Finally we were looking at a sunny weekend. Gary and
I chose to hike on the slopes of Mt. Rainier. Gary had been to Mildred
Point via the trail to Comet Falls but it was some 20 years ago. I had
not done any trails out of Longmire. We met at Gary's home in Kent at 6:30
am, well before sunrise. By 8:20 we were at Longmire. It was sunny but not
much above freezing as we headed up the trail. From Longmire the trail quickly
meets the Wonderland Trail and in only .30 miles crosses the road. There
is another parking lot here. We brought snowshoes but chose to leave them
in the car and take our chances.
Paradise at 5400' had gone from 33" to 14" of snow in the previous
week. Mildred Point is at about 5900'. The trail is typically smooth as
are most trails in the park. As we climbed the temperature rose very fast.
Just getting out of the valley bottom added 10 degrees. The trail is never
steep as it headed over to Rampart Ridge. At the ridge we left the Wonderland
Trail and headed up Rampart Ridge. The intersection is well marked.
Switchbacks gave way to straight trail as we reached the top of
the ridge. It was all in forest with no real views out. A few berries
and the remnants of beargrass were about the only signs of earlier flowers.
Higher on the ridge we had a few small patches of snow but really none
on the trail. Not too far before the intersection with the trail from Van
Trump Park we hit some snow.
Here we came out of the thick forest and the opening allowed some
snow to accumulate. I carried gaiters but did not put them on all day.
When the snow began we could see that there were no fresh footprints.
We did see one big bear print however. From the intersection it is only
a half mile to Mildred Point with some 500' of elevation gain. It was mostly
on snow. There was some ice and some postholing though the snow was never
more than about 8 inches deep. The last quarter mile steepened and with
the slick snow it was nice to have poles for added traction.
We reached one final snow covered meadow and the point was just
above. From Mildred Point there is one heck of a view of Mt. Rainier.
It is right in your face. The drop from the point is also very impressive.
A few thousand feet straight down. We turned right and ascended through
some forest a short ways then dropped down to a rock point along the ridge.
It is a little lower but has much better views to the right and left as
well as a better look back to the Tatoosh Range.
Down below us in the moraine was a very large waterfall. it was
in the shade but the sun was close to shining on it. We heard a number
of loud avalanches/rock falls. It took quite some time before we were
able to see that most all of them were coming from the same place. High
atop the right wall of the moraine is a flat spot with many large boulders.
As the ground thawed out in the sun these boulders were crashing down the
slope. They were landing right at the bottom of the waterfall. We saw one
house sized boulder that must have weighed many tons.
We were in no hurry and spent well over an hour at the point. A
few years back we hiked to the top of Pyramid Peak. Now we could clearly
see the other side of the peak not far away. Eventually, it was time
to get moving again. We went a little farther down the ridge to a point
just above Van Trump Park. We debated dropping down to the park then finding
our way back to the interaction and the Rampart Ridge Trail. The whole
park was under a layer of white.
The slope down had a thin cover of snow over grass and it was very
slick. We chose to return the way we came. Up we climbed to Mildred Point
then down we climbed. Rather than follow our tracks on the steepest section
we chose to drop in forest then continue just left of the trail. The footing
was much better. Shortly we were back on the summer route. We almost made
it back to the intersection before we met the first hikers of the day. They
had come up via the Comet Falls Trail.
The temperature was very comfortable at the 5900' point. Down at
the intersection it was down right warm. We shed clothing here. I went
to short sleeves and shorts. Very nice conditions for near the end of October.
A little farther down the trail Gary suddenly stopped. A quick look ahead
showed a deer near a switchback in the trail. Gary had packed away his
camera but mine was ready. I was afraid the sound of the velcro closure
would spook the deer. Far from it. It did not budge.
I took a few photos and then Gary set about getting his camera out
of his pack. Through all this commotion the deer did not move. It was all
of maybe 30' from us. We then saw another deer walk up. We kept shooting
and they kept eating and ignoring us. I guess with no hunting in the park
and so many people near Longmire these deer have lost all fear of humans.
We finally headed on down and they did not budge.
We did see a few other groups, especially as we neared the trailhead.
It was amazingly uncrowded for a major trail at the only park entrance
still open this late in the season. Soon we were back at the road and
then back at Longmire. High clouds had begun to flow in and it was cold
once again in the parking lot. Up high we were warm but down low it was
not a warm day.
The statistics for the day were 10+ miles with about 3600' of gain
with ups and down. The trail was so smooth that it did not seem as difficult
as the numbers suggest. We had complete solitude all the way up and not
much less on the way down. Mildred Point is a fantastic viewpoint. It is
a different view of the mountain than seen from Paradise and Sunrise. It
is also right in your face. This would also be a fun snowshoe trip in the
winter. Most of the way is in forest with few areas of avalanche danger,
at least lower down.
It was fun to do a section of trail that neither Gary nor I had
been on. In fact, I had not been on any of it. Snowshoe trips are right
around the corner but it was great to leave them behind one more time
and hike through easy snow to a high viewpoint. This is a trail I'll
be returning to again.