Skyscraper Mountain

     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 dark.

     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 hiking season.

Lake Eleanor
First Meadow
Mt. Fremont
Early View Of Rainier
Gary In Grand Park
Skyscraper Mt.
Mt. Rainier
Trail Through Park
Mt. Rainier
Skyscraper Route
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