Hiked the Eagle Peak Trail
at Mount Rainier NP on Saturday with a friend. We're on the trail by 10:30 after a two and a half hour drive out from Olympia. The fog that has blanketed the area all morning lifts as soon as we enter the park and we are treated to a spectacular, sunny day. The well-maintained, easy-to follow trail climbs 2,950 feet in three and a half miles and makes for a steady ascent along numerous switchbacks. The trail is, in fact, all switchbacks--some long, some short--with an overall 15 percent grade. Some parts are much steeper.
The early morning trail is cool under the forest canopy. The long switchbacks here make for decent, if not exactly easy walking. There's no variation in grade; the trail simply climbs as far as the eye can see. We make slow but steady progress, always up.
After about two hours, including a lunch break, we come to an open meadow above treeline. The meadow is steeply inclined and its wildflowers are past their peak. We get our first grand views of the Nisqually River Valley and the mountains in the south and west. Immediately before us is the ridge separating Eagle and Chutla Peaks, a jagged edge of granite towering over the meadow and the distant slopes. Now the climb is much, much steeper and fully exposed to the mid-day sun. On top of all the climbing so far, this last ascent comes hard.
The trail ends on the saddle between Eagle and Chutla Peaks. The saddle offers a grand view of Rainier, looming large immediately to our north. We are looking directly across to the great gray "V" carved into Rainier's south face by the Nisqually glacier and river. Below the mountaintop we can see visitor center and lodge complex at Paradise. It looks pretty puny compared to the mountain behind it. Looking south we can see Mount Adams and Mount Saint Helens.
The trail down seems even steeper than it was coming up and it's damned hot in the direct afternoon sun. I am happy to regain the cover of the forest canopy. Even here, though, it's much brighter and warmer than it was on the climb up. Seems longer, too. Once we are back on good trail the walking is easier. it's actually walking rather than climbing down those long steps just below the saddle. Still, the day's toll is beginning to show. My ball joints are throbbing with each step. My hip is doing pretty well but I'm just plain tired. I'm very happy to see the trailhead again.
This is my second hike using trekking poles. I especially liked having them for the climb down from the saddle and during the hike back to the car. They certainly made the descent much easier and give me a greater sense of stability on the trail. Trying to do anything with my hands is cumbersome but I found myself adapting to that challenge; I don't think the poles were as cumbersome as the first time I used them.
In all, a nice hike on was may be the last truly sunny day in western Washington for a while. Here's what it looked like.
Morning trail up
More above treeline
Mid-day exposed trail up
View from Eagle Saddle
Late afternoon mountain with Nisqually River suspension bridge
Labels: mount rainier np, washington