6 days/5 nights/50 miles
Sarah and I started planning our trip to Mt. Rainier National Park last year by contacting her friends Nick and Jamie who live near Seattle and also love backpacking and the outdoors.
It was to be our big 2016 backpacking trip and it definitely didn't fall short of how incredible we thought it would be. 5 nights/6 days of pure backpacking goodness!
Despite calling this "The Northern Loop" our trip actually combined 2 different loops on the north side of Mt. Rainier. One being the Northern Loop and the other being Spray Park Loop. We would be hiking these in a figure 8 pattern starting southeast out of Mowich Lake on the western end of Spray Park Loop for a total of around 50 miles. Here is a wonderlandguides.com map for reference:
Mowich Lake to Eagle's Roost - 2 miles
After securing walk-up permits at the Carbon River Ranger Station we headed for the Mowich Lake trailhead. Our first campsite would be at Eagle's Roost after an easy 2 mile hike in. We spent the evening doing a few crosswords.
Eagle's Roost to James Camp - 14 miles
Day 2 ended up being our longest day of the trip. The 14 mile hike started with a pass by Spray Falls, which is a very impressive 300+ feet tall!
After passing the falls we ascended up the trail to Spray Park. A massive, partially snow covered alpine area with incredible views of Mt. Rainier to the south and Mother Mountain to the north.
Descending from Spray Park brought us to the Carbon River suspension bridge. It is a large, glacial river. Very fast flowing!
The next challenge for the day would be a series of switchbacks up from Carbon River to Yellowstone Cliffs, which were incredible even under partly cloudy skies.
We hiked toward Lake James Camp between the cliffs and beautiful alpine lakes.
We made camp at Lake James with a drizzle coming down. This day was so long that looking back on it it is easy to remember it as 2 days. One with sunny skies and views of Rainier and one with cloudy skies and views of Yellowstone Cliffs.
James Camp to Berkeley Park - 9 miles
When we awoke on day 3 it was cloudy. Our gear was wet. We felt wet. We wanted sun, but sun was not in the cards. What we thought would be an easy 9 mile hike from Lake James Camp to Berkeley Park Camp ended up being a technically difficult hike that took much longer than expected.
Our ranger failed to inform us that this section of trail had been hit very hard 2 years ago by a winter storm and that around 150 large trees now littered the trail descending down to the White River.
We were also not informed that the bridge at White River, a large glacier river, had been swept away. This required a thigh-deep crossing in bone chilling water and then we had to locate a suitable log crossing over an especially deep and fast flowing section.
The climb up from White River was a long and slow one and we were soaked to the bone.
Our spirits were lifted once we hit Grand Park, which is a jaw-droppingly large meadow. The views would have been insane without the thick fog and cloud cover!
Not long after passing through Grand Park we made it to Berkeley Park Camp. Under a light drizzle we cooked dinner in our tent vestibules and had an early night.
Berkeley Park to Mystic Lake - 13 miles (with Burroughs Mountain side loop)
On the morning of day 4 we were wet, but the sun was peeking through the clouds so we had hope for a great day. It didn't disappoint! Look how happy Sarah was!
The day started with a pass through Berkeley Park, which is an alpine meadow surrounded by Skyscraper Mountain and Mt. Fremont. This area was unbelievably beautiful and I'd go back to it just for a day hike!
At Frozen Lake where we could have hiked onward toward Mystic Lake, we decided to take a 3 mile side loop up the Burroughs Mountain trail. This required some slightly sketchy snow hiking, but ended up giving us some of the best views of the trip. It also brought us to the highest elevation we'd reach: 7200 ft.
After looping back down to Frozen Lake we decided to stop for lunch and lay out some of our gear to dry. Around this time the fog and clouds started rolling in again. We continued on the Northern Loop toward Mystic Lake. This required us to climb up toward Skyscraper Mountain.
We then descend down to the bottom of Winthrop Glacier, which was the first of 2 glaciers we'd pass.
With the side loop this day ended up being a 13 mile day. The hike down to Winthrop Glacier was especially hard on our feet and all of us ended the day a bit sore.
Mystic Lake to Ipsut Creek - 8 miles
We awoke to sun on the morning of day 5 and it felt incredible!
After a quick breakfast we decided to spend a little more time on the banks of Mystic Lake so we could lay in the sun, dry our gear, and get some much-needed vitamin D into our bodies. The mountain you see near Mystic Lake is called Mineral Mountain.
The trail out of Mystic Lake provided some fantastic views of Rainier and a couple hours into it some much needed flat trail to hike on alongside Moraine Creek.
After a lunch at Dick Creek Camp we walked alongside Carbon Glacier. The bottom of glaciers are really dirty!
After crossing Carbon River the trail REALLY flattened out and felt like a stroll in the park as we approached Ipsut Creek Camp.
Ipsut Creek Camp was a strange one. It used to be a car camping spot until a winter storm made the road to it impassable. Now it serves as a weird bicycle camping/backpacking campground, but has the layout and old infrastructure of a car camping area. A bit spooky and post apocalyptic feeling, but nice anyway. The bear boxes were nice to have!
Ipsut Creek to Mowich Lake - 5 miles
Day 6! The end of our trip was in sight, but unfortunately it was at the top of Ipsut Pass. This required us to gain around 1000 feet in elevation over a very short distance. At the bottom of the pass I checked the map and counted 17 switchbacks. I counted every single one and only took 1 photo on the way up.
Another mile or so after Ipsut Pass brought us back to the car!
All in all this was everything I wanted in a backpacking trip. Mountains, elevation, different weather, alpine zones, away from crowds, and fun. By far the best backpacking trip I've been on yet.