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.
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.
Goat Island Mountain
Photo Page 2
Trips - 2004