Climbing Pinnacle Peak

Early morning view from trailhead at Reflection Lakes

I felt pretty good after my hike up Shriner Peak. It was a lot of elevation gain but didn't seem that hard. The view was well worth it. On Sunday I had to be back home in Boise but I still wanted to do another hike. That meant that whatever hike I picked couldn't be too long. I chose the Pinnacle Peak Trail. It's just over a mile each way but with 1200 feet of elevation gain. Just going to the saddle and back would take less than two hours. But I also had something else in mind. I thought that I could climb a peak from the saddle.

The Pinnacle Peak Trail climbs to the crest of the Tatoosh Range. Although not that high the Tatoosh peaks are quite rugged. They are conspicuous from Paradise, when you can take your eyes off of Mt. Rainier that is. When climbing Mt. Rainier many years ago I admired them from Camp Muir and thought that I would like to climb them some day. Now this gave me a chance to try one. Inspite of the name, the end of the trail is at a saddle between Pinnacle Peak and Plummer Peak. Pinnacle Peak, a steep impressive rock tower six hundred feet higher than the saddle, is a challenging scramble. It's a "steep, exposed scramble" according to the guide book. Plummer Peak is an easier scramble and only three hundred feet higher than the saddle. I thought there might be tracks to the top of one or both peaks. I figured that I could bag Plummer, an easy summit with a good view of Mt. Rainier, and still have an early start home.

Marmot munching on the lupine

I still needed to get up at 5:15 since I had a long drive to the trailhead. The trail starts from the parking lot for Reflection Lakes, a pretty spot in its own right. I did get some nice shots of Rainier reflected in one of the lakes. Unfortunately there was just enough breeze so the lakes weren't perfectly smooth. The ripples kept the reflection from making a perfect picture.

As soon as I started hiking I noticed that there were mosquitoes here. In the first five minutes I killed one and was getting buzzed by a second. I hadn't had much trouble with bugs the day before on Shriner Peak. The forest was pretty wet at the start of the trail so that was probably the explanation. I stopped and put on bug juice and after that they didn't bother me at all. Usually repellant doesn't work that well in my experience so this was a pleasant surprise. I did end up with one mosquito bite by the end of the hike though.

Not far below the saddle I noticed a marmot about twenty feet off the trail. I tried to climb up to him to take a picture but he was on a steep scree slope and it wasn't easy. It turned out that this marmot wasn't as used to people as the ones we had seen in Switzerland. As soon as I tried to get close to him he took off. I managed to snap a couple of pictues from a distance but nothing as good as the ones from Spielboden.

Mt. Rainier from the summit of Pinnacle Peak

I reached the saddle about an hour after starting. It had a beautiful view of Rainier framed by the rocks on the side of the saddle. It was also good light since I was looking north. It made for good pictures. But since getting to the saddle hadn't taken that much time or energy I wanted to do a summit. I looked at Plummer Peak first. The south side looked quite steep. The obvious climber's track followed the ridge from the saddle for a way then dipped onto the north side before reaching the easy upper slopes. The only problem was that just before the upper slopes it crossed a snow field. It was steep and the runout didn't look that good. It only went for a short distance - probably about fifty steps. I could see some tracks in the snow. Now I felt really stupid. I had brought my ice axe on the trip just in case there was snow on the high trails. But since I had been to the top of Shriner Peak the day before (about the same elevation) and hadn't seen any snow I figured I didn't need it. I could probably manage to get across the snow field but just in case I slipped and got hurt, I would feel really dumb explaining that yes, I had an ice axe, but it was sitting in my car at the trailhead.

Plummer Peak from the summit of Pinnacle Peak

But there was another alternative. There was a climber's track leading the other way toward Pinnacle Peak. I was really curious about it. Some posts on said that it was an easy scramble (although usually with some mention of exposure). But all the hiking guides had these dire warnings about it being "for climbers, not for hikers". Well the only way to find out was to see for myself. It was only six hundred feet from the saddle to the top. It should only take about a half an hour.

The nice track in the scree only lasted for a little while. Then I was on a slope with broken rock bands with scree in between them. It wasn't hard to find a way through any of the rocks. I just had to be very careful of my footing because stepping on ball-bearing scree over rocks is the quickest way to land hard on your butt. Route finding wasn't clear because I didn't know if I should head straight up for the ridge or traverse more onto the south face. I opted for the latter although I suspect that there were lots of ways to make it to the top. The mixed scree and rocks continued until I was about half way up from the saddle.

Me on the descent - did I mention that I climbed Pinnacle Peak

At this point the rock got much more solid but it also got steeper. Those two usually go together. At first the solid rock was welcome. No more nasty scree to worry about. I made steady progress. Eventually I crested the west ridge near a large cairn that I had seen and was aiming for. But above the cairn the crest of the ridge looked very difficult. That wasn't the way. So I continued by traversing upward back onto the face. I kept climbing. Finally I was getting close to what looked like the top. There was a gully leading up to the base of a pinnacle that I had seen from the saddle and assumed was the summit. The gully was pretty steep. I was climbing by myself. It was only another fifty feet up the gully which would give access to the base of the final pinnacle. Decision time. I looked at the gully very carefully. The rock was solid. There were lots of holds, both footholds for climing and excellent handholds on the side of the gully for balance and safety. I looked all the way up the gully. I couldn't see any gaps that would be problems. I could do it. Up I went.

Hikers taking in the view high on the Pinnacle Peak Trail

The gully actually turned out to be easy and I got up it quickly. When I got to the top I got two surprises. The first was that there was a large rock at the top of the gully with a half a dozen rappel slings draped over it. Apparently multiple parties had preferred to rappel down than downclimb the gully. Ok, that was a little ominous but the gully just hadn't seemed that bad. I figured I would find out when I was going down. The second surprise was a good one. The pinnacle I had been aiming at, which looked very hard, was just a pinnacle on the ridge. The true summit was higher and further back which hid it from below. But from the top of the gully it was an easy walk to the summit rocks and only a two step scramble to the top. I had made it. I had an awesome view of the south side of Mt. Rainier. I could see Paradise and the parking lot and all of the cars at the base of the mountain. I crawled to the edge of the rocks overlooking the cliffs on the north side and could see all the way down to Reflection Lakes where I had started out. I could see cars parked there but not mine. I was sure that it was still there waiting for me though.

Mt. Rainier and a field of lupine high on the Pinnacle Peak Trail

I had a snack, drank my water, took pictures and enjoyed the view. I only stayed on top about fifteen minutes. I was eager to tackle that gully on the way down. It turned out to be easy. I was careful on the steep rocks and was on the scree before long. That was the trickiest section. I had to be careful to avoid a slip that could result in scratches, scrapes or a very sore tail bone. Finally I was back down to the climber's track and then to the saddle and the maintained trail.

I felt good about climbing Pinnacle Peak and took my time walking down. Now I was facing directly toward Mt. Rainier and was able to enjoy the view. I took lots of pictures. I stopped to chat with people heading up to the saddle, answering "did you make it all the way to the saddle?" with "Yes and then to the top of Pinnacle Peak". It took me about an hour to get back to my car. I was feeling very pleased with myself. Although it was short this was the hardest climb I had done for a while.

Parking at Paradise - not a wilderness experience

It was time to head home. But I had a lot that I wanted to do on the way back. First I went to Paradise. It was a real zoo there. The lot was full. The overflow lot was full. I had to park a quarter of a mile down the Paradise Valley road. I went to the gift shop in Paradise Inn where Sandy and I had stayed on my birthday the year before. My objective was to get a Mt. Rainier wine glass. I had bought two the year before and they were my favorites. But one of them was broken a while back. I bought one to replace it and two more as spares. As long as I was at the gift shop I bought a Mt. Rainier tshirt and hat combo. What the heck, it's not like I'll be back here next weekend. From Paradise I had a long drive back to Boise with several more stops. In Naches, just west of Yakima, I stopped at a fruit stand. The Yakima Valley is a major fruit growing region and there are fruit stands everywhere along the highway. I got some cherries (rainiers, of course) and peaches to take home. In Prosser I made a couple of stops. I had to go to Chukar Cherries. I bought some cherry preserves and chocolate cherry candies. I got a special price for buying four bags of candy. I also stopped at Thurston Wolfe winery where they do a wine called PGV. It's a blend of Pinot Grigio (my favorite wine) and Viognier (Sandy's favorite wine). I bought a whole case to take home.

And that's about it. The rest was just a long ride home with a chance to listen to my new Clockwork Angels CD by Rush about five times before I got home about nine pm. I was glad that I could go to work on Monday and have a chance to rest.