Summerland - Panhandle Gap

     I crossed another long anticipated hike off my to do list. Somehow I had never made it up to Summerland. I had been up the Fryingpan Creek trail once before when we scrambled up Goat Island Mountain on snow. This late summer day nearly all the snow was gone to Panhandle Gap. I reached the gate at the White River entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park at 8:15 and it was already manned. Ten dollars and I was in. There were only half a dozen cars at the Fryingpan Creek trailhead. I was packed up and on the trail at 8:30. The morning was cool but very comfortable. The sky was mostly clear giving me hope of seeing the summit later on. This trail is very moderately graded. I moved along at a good clip, quickly reaching the intersection with the Wonderland Trail. At one switchback there is a nice view of a small waterfall in Fryingpan Creek. Soon after I met a ranger who had seen a young bear just up the trail. It had apparently run off as I saw not a hair of its hide. A few flowers were still blooming but most were done. The berry bushes were nearly all bare. Either it was a poor year here or the bears had been feasting.

     At about 3 miles I reached the crossing of Fryingpan Creek. The old log bridge was washed away by last fall's floods and it was still missing in the spring. The creek was flowing fast so I hoped a replacement had been put in place. In fact, it looked like the old bridge had been put back. It made for an easy crossing. The trail heads up the valley mostly in the open. Some asters and fireweed were still blooming but just barely. On my previous time here we continued up the valley on snow. This time I followed the trail as it entered forest and began to switchback up towards Summerland. While still in the open I had my first views up to Little Tahoma and the summit of Rainier. Tahoma was clear but a few clouds were hanging around the summit. The trail up to Summerland is never steep as it switchbacks higher. There were some large mushrooms along this stretch.

     As with most trails in the park, this trail is in excellent shape. All bridges were in place and very little mud was present. The hillside finally gave way to meadows as I neared Summerland. Unfortunately most all the flowers are done for the year. The one exception was copious amounts of gentians. They were just at their peak. I reached the rock shelter at just over 4 miles as the sunshine still shone. There were a few people there but no crowds. A few clouds remained near the summit but this was to be the clearest view I was to have all day. I took some time to photograph the meadows and mountain and then headed on. The trail dropped down to cross a creek and then headed higher. The real fun of hiking a trail for the first time is not knowing what's ahead. The trail remained in meadows but I could see the barren rock of a large moraine ahead.

     At this point I met Ken who was in town from Baltimore on business. He had picked a good day for a hike and was impressed by the huge scale of the mountain. His hike was a far cry from the drive to Paradise that most visitors take. The meadows soon ended and the rock began. The trail remained obvious for the most part. At a few indistinct spots there were boot prints and rock cairns to keep me on course. I picked up a creek with an impressive waterfall off in the barren rocks. As I looked behind me all of Goat Island Mountain was now in view. I remembered how long that ridge was as we had hiked over several high points on the way to the real summit. Ahead of me the route rose above the waterfall and moved near the creek. When it reached the creek there was a huge log, cut flat on top, serving as a bridge. That huge log seemed very out of place in the barren moraine. A little higher I came to a small lake and a slightly larger one above it. The color was the unmistakable green seen only near glaciers. Above the lake were the remnants of a glacier and several huge waterfalls. The hike was getting better and better.

     I still could not figure out where Panhandle Gap was located. The route continued gaining elevation while meandering through the rocks. I finally reached a little snow along the route but it was very small and could easily be avoided if one chose. I saw a hiker above me on the ridge but I saw no trail leading to it. Low and behold, the trail did wind around and headed up to that spot. At 11:15 I topped out at Panhandle Gap. It was calm below but a steady wind was funneled through the gap. Rather than staying there I headed up an obvious way trail to the left of the pass. Where the trail headed down to the right I chose to ascend the rock ridge. It was easy and fun scrambling along the ridge. In short order I topped out at about 6850'. The dirt trail did in fact end up at the summit as well. This was a great place to enjoy the views and eat lunch. It was so good I ended up spending nearly two hours there. The only disappointment was not seeing any goats.

     Low lying clouds blew up the valley to the southwest. At times I was looking down on the tops of the clouds. To the east was the large meadow covering the side of Banshee Peak. The peak blocked my view of the nearby Cowlitz Chimneys. As time wore on I could see more and more people coming up the trail. When I hiked down to the gap I saw more than a dozen hikers. A number more were soon to arrive. Having attained plenty of morning solitude it was time to leave. The hike down was easy as the trail is so moderately graded. I was amazed at the numbers of people who come up later in the day. I passed many groups well below Summerland still coming up. As usual the early hikers have the mountain to themselves and this day was no exception. I left the gap at about 1:15 and came down the 5+ miles in just under 2 hours. By 3:30 I was heading out of the park.

     I was fortunate to be coming home early. I neglected to check and there was an 8:00 concert at the amphitheater between Enumclaw and Auburn. Traffic was light when I passed but a few hours later it could have been a real mess. I still need to go back in early summer to see the flower show at Summerland. Even without the flowers and a clear view of the summit I was impressed with the hike. Panhandle Gap was well worth the effort to reach. The moraine walk is very different than trails I generally hike. It was very beautiful in a stark and barren way. This proved to be a very nice hike. On the day I totaled about 12 miles and 3100' gained.

Above Trail
White Flowers
Creek Crossing
Lower Meadow
Little Tahoma
Green Everywhere
Goat Island Mountain
Summerland Shelter
Mt. Rainier
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Photo Page 2

Trips - 2004