Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Upper Eastside Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

From Tipsoo Lake to Deer Creek Falls via the Eastside Trail (A hike with a car shuttle) Do you like to gamble? Then roll the weather dice on this “iffy” one-way gorgeous hike that involves a car shuttle. If you can’t work out a car shuttle you can still enjoy the best of the high-country by hiking the short stretch of the Eastside trail from Deer Creek toward Chinook Pass (or vice versa) and turn around if/when you get into snow (be prepared for rain or snow with good boots, gaiters and trekking poles). We started at Tipsoo Lake just below Chinook Pass (you can hike this trail either way). WSDOT does it’s best to keep State Route 410 open through Thanksgiving though significant snow can cause an earlier closure. Be sure to check WSDOT for updates on mountain passes and carry chains in case weather changes. From November 1 through May 1 you are required to carry chains in your car in Mount Rainier National Park and use them where required. Any hike that begins from Tipsoo Lake at Chinook Pass is going to be beautiful, with or without snow. Late fall is a poignant time to visit Tipsoo Lake whether you are just driving over Chinook Pass or planning a short hike. Here the seasons mingle; a couple weeks ago the vegetation was a swirl of Halloween colors sprinkled with the bold reds and crimsons of blueberry shrubs. The Eastside Trail begins on the south side of State Route 410 across from the Tipsoo Lake parking area (below Chinook Pass). If there is too much snow to follow the trail from Chinook Pass unless you are familiar with the route you can also start at the Deer Creek trailhead on Highway 123 and continue as far as conditions/energy allow. There is no fixed date for the closure of Highway 123; however significant snowfall will close Highway 123 as well as Chinook Pass. If you hike from Tipsoo Lake down to Deer Creek Falls it is 5.36 miles one-way with a short uphill stretch back to Highway 123 (if you have left a car at Highway 123); otherwise it will be uphill all the way back to Tipsoo Lake so budget time and energy accordingly. . The most scenic route is to hike from Tipsoo Lake to the Deer Creek trailhead – a good reason to leave another car at the Deer Creek trailhead on Highway 123 so you can continue to Deer Creek Falls. Strong hikers can continue down to the new bridge overlooking Ohanapecosh Falls where we’d turned around on a long, summer day. Then we’d hiked from the Ohanapecosh Campground to Ohanapecosh Falls and back the way we came (the Ohanapecosh Campground is closed for the season). Since our recent October hike snow has come and gone from Chinook Pass. On our hike (starting at Tipsoo Lake) it was cold enough that a recent dusting of snow covered the ground, not enough to obscure the trail. However if there is much snow or ice on the trail we recommend traction devices and trekking poles. You also might want to hike in rain-gear even if it’s not raining or snowing; in places the trail was narrow and we got thoroughly soaked by moisture-laden vegetation. On a clear day there are good views of Mount Rainier and Governors Ridge just a few paces from the Tipsoo Lake trailhead. A short descent leads to a pretty tarn (5,185 feet) between the Tipsoo Lake trailhead and Highway 123 across from the Deer Creek trailhead. Paper-thin ice bordered the shoreline. Here, ancient flower stalks lie on the ground with pale, yellowed leaves adding a cheerful touch to the mostly black and white day. Shortly past the tarn the trail continues its descent and comes out on Highway 123. Cross the highway to pick up the Deer Creek Trail and continue as far as energy and conditions warrant (the trail sign is not obvious from the highway). From this point the trail is mostly in the forest; the trail is steep but in good condition. Watch for signs of wildlife – we saw elk tracks and where a bear had shredded the bark of a tree. We stopped to marvel at an enormous display of Chicken Of The Woods (Polyporus Sulphureus), fastened to a fallen tree (the red-orange fungus was growing all along the length of the tree). At five miles we came to the bridge at Chinook Creek. The heavy fall rains had not yet arrived so the stream level was low and the waterfall modest. Stream levels will be rising rapidly given recent rainfall and the trickles we saw will likely be roaring cascades. From there with map in hand we followed trail signs back to Highway 123. The steepest stretch of the trail back to the car is just below the Deer Creek Falls trailhead. Please remember you hike at your own risk so do not rely on cell phones (there isn’t any cell phone reception outside of Greenwater on State Route 410). To get to the Deer Creek trailhead: From Enumclaw drive east on State Route 410 to Cayuse Pass (the junction with Highway 123); turn right onto Highway 123. The trailhead is on the right side of Highway 123 about 4.5 miles from Cayuse Pass. To get to the Tipsoo Lake trailhead on State Route 410: Instead of turning onto Highway 123 at Cayuse Pass continue straight to the first trailhead parking for Tipsoo Lake (left). Walk across State Route 410 and find the marked Eastside Trail a few feet above the highway. Statistics: The hike from Tipsoo Lake to Deer Creek Falls is 5.36 miles one-way (with a car shuttle). The elevation gain from Deer Creek Falls back to the Deer Creek Falls trailhead on Highway 123 is 440 feet elevation gain. If you start at Tipsoo Lake and hike down to Deer Creek Falls the elevation loss is 2,530 feet. The high point of the hike is Tipsoo Lake at 5,350 feet elevation. Additional information: The recommended map is Green Trails No. 269S (Mount Rainier Wonderland). Chains are required from November 1 to May 1 inside Mount Rainier National Park. A Northwest Forest Pass is required at trailheads within the park. For road closures, weather and trail conditions call Mount Rainier National Park at 360-569-2211 or visit their website: - you can also check road conditions by visiting the WSDOT website at: Karen Sykes

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Mildred Point, Mount Rainier National Park

MILDRED POINT (MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK) We’ve been like chipmunks dashing about on last-minute errands these last golden days of fall. Like them we are also driven by shorter days and a dwindling supply of high-country delights. We lose a little over three minutes of daylight a day this time of year so put a hike to Mildred Point on your calendar before winter sets in. The Comet Falls trail used to be the most popular approach to Mildred Point but the Comet Falls trail is closed about 1.6 miles due to trail damage. Fortunately you can still hike to Mildred Point from Longmire by starting out on The Wonderland Trail. The trail system is well signed and the park has placed signs indicating where trails to Comet Falls/Van Trump Park are closed. The Wonderland Trail at Longmire crosses the Nisqually-Paradise road in about ½ mile and begins to climb through the forest. The trail is in good condition, even a prehistoric stretch of puncheon that crosses a boggy area below the junction with the Rampart Ridge Trail. At the next junction we left the Wonderland Trail, turning right onto the Van Trump Park trail which continues to Mildred Point. As we hiked bright-eyed Canadian jays (often called camp robbers – guess why!) darted from tree to tree, their eyes sparkling as they perched on trees above us in an obvious bid for hand-outs. Eventually the forest transitions to parklands where fall is making a dramatic entrance as blueberry/huckleberry shrubs turn every hue of orange and red imaginable. We were surprised to see many gentians still in bloom in these quiet meadows where subalpine evergreens have quietly taken root as if to anchor the meadows in place. At 4.5 miles we came to the last junction signed Van Trump Park, another Comet Falls trail closure sign and a second sign pointing toward Mildred Point. The trail crosses meadows as it makes its way toward Mildred Point but make no mistake, this is a steep trail. Take a break and look to the west for a view of Pyramid Peak. Though few hikers visit Mildred Point the trail has been hiked often enough that the trail is deeply embedded in the meadow, in places a knee-high ditch which tempts hikers to hike beside the trail rather than in the ditch (this is never a good idea as over time hikers create a “new” trail to avoid the ditch). That first view of Mount Rainier when it breaks out of the forest never fails to incite awe. Though there was no wind where we’d stopped to look at The Mountain we watched lenticular clouds racing toward the summit, like ships without captains. The trail is out in the open and the last stretch is dusty and steep (carry plenty of water, this is a dry trail). If not for the haze from forest fires there are great views of Mount Adams and Mount Saint Helens to the south (we could barely make out Mount Adams through the haze). The trail ends at the edge of an abrupt cliff where a sign warns hikers they’ve reached the end of the maintained trail (as if there could be any doubt). This is one of the most scenic vistas inside the park but don’t get too close to the edge. We were spellbound by a series of waterfalls plunging from the Kautz glacier – in such a setting it is hard to decide where to draw the line between creation and destruction as Mount Rainier goes about her geologic business. You can explore a little further on game-trails that contour the ridge-top – we followed one through a few small, subalpine trees where we were startled by the sight of a mountain goat’s head peeking at us over the lip of the void. Before we could say “camera” he’d dropped out of sight. We spotted more goats in the distance as they traversed an almost vertical meadow. Turnaround time always comes too soon and soon we were back in the forest, grateful for the occasional cool breeze that wafted our way. Additional Information: the hike is 10 miles round trip with 3,750 feet elevation gain. For updates on fees, rules and regulations, current conditions, and weather, call Mount Rainier National Park (360-569-2211) or visit their website at . Map: Green Trails (Mount Rainier Wonderland Map 269S). . Karen Sykes