Kyle and I were pretty optimistic as we made the short drive from his place in Tacoma to the White River Entrance of Mount Rainier National Park. The weather was unseasonably grey for July, with ominous-looking thick clouds overhead, and the park was on a first-come first-serve permit system for this year only. We figured we had a good chance to score one of the top backcountry spots along the park’s famed Northern Loop.
Upper Palisades Lake, in the Sourdough Mountains.
Our dreams were shattered as soon as we reached the ranger station. Almost no backcountry sites were left anywhere, and certainly none along the Northern Loop. When I asked about Rainier’s dispersed backcountry camping permits, the ranger immediately shot me down - the next several minutes were spent being told that we weren’t able to practice Leave No Trace, or that we would be eaten by a decaying snow bridge, or that we’d simply get lost in the quarter mile of off-trail travel that the permit requires. (Apparently, Kyle and I had catastrophically failed her sizing-up of our backcountry experience when we showed up to the ranger station beardless and wearing jeans).
The overcast sky made for some very cool reflections in the many lakes along the Palisades Trail.
Still determined to go backpacking in the park, we accepted one of the last remaining permits to spend the night at Dick Lake in the Sourdough Range. I’ll admit this was more than a little disappointing - our planned 30 mile epic on the Northern Loop had turned into a 3-mile out-and-back. We reached the lake early in the day, lightening our packs before heading up to Mirror Lake to see how high up along the ridge of Marcus Peak we could reach. Turns out, pretty high!
Kyle on the use-trail that runs nearly vertically uphill from Mirror Lake to a saddle along the ridge of Marcus Peak.
We made a plan to cover the 3 miles back to the car quickly the next morning so that we could get another hike in before heading back to Tacoma. Unfortunately, that speed-walking meant scaring off a few elk on the trail before I could snap a shot of them. But it worked out in the end when Kyle and I ended up on the moraine of the Emmons Glacier and even found a glowing emerald lake that wasn’t marked on any of the official park maps.
Emmons Glacier and Little Tahoma Peak. Mount Rainier, on the right, was obscured by clouds almost our entire trip.
The Emmons Glacier. The melt water coming out of the ice cavern feeds the White River.
This emerald lake isn't found on any map!
Best of all, the rain that had threatened all weekend held off until we were safely in the car on our way back to town.