Our first time to Mt Rainier National Park, we are staying at the SunTides RV Park in Yakima for a week, July 8-15, in order to spend quality time in the Park. Mt Rainier (14,410 ft) stands as an icon in the Washington landscape, viewed from miles away. Our first day we drove to Paradise, the most popular area in the Park, to the Paradise Jackson Visitor Center, completed in 1966, it was so cold when we arrived at an elevation of 5,400 ft, and the mountain was in the clouds. We went to the Guide House where we obtained our permits for our 2-night backpacking trip. This is also where you get permits for climbing Mt Rainier, and there were some people getting theirs. From here you hike up to Camp Muir (10,188 ft) and the next day leaving very early you can summit Mt Rainier. That will be another trip for us! We had lunch in the historic Paradise Inn, opened in July 1917, and in 1920 a 104-room wing was added called the annex, to accommodate the increased demand for lodging. Over the years Paradise Inn remains in its grand old state, barely changed from the 1920’s. After spending most of the day at Paradise we drove to White River Campground where we spent the night before starting our backpacking trip. Click on thumbnail to view images
We left White River Campground early and drove to the trailhead, where we parked near the Fryingpan Creek bridge and started the 12 mile RT hike on the Wonderland Trail to Panhandle Gap. The weather was still overcast, but not raining, and we still hadn’t been able to see Mt Rainier, since we arrived in the Park. The trail started in dense old-growth forest at 3,900 ft and almost level, which is nice to get warmed up. Then it crosses a few small streams and gradually becomes steeper, with beautiful wildflowers along the way. We came to the crossing at Fryingpan Creek over a sturdy log with a flattened top and a railing for support. We paused to take in the the milky, gritty glacial water, and the view upstream where part of the mountain is visible. Arriving at Summerland, after climbing 2,000 ft in 4.5 miles, we found our campsite, and set up our tent hoping to get a view of Mt Rainier in the morning. We found the group shelter to eat dinner in as it started to rain. Click on thumbnail to view images
So happy waking up to a beautiful view of Mt Rainier from our tent, in the morning light, and the sun shining brightly. But Panhandle Gap beckons, another 1.5 miles along and 900 feet higher. Once we hiked pass the grassy meadows and started up onto the rocky moraine the snow was deep and we took our time walking along the snow covered trail. As we ascended, the clouds cleared and the views of Mt Rainier were spectacular. On the final approach to the gap there is a short steep snowy section and the traverse required some care, but the trekking poles were helpful. We finally stepped out onto the top of the gap, the view to the south is amazing, of Goat Rocks and Mount Adams. As we sat and enjoyed the views we spotted a herd of goats in the distance on the snowy slopes of the Wonderland Trail. It was time to turn-around and descend back to Summerland, glissading down the snow covered trail was the fastest way to get back. This hike just wetted our appetites to come back and do the entire Wonderland Trail, 93 miles in length.