Spray Park Loop

Gwen and I planned a strenuous hike to Lookout Mountain's fire lookout. It is located near Marblemount in the North Cascades. Wildfire smoke was awful most of the week in Western Washington (and eastern) but west winds cleared out a lot of it on Friday and were supposed to last through Saturday. Sunday the smoke would return. Friday night I tried to make sense of some forecasts that the smoke would move into the Northern Cascades by Saturday evening. The National Weather service kept their clear sky forecast. I went to bed not comfortable with our choice. Early Saturday morning the NWS had changed to smoke up north. I scrambled to come up with another idea. Gwen would be picking me up at 6:00 am. I-90 and south still seemed to be mostly smoke free per the new forecast. When Gwen arrived I had a few close in ideas along I-90 and one for Mt. Rainier NP. She suggested we go with Mt. Rainier. Partly due to smoke this summer I have done more near Mt. Rainier than any other summer ever.

After backtracking to get Gwen's park pass we headed south towards Mt. Rainier. So far my trips have been off of Highway 410 to the northeast corner of the park. This time we were heading for Mowich Lake in the northwest corner. I had done the Knapsack Pass-Spray Park loop twice. Gwen had done it once. I did not have much time to check out maps but I did the trip last year and it is pretty straight forward if you have done the off trail section before. The gravel road to Mowich is in pretty good shape. We arrived at the trailhead at about 8:30 am. We managed to snag one last spot in the lot. Cars were already parking along the road. We saw some smoke driving up and views of Rainier were a bit hazy but the air was pretty clear. The sky was blue. I have not seen much of that recently.

We packed up and were on the trail by 8:45 am. We headed out on the trail along the lake. At the old cabin we started up the route to Knapsack Pass. Except we took the wrong unsigned trail. The trail quickly disappeared. We went back and found the correct route. It was warm but not hot yet. Some berries were ripe slowing us down. The route has some steep spots as it climbs away form Mowich Lake. We saw a few wildflowers still in bloom. Monkeyflower was in bloom in a number of spots. One hiker went on by us as we were taking photos at a small waterfall. The route flattens out and crosses the creek. Soon after the grade steepens as the trail climbs to the pass. We stopped to put on sunscreen and the bugs zeroed in. They were not a problem while moving. In spots they were annoying while stopped. Not bad enough for bug dope or even long sleeves.

On the climb we saw quite a few western anemone floppy seed heads. We also saw a lot of gentian in bloom. That is a harbinger of fall. It was getting very warm on the last climb. We had views now down to Mowich Lake. We also saw Tolmie Peak Lookout in the distance. At Knapsack Pass you can see half of Mt. Rainier. A big rock blocks the other half. It was visible but still hazy. It remained that way all day. We could see some smoke in the distance but we had blue sky overhead. After a break it was time to drop down the other side of the pass. At first a trail switchbacks down then it becomes a path in the rocks and scree. I'm not a fan of loose rock but we carefully completed the descent. There was some snow in site. First we had to cross a boulder field. I love to scamper across boulders and made good time Gwen was not far behind. A short steep drop off the boulders brought us to easier terrain. Rock slabs, a few tarns, and grasses for scenery.

In places we picked up the boot path. It was not important as we knew where we were headed. There are still a few snowfields and we crossed one of them. We met a group of four who were going from Spray Park to Mowich Lake. A couple hours into our trip and we had seen five people in two groups. Who says that Mowich Lake trails are crowded? We found the path and climbed up to the ridge top above Spray Park. We had a good view down to Mist Park and out to Echo and Observation Peaks and Mt. Rainier. There were a few flowers in bloom but not many. We dropped down to Spray Park. The trail climbed up the park. To our left was a near vertical drop to Mist park. We found a spot with a little shade right at the edge of the precipice to stop for lunch at 12:45 pm.

We could look back towards Knapsack Pass and up to the main trail above Spray Park. After lunch we continued heading uphill. Our trail then met the main trail. We decided to go farther uphill. There were less flowers in bloom than the same time last year. There was the same snow patch but it was much smaller. We saw several more parties from here. Soon we reached the point where a trail headed uphill while the main trail traversed over towards Seattle Park. We took the steeper climbers route. After climbing several hundred feet we stopped. Great views down to Spray Park from here.

Now it was time to drop down through Spray Park. Such a great alpine meadow in wildflower season. Now the flowers were mostly finished. It is still a very scenic spot. In addition to the meadows the views of Mt. Rainier and closer peaks is outstanding. We met a number of hikes in a short distance. Then it was back to solitude once again. I was getting tired after several hours with minimal shade. That ended as we reached the lower park. Meadows alternated with forest then we dropped into more permanent forest. It was much cooler and more comfortable. We chose not to take the short trail over to Spray Falls. The last two miles out seemed to go on forever. I was glad to finally reach the trailhead.

This was a very enjoyable hike. A lot of meadows and some off trail travel. Some haze but much more clear blue sky. We are heading back into thick smoke in the mountains and the city. This weekend provided a nice break. Our last minute early morning change of plans turned what would have been an awful smoky day into a great day in the mountains.

Mowich Lake
Tolmie Peak Lookout
Mossy Cascade
Lewis Monkeyflower
Small Waterfall
Into Meadows
Starting Final Climb
Fay Peak
Western Anemone
Glowing In The Sunshine
Indian Paintbrush
Lake From Pass
Half Of Mt. Rainier
Heading Down
Loose Rock
Onto The Boulders
Look Back
Near End Of Boulders
Gwen Off The Rocks
Gwen Taking Photos
Crossing Snowfield
On The Boot Path
Rainier From Ridge
Spray Park Below
More Indian Paintbrush
Mist Park
Point From Lunch Spot
Heading Higher
Echo Rock
Nicely Lit
Main Trail
Spray Park Creek
Yellow Monkeyflower
Panorama Shot Of Spray Park
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2018