After the floods of last week
Gary and I struggled to find a good hike. I had not been down to Highway
410 or Mt. Rainier this summer and that was my first choice. However, with
Highway 410 closed at the park boundary that didn't seem like a good choice.
Gary came up with a great idea I would not have thought of. The plan was
to hike into Grand Park from the north of the park and then to scramble up
Skyscraper Mountain. By trail this route would be 17 miles and with the short
days of fall would leave no time to enjoy the scenery. Instead we hoped to
scramble up from Berkeley Park and save time and distance while getting in
an unusual scramble. We met in Kent at 6:50 while it was still dark. We were
on the trail at 8:30. There were 2 cars at the trailhead with wet windshields
that has been there overnight. It was chilly when we started but warmed up
quickly. In only 20 minutes we reached Lake Eleanor. The trail continued
in forest then dropped down to the first meadow. We had our first look at
the mountain with a few clouds around it. They were the only clouds in the
sky. We were surprised to see that with all the rain in the past week a small
tarn in the meadow was totally dry. On the whole trip there were no new trees
down or signs of water damage. It seemed like the rain shadow on the north
side of the mountain received a lot less rain than areas nearby.
We crossed the meadow, reentered the forest and began
the climb up to Grand Park. I have been to Grand Park several times in the
past. It is an amazing flower field in the spring and summer. I found it
to be much different in the fall. It was still beautiful but in a much different
way. We broke out into the park after one hour of hiking. We slowed down
from here as there were many photo opportunities. The clouds around Rainier
had mysteriously disappeared in the short time it took to hike up from the
lower meadow to Grand Park. The park is huge and it took more than a mile
of hiking to cross it. Views to Mt. Fremont opened up soon and then Skyscraper
Mountain came into view.
We reached the intersection with the Northern Loop
trail at 4 miles. It was now warm enough that we stripped down to shorts
and short sleeve shirts. Shortly after our break we reached the high point
of the park at about 5700'. From there we began to drop down out of the
park towards Berkeley Park. We had a couple of good views through the trees
of the side of Skyscraper Mountain. Originally we thought about scrambling
up towards Skyscraper Pass on the southeast side of the mountain. From our
viewpoint it looked possible to head up much earlier and ascend the northeast
side. It was not a sure thing but it looked like a good gamble. Down we hiked
into the valley below. Where we first reached the creek we decided to head
off cross country. The first problem was to get across the creek. We went
upstream several hundred feet and found a spot where we could get across
with dry feet. We headed towards Skyscraper and came into a good sized meadow.
Above the meadow it climbed steeply through thick brush and trees at first.
Higher up the brush gave way to open heather. The trick was to get there.
Gary wanted to go to the left side and we did. A short way up was a small
creek. On the other side was what looked like a trail. This route wound through
thick brush saving us a lot of scrapes and bruises. If it was just an animal
trail it was one of the best I've seen. As we came through the crud the trail
disappeared but it didn't matter. The route was now on steep heather. There
was a little thin snow in places to make it a little slick.
From a distance we saw open heather slopes ending at
a rock wall. From there we expected to have to traverse a narrow section
to get back to open slopes. In reality it was heather all the way up. The
narrow section turned out to be so wide we never knew where it was until
looking back up on the way out. A ridge to our leftt would have to be crossed
and we had no idea what the terrain was like on the other side. We reached
the ridge within about 100' of the summit. From the ridge we had to drop
a little and traverse the slope. It was not bad but we still could not see
if it could get us to the top. We crossed another rib and saw the summit.
We went up a loose rock section, crossed it and make it onto solid rock.
The last section looked bad but actually was no trouble. At 12:40 we reached
the summit. From 7065' the view was spectacular. Fremont, the Burroughs,
Little Tahoma, Rainier, Old Desolate, Sluiskin peaks were all clearly visible.
We were surprised to see the Columbia Center in Seattle clearly without binoculars.
The best part was that with road access to the whole northeast side of Mt.
Rainier closed off there were no people. We could see over to near Frozen
Lake and there were no people all day. It was a one time event to have this
whole part of the park to ourselves. What ever snow was here was washed away
by the rain. Below 8000' there are only a few small patches.
From the summit we could see lakes out on the Northern
Loop. We also could see Mystic Lake. I was really surprised by that. With
the sun and total lack of wind on top it was superb. An hour went by fast
and then another half hour. At 2:20 we finally packed up to go. We had seen
one goat down below us and two more on the side of Mt. Fremont. As we prepared
to leave we saw a big group over near Frozen Lake. With binoculars we were
able to count 11 goats. For the descent we decided to take trails to save
our knees. We quickly dropped down to Skyscraper Pass. It looked possible
to drop down from the pass but the lower part was murky so we stayed on
trail. The route dropped down while heading away from Grand Park. We saved
about 3/4 mile with a shortcut and continued down the Berkeley Park trail.
At one point a full sized creek popped out of the ground. I have never seen
a spring that begins with a wide creek. The descent was gradual along the
creek. We estimated that at a good pace we could reach the car right at
sundown and we proceeded apace. Gary recognized where we left the trail
for our scramble. From there it was uphill as we climbed back up to Grand
Park. The sun was in line with Skyscraper making it tough to see our route.
We were able to figure out where we had been though. The rest of the way
out was just a nice "walk in the park". The golden grass of Grand Park was
so different from how it appears in the summer. We reached Lake Eleanor again
at 5:40 with 25 minutes left before sundown. We reached the car just before
This turned out to be one of the best trips of the
year. We saw zero people and 15 goats. I never expected to be near Sunrise
and not see a single person. The scramble proved to be lots of fun. Part
of it was not knowing until the last 50 feet if we would make it or have
to retreat. The weather was sunny and warm but not hot. We used almost every
minute of daylight and had over 1 1/2 hours on the summit. The totals were
15 miles with 3500' gained. What a great way to finish the high country
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.
Photo Page 2
Early View Of Rainier
Gary In Grand Park
Trail Through Park