In late October of 2003 Gary and I put together an
interesting trip to Grand Park at the north end of Mt. Rainier National Park.
The road to Sunrise had closed down and we were the only people in that
end of the park. We did not see a single person all day. We scrambled up
Skyscraper Mountain on the east side and came down the summer trail. It
was a long but very memorable trip. It was sunny all day and we had such
great views. My report and photos from that trip are here:
2003 Skyscraper Report
. Three years later I was eager to repeat the trip.
This time I convinced Suzanne, Bob, and Kolleen to come along. The days
are getting short now so we met in Bellevue at 6:30 am. It was still dark.
We drove up Highway 410 to FS Road 73. We were at the "trailhead" by 8:15.
There were no other cars there. It was freezing when we started. Frost was
on the ground. We bundled up and headed for Lake Eleanor. In about 20 minutes
we were there. There was no wind and the lake was perfectly still. We took
some time to take some reflection photos.
From the lake we followed the trail to the lower meadow. We had our first
look at Rainier from there. The meadow was golden grass covered in white
frost. It was really very beautiful. The sun was now coming up and one small
sunny corner of the meadow was frost free. The tarn was nearly dry. We headed
back into forest for the climb to Grand Park. Before long we broke out into
the park. The green grass and carpet of flowers seen in the summer is now
all brown. Different but spectacular in its own way.
Mt. Rainier was soon in view. We had a clear view of it for quite some
time. Skyscraper Mountain soon came into view. Grand Park is huge. It took
a long time to walk across it. We reached the high point at about 5700'.
The turnoff for the Northern Loop Trail was at the 4 mile mark. The trail
descends easily down to Berkeley Park. There are several ups and downs. There
are lots of fun on the way out.
We finally reached Lodi Creek. My memory was a little sketchy regarding
the scramble route. We crossed the creek with mostly dry feet. A climb up
the forested slope brought us the the meadow I remembered. We searched middle
and right without finding the game trail I remembered. One last look to the
left uncovered it. It allowed us to get through the thick brush and into
Things were not like I remembered them but we continued up taking the
path of least resistance. Game trails saved us from a lot of serious blood
loss. We managed to find ways through the worst spots. The slope became
steeper than I recalled doing the last time. A cliff band appeared above
us. We headed straight up and found a scramble route through it. It was
now obvious we were much too far to the right (north). Now we had to make
a level traverse on grass and rock.
The footing was okay and we made quick progress. An obvious grassy gully
came up. It was definitely the route we should have been on. Oh well... Now
I knew where to go. We scrambled up to a level basin below the ridge. After
a food and water break we headed on up. The last time we reached the ridge
and contoured on the left (south) side. This time we continued higher and
reached the apex of two ridges.
From here it looked like we could stay on the right side and proceed up
on boulders. I like boulders and scampered ahead. The summit ahead looked
to be too close. I clambered up and found the real summit a little farther
away. The rest of the group followed me. There is a notch before the summit
that would allow dropping to the south side of the ridge. It looked like
a small gully on the north side also might work. I headed for the gully.
I followed it part way up then crossed over on a ledge and around the corner
to the top.
I came part way back down to show the others where to go. In a few minutes
we were all up on the summit. The ridge had blocked much of the wind but
on the summit it was howling. My hat went flying and I had to go back down
the gully to retrieve it. Be dropping just a little we managed to avoid the
worst of the wind. It took us about 4 hours to hike the 7 1/2+ miles to the
summit. It would have been nice to spend a long time on the summit but the
wind was too much. The views from Baker to Glacier Peak to Mt. Stuart and
the Rainier peaks were fantastic.
As we sat and enjoyed the clear views we saw something below. Was it goats?
No, in fact it was two hikers. Since we saw no cars at the Eleanor lot we
were mystified as to where they came from. All to soon we headed down. Part
way down we met the two hikers coming up. It turned out that they were dropped
off at Eleanor and were doing a one way backpack to Ipsut Creek. They were
the only people we saw all day.
Once down to Skyscraper Pass we followed the Wonderland Trail towards
Sunrise. We dropped down the trail to Berkeley Park. It was a nice hike
along the creek. We completed our loop where we first reached the creek.
Now it was uphill to Grand Park. Nothing like a climb 11 miles into a hike.
The sun was now low and we could barely see Rainier and Skyscraper with all
When we reached the Northern Loop junction it was rest time. The sun was
low but we still had more than enough time to get back to the car before
dark. The last 4 miles took forever or so it seemed. The lower meadow was
now golden as all the frost had melted. We came back to the start to find
no other cars. The puddles there were still frozen. It was a comfortably warm
day in the sun but it was still cold in the shade.
This scramble was just as much fun this time as the first time. A little
bit off the correct route but that just added to the adventure. The only
down side was a stuck shutter on my camera. All my photos past Grand Park
in the morning were ruined. At least Suzanne, Bob, and Kolleen had photos
that turned out. Suzanne posted as report with many photos here:
Suzanne's Report With Photos
. Once the road to Sunrise closes this is a very quiet place to hike. I
bet when we have another late October sunny day I'll find my way back here.