Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Hiking Mt. Rainier: Burroughs Mountain

"It's a five-wow day!" says my friend Mark as we're pulling into the Sunrise parking lot on Mt. Rainier. With blue skies overhead, a pleasant 70-ish degrees, and a day of hiking ahead, it doesn't get much better.

For maximum wow-ness, hiking up Burroughs Mountain on a bluebird day is ideal. This is my third time hiking up to Third Burroughs (beyond First and Second Burroughs to the trail's end), and each trip has been equally brilliant.

At elevation 6,400 feet on the northeast side of Rainier (which reaches 14,410 feet), Sunrise is higher and less visited than Paradise on the other side of the mountain. While several trails start and intersect here, the Burroughs Mountain trail goes the highest and closest to the jumble of crevasse-riddled glaciers on the mountain's flanks.

Even views from the parking lot are spectacular. A few weeks ago there, a visiting monk from Asia asked a friend to snap a shot of him sitting cross-legged on the pavement with Rainier in the background.



"If you don't have an ice axe and can't self arrest, the park is telling people not to hike up the Burroughs Mountain trail," says the friendly volunteer at the main trailhead. "There's snow on the trail and the potential for a dangerous slide down onto rocks."

I know they're being extra cautious. However, a couple minutes later we ask some hikers coming down the trail if they went up Burroughs.

"Yea, it's doable."

As we head up the dusty trail from Sunrise towards Frozen Lake and Burroughs beyond, we're definitely not alone. On a beautiful summer weekend, people from all over the USA and the world are out there with us Washingtonians.


Pretty much the whole trail beyond the initial stretch from Sunrise has sweeping, panoramic views. In about 1.5 miles we reach a junction just beyond Frozen Lake, and follow several other hikers on up First Burroughs.


When we arrive at the first patch of snow across the trail, it does indeed look a little dicey. I intentionally don't look down as I carefully tread on the slick, narrow track. I'm glad for my hiking poles, even though they mark me as a terminally unhip oldster.

The second and third snow crossings are shorter and easier, and soon we're atop the table-like summit of First Burroughs, with Second Burroughs not far ahead.


Atop First Burroughs

On a brilliant day like today, there's a festive atmosphere atop Second Burroughs. Everyone stops here for a break to revel in the splendid views, maybe snack and sip more water. At 6 miles roundtrip back to Sunrise, this used to be the turnaround point for most hikers, but today a steady stream is continuing on toward Third Burroughs.


Atop Second Burroughs, with Third Burroughs in the distance to the right.
After reaching elevation 7,400 feet on Second Burroughs, the trail drops about 500 feet down to a short plateau before the final, much steeper slog about 900 feet up to Third Burroughs at 7,820 feet. And today there's a significant snowfield over the trail. Onward.


Reminds me of trekking in the Himalayas
Slip-sliding up the steep snowfield is not fun. Some people were smart and brought slip-on traction for their boots. I'm lagging on the last few switchbacks before the summit, partly due to the intense sun reflecting off the high elevation snow (which gives me a bad sunburn on the back of my knees). Have I mentioned I'm a total heat wimp?

"Do you want to stop?" says Mark, being solicitous.

"I'm NOT coming this far and stopping," I shoot back, trudging up.

And then suddenly there we are, on a ridge that looks like you could hop and skip on straight up the mountain.

  
Which makes me feel like this:



Surprisingly, the crowds dissipate pretty quickly when we continue on a ways along the ridge. In about 30 minutes of lunching, gaping at the massive mountain/glaciers in front of us, and snapping photos, we only see one other guy up here.

On the back side of the rocky summit, the ridge drops precipitously, with a dramatic view down to the toe of Winthrop Glacier hundreds of feet below.  It has definitely retreated quite a ways since I was first here in the 1990s. (Yes, climate change is happening, and our glaciers are fast receding.)



Coming down the snowfield is much more fun than going up.  Mark zooms down in big leaping-sliding steps. So I follow, jamming my heels into the snow and sliding too.

Despite the 500 feet back up Second Burroughs, which is pretty mellow as far as climbs, the trip back is smooth sailing. We're not in a rush, so take a leisurely break on Second Burroughs again to soak it all in--this day, this hike, this massive volcano with impressive glaciers, dormant for now. Soon enough, we'll both be office-bound.

Snowfields across the trail on First Burroughs.
By the time we get back to the car, almost 7 hours have passed, about 2 hours longer than the same hike 2 years ago. We took lots of breaks, took lots of pictures, the snow slowed us down, and  I'm admittedly not in as good shape as a few years ago due to knee and foot issues. Mark's GPS indicated that we had hiked 9.9 miles.

"Do you want to walk to the end of the parking lot to hit 10 miles?" I joked. Nope. Both of us just want to liberate our feet from boots and get something cold to drink.

After Hike Eats
On the way back to Seattle, we stop at the classic Naches Tavern in Greenwater, the first town on the drive back down the mountain on Highway 410. Yea, the food is so-so (I got a grilled hot dog because they were out of veggie burgers and Mark got a cheeseburger), but the drinks are cold and there's great outdoor seating in the shade. It's worth a stop just to step inside this rustic old bar and grill, which was originally built in 1919. In the winter, it's hopping with skiers from Crystal Mountain.

Personally, I find hiking at and around Mt. Rainier exhilarating. Do you have a favorite Rainier hike?

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When You Go
Although Mt. Rainier is only 53 miles from Seattle as the crow (or raven) flies, by car it's closer to 90 miles. There are a few different routes, but we took I-5 south to Auburn and cut southeast through Enumclaw and up Highway 410 to the White River entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park. We left Seattle around 7 am and got to the entrance around 9, by which time we had to wait about 15 minutes in line to enter the park. It was a sunny summer Saturday, and they restrict entrance when the parking lots fill up, so go early. Entrance to the park costs $25 for a single car, but it lasts for 7 days.

Here's a link to a map of the park and vicinity on the park's website. When hiking on the mountain, be prepared for changes in weather, even if it's a warm sunny day when you start. Now go have a wonderful hike!