The weekend after our return from the Alps I made a quick trip to Mt. Rainier National Park. It was a great trip. After I got home I showed Sandy my pictures. She said "Hey, I'd like to go to Mt. Rainier too". With our busy schedule this summer and fall the best choice was to go back the very next weekend. So we did. Since the fall semester didn't start for another week I took a day of vacation to give us a three day weekend.
We left Thursday afternoon and drove to Yakima. We made good time - we only stopped once at a rest area outside of Baker. I was impressed that we could make it to Yakima on one tank of gas, although the "low fuel" light came on just as we got off the freeway. Having been there the previous weekend I had thoroughly scouted at Yakima for hotels and restaurants. We stayed at a Super 8 hotel and had dinner at a Dennys that was right next door. After eating we turned in so that we could get an early start the next day. We still had a ways to drive to get to the park and the trailhead for our first hike.
Before leaving for our trip I studied our 50 Hikes in Mt. Rainier National Park hiking guide and came up with several hikes we could do. Naturally I was looking at trails that went to high points like ridge crests or fire lookouts. But I threw one other possibility into the mix - Summerland. This is a hike along a portion of the Wonderland trail, a one-hundred-mile route that completely circles the mountain. Kind of the Tour du Mont Rainier. The section that we were going to do led to a high meadow famous for wildflowers. The guide said that it was one of the most popular hikes in the park. It had also been recommended by my new friend Bernie who I met on Shriner Peak the week before.
We were up at 5:15 am, had breakfast, and left by 6:30. We made a quick stop at WalMart on the way out of town. Sandy needed to get some knitting needles (she was working on a major project while she rode in the car) as well as some snacks for the trail. From there is was a drive of about an hour and a half to the trailhead. After so much driving we were ready to start walking.
The trail climbed steadily but it was wide and nicely graded. The first part of the trail was in old growth forest. Although it was a bright sunny day we were in deep shade for the first hour. Even though it was still early in the morning it was starting to get warm and the shade was welcome. On the way back we would feel very superior to all the hikers who slept in and started late as we passed them sweating their way up the trail. The trail stayed close to Fryingpan Creek and we could hear it roaring through the trees. Occasionally the trail came right up to the creek and we could see the water cascading down. There were a few views of Tamonos Mountain and the Cowlitz Chimneys but they were into the sun so there were no chances for pictures.
Eventually the trail crossed Fryingpan Creek and started climbing through an open valley beside the creek. That's where the flower show started. There were flowers everywhere, all different kinds. It was like hiking through someones garden. As we continued to climb we sometimes could see the top of Rainier peaking above the ridge at the head of the valley. Eventually the trail turned back into the forest and started to climb steeply up the north wall of the valley. For about the last mile we climbed a series of switchbacks. We crossed several stream gullies that didn't have water running this late in the summer but were filled with flowers. There were lots of avalanche lillies but also other flowers like Indian Paintbrush and asters and a lot of flowers we couldn't identify. Eventually we came out of the trees and into the high meadow of Summerland. What a beautiful place! We found a shady spot and a log to sit on beside the trail where another hiker was sitting and eating his lunch. We had a long chat and compared hikes that we had each done in the park. He even took a picture of both of us together although my shirt was drenched with sweat from the long climb up to the meadow. I guess it proves that I had been hiking hard.
Actually it hadn't been bad at all. It was four and a half miles and 2100 feet of elevations gain but both neither Sandy or I was tired when we reached Summerland. Just an average hike. I guess all those hikes in the Sierras and Switzerland in July had done some good. I was pretty sweaty but that was just because it had been quite humid in the lower valley.
The meadow was spectacular. There was a view of Little Tahoma and Mt. Rainier. The meadow was filled with flowers. There were mostly lupine but all sorts of other flowers were mixed in. Monet would have gone crazy here. I decided that maybe I had to reevaluate my criteria for what makes a good destination in the mountains. It doesn't always have to be a summit. A high alpine meadow filled with flowers can be a worthy objective. I could tell the view was special because I kept taking lots of pictues of essentially the same scene. It's a good thing digital film is cheap. Eventually we were ready to head back down.
The return trip was easy and went quickly. Although we had seen very few hikers on the way up and at Summerland, there were lots heading up as we headed down. As mentioned earlier we felt quite superior as they climbed up in the heat of the day. Still when we reached our car a cold drink sounded good. We continued up the White River road to Sunrise, one of my favorite viewpoints of Mt. Rainier. Here the flowers were spectacular too. The hillsides above Sunrise were blue, not green because they were covered with lupine. It was quite a contrast from our last visit on my birthday in 2011 when the snow had still been ten feet deep. Either way Sunrise is a beautiful spot. On a future trip both Sandy and I would like to come back and do the Sourdough Trail and the Mt. Fremont lookout trail from Sunrise. But we had done our work for the day so this time we just stopped for a quick lunch. Even that was an adventure. There was only a cafeteria style counter which was so disorganized that it took us a half hour to get a hamburger and grilled cheese sandwhich. But it was worth the wait as food always tastes extra delicious after a good hike.
We had reservations to stay in Packwood, a small town just south of Mt. Rainier National Park. Overnight accomadations are actually somewhat of a problem for visits to Mt. Rainier if you don't camp. There is very limited capacity in the park and Packwood is the only town near the park with only four motels. Since we booked less than a week ahead of time we only had one choice - the Packwood Inn. We checked Trip Advisor and saw lots of bad reviews (oh oh) but three or four recent good reviews saying that the place was under new management. We decided to take a chance.
It certainly wasn't great. It was overpriced. It was run down and the carpet defintiely needed a cleaning. But the bathroom was tolerable and we definitely survived our two nights there. The excitement the first night came because the cleaners had probably left the door open while cleaning (common practice at hotels) and lots of bugs got in the room. You don't expect to have more bug problems in your hotel room than on the trail. But by about eight at night we had chased out or smashed the flies, mosquitoes and moths inside and had the room to ourselves. After that it wasn't too bad. Except for the overpriced part. But since the alternative was an hour and a half drive to Yakima we called it good. We had a pretty good pizza right next door and got a good bottle of wine at the market on the other side of the motel. So for the Packwood Inn it's a matter of location, location, location.