Climbing Plummer Peak

My friend the marmot from last weekend is still here

We managed to survive our first night in the Packwood Inn. Although Sandy was worried that she wouldn't be able to sleep, we actually overslept and didn't wake up till 7am. From the perspective of our mountain trips that is downright decadent. But the good news was that we didn't have far to go to the trailhead. Since the hotel didn't offer breakfast we had bought supplies at the market the evening before. After a quick breakfast we were on the road. It took us about forty five minutes to reach the trailhead at Reflection Lakes.

It was deja vu all over again. I had done this hike six days earlier when I went to Pinnacle saddle and climbed Pinnacle Peak. This time we hoped to go up the other way from the saddle and climb Plummer Peak. The week before I was nervous about the snow on that route. We came prepared this time. I had my ice axe and Sandy had her ski poles. If it was possible we were determined to get up Plummer Peak. It would be a good summit for Sandy and I would have both peaks from Pinnacle saddle. Don't delay, collect the entire set!

Sandy looks happy - we reached the saddle

I had learned the previous weekend that there mosquitoes near the trail head so we both put on our insect repellent before we started. This time it wasn't as effective. When we stopped it didn't take long for the bugs to find us. But as long as we kept moving we were ok. Since it was less than a mile and a half and 1200 feet of elevation gain to the saddle we didn't need to take any long rests. We did the obigatory start-by-hiking-through-the-forest and eventually got above the trees. The view of Rainier was as spectacular as I remembered it. Sandy remarked on the contrast with how much less snow there was than in July of last year. Of course then there was six feet of snow at Paradise and the Pinnacle Peak trail was blocked by deep snow right at the road. Although the mountain wasn't quite as pretty without all the snow at least our hike was possible.

Plummer Peak from the saddle

When we got close to the saddle Sandy spotted my friend, the marmot, munching on lupine right next to the trail. Although he had been quite shy the previous week this time he let me get close before he ran off. I got better pictures of him. But he definitely was not tame like the marmots at Spielboden in Switerland. He wasn't looking for a handout from hikers. Even though he wasn't as spooky as last weekend, it wasn't long before he got tired of me snapping his picture and disappeared.

After passing the marmot it wasn't long to the saddle. We got there exactly one hour from when we started. I got the obigatory picture of Sandy at the saddle with Mt. Rainier behind her. After a short break (the bugs showed up after a few minutes) we looked up towards Plummer Peak. A track led toward the peak from the saddle. We had noticed as we hiked up that there was a lot less snow on the slope that had intimidated me the week before. We thought that we would be able to find a way up.

Sandy admires Mt. Rainier just below the summit of Plummer Peak

We only followed the track for a hundred yards before we had to make a decision. The track split into two. One went on the south side of the ridge. That one looked sketchier and the south side looked steeper. The other went on the north side of the ridge and went to the snow field that had stopped me the week before. But most of the snow had melted and we had our snow gear. We opted to follow the track on the north side.

It wasn't long before we reached the scree slope that was covered with snow half way across. I had thought below that we could manage to cross the snow or the scree. But it was a steep slope and when we got there another option appeared. There were boot tracks in the scree climbing straight up to a small gully that looked like it would get us to the upper part of the mountain. I started up and Sandy followed.

The successful climbers on the summit of Plummer Peak

It was a pain but we made it up the loose scree to the base of the gully. It was just a short climb of another 30-50 vertical feet. Then we would be through the steep rock band that was our main obstacle and on the upper part of the mountain. But the gully was hard. First it was steep dirt. Then it was steeper rock. I did the part up the dirt and then decided it would be better to let Sandy go first. I stood aside and let her pass me. She went higher and then began to question whether this was a good idea. We stopped and looked up the gully and evaluated. The rock was solid and there were lots of foot holds and hand holds. We sketched out all the moves neccessary to reach the top. It wasn't far. We decided that we could do it and Sandy continued up with me behind. Finally we made it to the top of the gully and climbed out onto the upper slopes. From here the going got a lot easier. We could follow a distinct track. Unfortunately the easiest slope was still covered with snow which got steep near the top so we stayed on the rocks and dirt along the side. Watch out on the slippery scree. Climb up a big rock step. It wasn't difficult climbing but it was hard work. We made steady progress upward.

Mt. Rainier from Plummer Peak

Just above the saddle we had spotted someone on the summit of Plummer Peak so we knew that the route could be done. Now we could see them clearly as we got close. But we had one more obstacle to overcome. Just before the summit there was dense vegetation and rocky outcrops. We followed the track through the brush but I could see that the party on top had all left their hiking poles just ahead of us. The only reason I could think of for that was that they would be a hassle squeezing through the brush. Sure enough, about twenty feet below the summit there was an awkward step of about six feet. But it wasn't up a rock face, it was up a tree. The route climbed about six feet up a tree and then went through a gap where the trunk split into two trunks and left a gap wide enough for a person to squeeze through. It was not easy! It was the only way up as all around was impenetrable brush. I have to admit that it was the strangest route on a mountain that I had ever seen. But first Sandy and then I managed it. Then it was just a few steps to the top.

The other group starts down

We passed the group we had seen from below, two men and two women. We moved past them to find a spot to sit and enjoy our accomplishment. A little further beyond we saw another group of two guys. But there was plenty of room on the summit so it wasn't a problem. Amazingly this was the only spot since we had left the trailhead that there weren't bugs bothering us when we stopped. Maybe it was the breeze on top. Maybe it was just a reward for our hard work. But we could rest, eat our snacks and enjoy the view without being bothered by bugs. That was a nice touch.

We chatted with one of the climbers from another group for a while. He was a local and had climbed both Pinnacle Peak and Plummer Peak many times, in all seasons. Doing it in winter seems like it would be a challenge. Mostly we just enjoyed the view. We could see the Goat Rocks, Mt. Adams and barely Mt. St. Helens to the south. There was some smoke from forest fires in that direction. But the view of Rainier was clear and spectacular. The view always seems better after you work hard to reach the top of a mountain.

Sandy having lunch at Paradise Inn - no roesti!

The group of two left right after we arrived. After a while the group of four started down. We had the summit to ourselves. Looking across to Pinnacle Peak we could see two climbers just below the summit. A busy day in the Tatoosh Range. Eventually we started down too. Shortly after we heard people whooping and hollering. The group of four had decided to go down the snow field rather than around. Two of the sat down together and pushed off, sliding on their butts. They lost control and ended up rolling with their ski poles flying in all directions. From the noise they made they were either dying or having a great time. Fortunately it turned out to be the latter. But since we are mature climbers we made a more dignified descent. We did cross the top of the snow field though so I took out my ice axe and Sandy used her ski poles. It was only for three minutes but at least they touched snow. As we got lower we saw that the group ahead of us took the route down the south side. We looked and it seemed much easier than the way we had come up. That was fine by us. Neither of us really wanted to downclimb the steep gully on the north side. We followed them and were down to the saddle in no time.

Plummer Peak (right) from the meadows above Paradise

Just before the saddle we met two women who were climbing up. They asked where the track we had just come down led. It turned out that they had tried the same route that we had gone up but were unable to make it up the gully. They turned back but when we told them it was easier the other way they decided to give it a go. I have to give them credit for still having enough ambition to go back up after getting stopped on the first try.

As on the trail the day before there were a lot more people heading up as we headed down. When we were at least two thirds of the way down we met two guys, one of them quite heavy (and who appeared to be working really hard). They were very interested in how much farther it was to go. The trail isn't that long but it is steep and a lot of work. I was tempted to say "too far for you" but instead gave a polite answer that it had taken us an hour. Finally we were asked again further down by two women. After we passed Sandy commented that it seemed awfully early on the trail to be asking how much further. Sure enough, we were at the trailhead only five minutes later. I guess because the trail is short it attracts people who think that it is going to be easy. They find out otherwise quickly.

Steve on top of Plummer Peak

The weather forecast predicted clouds in the afternoon. Sure enough, by the time we were back at the trailhead it had clouded up. We decided to go to Paradise to eat. It was close and had a real restraurant instead of the minicafeteria they had at Sunrise. We got there just as it opened and had an excellent lunch. I had macaroni and cheese. It was the closest thing I could get to my usual spaghetti napoli that I always had for lunch in the Alps and it was quite good. Sandy couldn't get her roesti so she had to rough it. She did say that her fish and chips was excellent.

After lunch we went for a walk through the meadows around Paradise. John Muir claimed that they were the most spectacular flower gardens that he had ever seen. Pretty strong praise since he definitely got around. I mentioned it to Sandy and a guy walking by overheard. He stopped to say that he used to be in the theatre and had a friend who had done a one man show of John Muir for twenty years. Amazing what you learn from people while hiking.

Sandy on top of Plummer Peak

The flowers were impressive just as they had been all weekend. There were some nice waterfalls too and good views of the Tatoosh Range in the distance. I always enjoy looking at a mountain after I have climbed it so we admired the view of Plummer Peak. Unfortunately it wasn't optimum for taking pictures now because the high clouds gave photos a washed-out look. Eventually we went back to our car and drove to Packwook. Since we had eaten a big lunch we just bought some cheese and a bottle of wine at the market and settled in for the evening. Sandy watched the Seahawks game on tv to see Russell Wilson play. I worked on my blog and managed to finish a post on my trip the weekend before. It's my fate to never be caught up.

Our plan was to get up early, do one more hike, and then stop at some wineries on the way home. Sandy wanted to get home in time to pick up Laney that same evening so we had to start very early. It was tough but we woke up at 5:30 am, got dressed and ate breakfast. But when I went outside to pack the car it was completely overcast and had even rained recently. It was supposed to clear up overnight. Oh well. New plan. We hopped in the car and drove straight home. Since we got such an early start the wineries weren't even open yet when we passed through the Yakima Valley so we went straight home. We picked up Laney in Emmett and were home before 4 pm. We were a little disappointed that we didn't get our last hike in but when you hike in the Cascades (or the Alps) you take what the weather gives you. We had to admit that we were a tired and the chance to get to bed early and get a good start on the week wasn't really so bad.

It was another great trip. I learned to appreciate meadows as well as summits on the first day. And Sandy and I got to do a challenging scramble for our second day. It was Sandy's third summit of the summer.