knew there were good shots there, I just couldn't seem to find them.