|Foggy day at Sunrise|
For this trip, I had three hikes on my "must do" list - Naches Peak Loop, Burroughs Mountain Loop, and Mount Fremont Lookout. All were trails I'd missed the previous time.
Hoping to catch the wildflower bloom, but miss the eclipse crowds, I chose a weekend near the end of August. After such a hot, dry summer, imagine my surprise when the morning of departure, I awoke to clouds and cool temperatures. At first I was thankful for the sunless, chilly weather, even though it meant driving over Cayuse Pass in a fog bank. However, upon arrival at Sunrise Lodge, I realized these low clouds also meant no mountain views.
|Lots of fluffy "Hippy on a Stick"|
Since I'd arrived in early afternoon, I'd chosen the five-mile round trip trek to Mt Fremont Lookout as my first hike. However, the foggy weather was making me reconsider. Why climb all the way up to the lookout if there was nothing to see?
|A few pink asters still in bloom|
Still, I'd driven a winding mountain road to get here, I might as well hike something. So I wandered to the trailhead between the Sunrise Lodge and snack bar/gift shop building and trudged up a paved pathway leading to the Sourdough Trail. Not far uphill, the trail made an east-west split. I almost decided to head west towards Mt Fremont anyway, but then a slope full of shaggy Western Pasque flowers (aka "Hippy on a Stick") tugged me in the opposite direction.
|Mountains trying to emerge from the fog|
The hillside was loaded with the mop-headed little blooms. Roaming around, snapping photos, I continued working my way eastward, following the Sourdough Trail towards Dege Peak. A few patches of past-prime asters provided a little color, as did some gold and red bushes already sporting fall hues.
|Early fall colors|
I'd recently purchased a new camera. There had been a lot of good buzz about the mirrorless cameras - photo quality as good as a DSLR but much smaller and lighter. My Canon 7D was a great camera, but paired with my go-to 24-105mm lens made quite a heavy load. Throw in an extra backup lens and it became lot of weight to lug 8+ miles up a mountain. So I snagged a great deal on B&H Photo's website and was now the proud owner of a Fujifilm XT-1 mirrorless camera.
|Tons of "hippies" all over the slope|
Of course, having only had my new camera a grand total of one week (and still learning how to use it) I wasn't quite ready to ditch my old standby Canon. So I brought the old and new cameras along on my trip, and lugged them both up the trail. (Yes, I looked like quite the geek with two camera bags hanging off my hipbelt.)
|Kinda looks like the Alps|
Although I'd hoped to catch peak wildflower bloom, it became quickly obvious I'd missed it by a couple weeks. Aside from the Pasque flowers, the only other floral color came from a few straggler asters, and most of them looked tired and wilty.
|A few more purple asters|
But happily the mountains decided to cooperate after all. After spending the better part of two hours wandering the Sourdough Trail, I began to notice the fog and clouds slowly lifting. By the time I'd arrived back at the trail junction again, Mt Rainier was emerging from behind her white veil.
|Mt Rainer decides to say hi|
Should I try for Mt Fremont? The lookout was 2.6 miles away, and it was already 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Could I make it back before it got too late? There was no guarantee the clouds wouldn't move in again, obliterating views. Despite all that, I decided to give it a go.
This time, I followed the Sourdough Trail in the westerly direction, climbing up to a barren ridge offering great views of the green meadows below. A few more asters lined this path, these full of fuzzy bumblebees intent on harvesting the last bits of pollen.
|Curious ground squirrel|
I neared Frozen Lake, a high mountain tarn that remained covered with snow and ice most of the year (although by late August it was all water). A curious ground squirrel popped out of a crack between some boulders, and I wasted precious minutes trying to get a good photo of the little guy.
|Iceberg Lake from Mt Fremont Trail|
The wind was blowing hard as I reached Mt Fremont's Trail junction beside Frozen Lake. I still had another 400 feet to climb. What would conditions be like at the lookout? I almost talked myself out of continuing, when a group of hikers came waltzing down the trail. I quickly pumped them for information. How strong was the wind on top? Was it foggy? Could you see the adjacent scenery? The hikers all assured me the weather up there wasn't that bad, and the views were totally worth it. Just the encouragement I needed!
So up I trudged, climbing a moderately steep path rising high above a fabulous green alpine meadow. The views behind me were spectacular - clear blue Frozen Lake ringed by a wall of tall snowy peaks. I kept looking back so much I almost missed a large herd of mountain goats grazing in the meadow below (thanks to a helpful group of fellow hikers for pointing them out). Although fairly far away, I was able to zoom my lens to the max, producing one halfway decent image.
|The lookout waayy on the end of this bare ridge|
On top of the first rise I got a good look at my path ahead. The trail followed a barren ridgecrest across rocky talus fields. At the tip of the furthest ridge, I could see the fire lookout tower perched on it's very edge (can you spot it in the above photo?)
|Finally I made it!|
Although only a little over a mile away, this leg seemed to take a long time. Winds buffeted my face, chilling my body. But I kept putting one step in front of the other, and finally rounding a bend, the tiny brown fire tower came into view.
|Views in every direction|
Although I'd heard the tower was occasionally staffed, by the time I arrived it was locked up tight for the evening. I was able to climb up onto the deck area, and traverse the entire perimeter, snapping photos as I went.
|Some of the adjacent hills and valleys|
Luckily, the clouds behaved themselves, and I was treated to some wonderful views of the adjacent mountains and valleys. Looking towards the SW gave visitors an amazing up-front view of Mt Rainier, so close up you felt as if you could almost touch it.
|Looks kinda lonely up here|
Since it was after 5 pm by the time I arrived, I had the place almost to myself. A couple of young women were the only other visitors. After they climbed the tower for a few quick photos, the girls took refuge behind a wall at it's base.
I, of course liberally used both cameras to capture every detail of this unique lookout building and 360 degree mountain panorama. And if that wasn't enough I also pulled out my GoPro for some wide-angle selfies. (Okay, I'll admit it....I was actually carrying THREE cameras. Told you I was a geek.)
|Mt Rainier swallowed up by fog|
By now it was dinnertime, and my tummy was making it known a snack was urgently needed. So I climbed down from my perch and huddled behind some rocks to quickly scarf down a cliff bar. A very persistent chipmunk snuck out of a crevice and decided my cliff bar looked mighty delicious too. The little critter wouldn't leave me alone. When he finally gave up on begging, the pesky chipper tried to sneak into my backpack. Between defending snacks and backpack, I was too annoyed to grab a photo. The local small mammals definitely appeared to be well-fed and fearless.
|Fog descending into the meadow|
As I was finishing up my snack, I noticed the clouds and fog had begun to creep back in. Mt Rainier started disappearing in the mist, and all the adjacent peaks and valleys vanished under a white blanket. Pretty soon even the lookout tower became obscured. Boy, had my timing been good!
|Fantastic evening light on the mountains|
By then it was nearing 6 pm, and I realized I needed to start on my return trip. I didn't want to be stuck out here after dark.
So back across the rocky ridge I traveled, down the incline towards Frozen Lake (sadly, the mountain goats were now nowhere to be seen). The early evening light was fabulous, illuminating adjacent peaks and meadows, creating rich, vibrant colors. Despite the lateness I couldn't resist a few more photo breaks to capture these lovely scenic views.
At the time, I was two weeks post toe-jamming accident, and although I suspected something was wrong, still didn't realize the toe was broken. Although my foot had behaved itself most of the afternoon, by the return trip it began to rebel. Downhill hiking is hard on toes anyway, and the sore toe's continual bumping against the end of my boot became quite uncomfortable. The final mile was a long, slow painful slog. Finally, the Sunrise Lodge base area came into view, and I was never so happy. Not only was the hike nearly over, the low-angle light of late evening produced such rich colors, I had to stop and capture the scene. A wonderful end to what started out as an iffy weather day.
I raced daylight back to my site at the White River Campground, and after a quick supper, cold beer, and many ibuprofen, settled into my sleeping bag to rest up for tomorrow's big hike - Burroughs Mountain Loop.
Recap in my next post!
Stats for the day: 9 miles, 1400 feet elevation gain