Summerland/Banshee Peak

Forecast was for 91 degrees in Seattle and mid 90s in the foothill towns. Not conducive to comfortable hiking. Above 6000' at Mt. Rainier the forecast was for only mid 70s with a 10-13 mph breeze. Since it was a free weekend at the park that sealed the deal. With afternoon heat and big crowds I needed to get on the road early. I was up at 5:00 am and on the road at 5:45. Traffic was light at that hour and I cruised up Highway 410 for the second week in a row. I entered the park at the White River entrance and at the 3800' Fryingpan Creek trailhead I was surprised to find only half a dozen cars. It took 1:55 minutes to drive the 92 miles. I was on the trail at 7:45 am.

It was almost chilly as I headed out. I quickly passed a couple. I made good time as the trail is wide and smooth with a gentle grade. After only one tenth of a mile the route meets up with the Wonderland Trail. At the first creek rapids overlook I passed one more hiker. I reached the log bridge over Fryingpan Creek in 67 minutes. After the creek the flowers begin. They are a bit past prime but a nice selection is still in bloom. Columbine, bistort, a few monkey flower, Indian paintbrush, and more. Mt. Rainier and Little Tahoma came into view along here. I passed two more hikes here. I had now accounted for most of the cars in the lot.

On my trip in mid July last year huge avalanche lilies began where the trail begins to switchback up to Summerland. This year the avalanche lilies were mostly done. Those that remained were less than half the size of those the year before. The switchbacks had some color though most flowers are finished. Some nice magenta paintbrush and blooming heather remains. I reached Summerland at 9:15 after 90 minutes of hiking.  Lots of yellow buttercups in the meadow but not much else is blooming. Crystal clear sky provided a very clear view of Rainier.

I could see up the moraine towards Panhandle Gap and there was much more snow in mid August this year versus mid July last year. I chose not to bring an ice axe, microspikes, or poles and I hoped I could safely reach the gap. With half the elevation and more than half the distance done I slowed down a little to better enjoy the hike through the moraine. Snow began soon after crossing the creeks below Summerland though there was none on the route for a while longer.

I was surprised to not see or hear any marmots or pikas. The waterfall was loud and the views were outstanding. A ways up the moraine I found the first snow on the route and red flags highlighting the way. The tarns in the basin were largely still covered in ice. They were bare last July. I crossed the log bridge and the route was mostly snow covered the rest of the way to the gap. Footprints and flags made it easy to follow the route in such clear conditions.

Soon I could see Panhandle Gap and a track cutting across the steep snow just before the gap. Definitely much more snow than I had expected. I met a hiker coming down the snow. He mentioned the track near the gap was wide enough though icy as the sun had not yet reached it. We parted company and I headed on up. Where the route reaches an obvious gap in the ridge I contemplated scrambling over and having a short cut to Banshee Peak but decided to go to the gap instead. The last 100' was a bit icy but not too bad. There is rock and dirt below part of it and a fall would not be good. I reached 6750' Panhandle Gap to find one hiker with a big pack.

This gentleman was from Wisconsin and was on the ninth and last day of his Wonderland Trail adventure. We ended up talking for about half an hour. Another hiker showed up from the backside of the ridge. I soon said my goodbyes and headed around the ridge and down. This footpath is narrow but works fine to drop down to the meadows southeast of the ridge. I could see Banshee Peak in the distance. There were several snow patches but most of the way was bare. A loud whistle caught my attention and I saw a marmot on a rock right below me. He was the only one I saw all day. It was now past 11:00 and I stopped to slop on lots of sunscreen.

There were far fewer flowers on the way to Banshee than the year before. Some big patches of lupine, a dozen other flowers, and just a few paintbrush. Last year I saw a group of goats near the ridge top but none there this year. The higher I climbed the better the views. Mt. Rainier was ever present. Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood were to the south. Mt. St. Helens came into view. At the ridge top I added Mt. Baker and Glacier Peak. This is one of the rare spots where six volcanoes are in sight.

An easy walk along the ridge crest brought me to the final short walk to the summit of Banshee Peak. A cool breeze began on the ridge and grew stronger on the summit. It was cold enough to bring on goosebumps. I almost took out my jacket after a while. Just what I was looking for. One of the few cool places on this blazing hot summer day. I arrived on top at 12:00 noon and stayed for an hour and a half. Near the end another hiker arrived. We talked hiking and then I noticed a lot of dots on the snow below. With binoculars we counted over 30 goats below. There were still no clouds and remarkably little haze for early afternoon. I could have spent all day on top but I still had 7 miles to hike out.

The other hiker left first and a little below the summit I met two more groups heading up. Not as much solitude as I expected. Still, hard to argue with over an hour alone on the summit. The hike back to the gap went quickly. There were several groups there but not nearly as many people as I expected on such a beautiful day. Two others were about to descend as I started down. Two hikers were coming up the narrow section and we had to wait. The snow had softened a lot since morning and I had little trouble on that part. Below there I managed to get in four short glissades. A cold wet rear was a good thing this day.

As I dropped back to Summerland I could feel the temperature rising. Groups were still coming up as I descended the switchbacks. Back in the open before and after the bridge it was much hotter. Fortunately most of the last 3 miles is in the cooler forest. As expected there were crowds heading down. I passed nearly 30 people below the Fryingpan Creek bridge. The trail is wide enough to get by easily. Unfortunately I managed to land wrong and twist my foot pretty severely with a few miles to go. I hiked down okay but I'm not out hiking on Sunday. With any luck I'll be back on the trail next week.

This is one heck of a nice trip. Forest, then meadows, flowers in season, views, a barren rocky moraine, and the gap at near 7000'. Add on the stroll to Banshee for more views and flowers and you have a trip that's hard to beat. I may take a break but will definitely be back in the not too distant future.

Small Waterfall
First Views
Fryingpan Creek Bridge
Flowers Begin
Magenta Indian Paintbrush
Mt. Rainier
Twin Avalanche Lilies
Magenta, White, & Blue
Beautiful Color
Snow Above Summerland
Summerland Meadow
Little Tahoma
Climbers On Mt. Rainier
Meadows Toward Moraine
Goat Island Mountain
Bridge In Moraine
Snowy Tarns
Snowy Track Into Gap
Approaching Gap
Panhandle Gap
Banshee Peak
South Of Gap
Mt. Adams
Goat Rocks
Yellow On Banshee
Rainier & Meadow
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Photo Page 2

Trips - 2010