Day 1: Northside Figure 8, Mount Rainier

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Sunrise Trailhead to Berkeley Park, 3.6 miles

We are starting the Northside Figure 8 from the Sunrise Visitor Center today in the northeastern corner of Mount Rainier, but we wake up far away in our front-country campsite at Cougar Rock just before dawn. We are in the southern portion of the park and are eager to photograph the views at Reflection Lakes during Golden Hour and then do a little bit of hiking at Paradise before heading north. 

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Getting up early while camping is not exactly our forte (even though it should be as avid nature photographers), but somehow we manage to get ourselves moving. Perhaps we are motivated because we missed this iconic shot of Mount Rainier at Reflection Lakes two years ago when we hiked right past it on the Wonderland Trail. The mountain was enshrouded in thick fog that morning, and there was no reflection to speak of, which was a bit of a bummer. Now we have a second chance to see what we missed, and we are hoping for better luck.

This time, we are in a car, and we have no good excuse for not giving it a try. The lakes are only about 15 minutes from our campsite, and we can literally drive up to within a few feet, step out of the car and get our shots. It doesn’t get much easier than that, people, and, now that we are up and out of the tent, we are determined. We throw everything hastily into the car for the short drive to the lakes.

As soon as we arrive, we are happy we made the effort. The Mountain is out in its full glory, and there is a beautiful mist drifting across the lake’s surface. Double score!

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We have fun experimenting with our new Sony mirrorless camera and are pleasantly surprised that such a small, lightweight camera has all the features of our much-heavier DSLR. Just thinking about all of the weight we are going to drop is making us giddy, and we run around taking photos of everything that is the least bit photogenic. There is still some dew on the flora. That always adds an interesting touch.

Before packing up, we walk down the road to Sunbeam Falls. It’s such a pretty, little waterfall right on the roadside. We take pride in working hard for our hiking photos, but sometimes an easy shot is fun, too.

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When the photo shoot is finally over, we climb back in the car and head to Paradise Meadows. We have both been here before, but it’s hard to resist going for a short hike when views like this are available.

The marmots are even out, frolicking around the way marmots do, all cute and rascally like. We love marmots!

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By this time, it’s getting on in the day, and we figure we better start working our way up to Sunrise. It’s at least an hour drive, and we still need to pack our gear up before hitting the trail. We head back to the car, stop for a short picnic lunch and then get going.

The White River Wilderness Office is the best source for backcountry information in the northeastern corner of the park. Before heading out, we make a quick stop to see if we can get any updated intel on the status of the Northern Loop trail. Apparently, it was a tough winter on the Mountain, and hundreds of trees all over the park were blown down during a November storm. The national park budgets keep shrinking, so clearing the trees along the trails is taking even longer than normal this year. Of course, more high-use trails like the Wonderland Trail get priority over the Northern Loop Trail, so pretty much nothing has been done to clear this area of all the tree debris nearly nine months later.

The ranger at the WIC was out on the trail just last week and tells us it will be rough going with all the downed trees between Fire Creek Camp and James Camp. He also informs us that the bridge is out at the West Fork of the White River, so that will be a bonus challenge we weren’t aware of. I ask a million questions, and he draws us a diagram of the area to help us navigate the river crossing. We thank him profusely and ask him about a mistake that we have noticed on our permit about our license plate number. We aren’t sure if it is something we need to have corrected before we leave our car parked at Sunrise for the next six days.

He tells us that the whole permit system has been down all morning and not to worry about it since he can’t make any changes or issue any new permits. Just then, a hopeful hiker comes in to inquire about the computer system. Apparently, he was in line at 7 am this morning at the Longmire WIC with 13 groups in front of him! He didn’t get a permit before the system crashed, and now he has been waiting all day for this computer glitch to get fixed. What a fiasco! We were so lucky to get our permit yesterday—on a Sunday afternoon, no less. And we practically got all of the camps we wanted. Whew!

We drive up to Sunrise and get rockstar parking in the bustling lot. We stop in quickly at the Visitor Information Center to see where we should park our car while we are in the backcountry. The ranger says that we can leave it in our primo spot if we can’t find any other spaces. We decide to leave the car exactly where it is and start packing everything up in the parking lot. This is our 6th backpacking “leg” of the summer, so packing has become old hat by now, and we manage to do it pretty quickly.

We are excited for this trip because we don’t have to carry bear vaults on the Northern Loop—Rainier provides bear poles in its backcountry camps—and we have some new, improved gear to test out: a Sony a6300 mirrorless camera (no heavy DSLR!), a Goal Zero Nomad 7+ Solar Charger (no bulky battery chargers), a PeakDesign Capture Clip (no dropping bags to get to our cameras out), and Snow Peak double wall titanium cups (no permanently tea-tasting plastic cups for us anymore!).

Matt has a new NeoAir sleeping pad that should be much faster to inflate/deflate, and, with all the space/weight savings, Matt insists that we bring our REI Flexlite chairs to have seating with backs in camp. We also have some new trail foods to try, including Tofurkey, cheese and avocado wraps for lunches and Tasty Bite Punjabi eggplant with garlic naan for our first night’s dinner. We are excited to add a bit of glamping to our backcountry experience on this shorter and more relaxed trip.

It is 5 pm by the time we finally hit the trail, but we aren’t too worried about the late start. With only 3.6 miles to go, we know we will make it to camp before dark and hope that we will avoid most of the day-hikers in this popular area, not to mention the heat and the harsh afternoon sun. The rangers at Sunrise told us that Berkeley Park is in peak flower at the moment, and we are eager to see the meadow in its full glory.

We start off on the Sourdough Trail behind the Visitors Center and quickly gain elevation to get a commanding view of the area. I hiked this trail in 2014 with my mother, but it’s a first for Matt, and he is loving being back on Rainier again. At the trail junction at Frozen Lake, we pick up the Wonderland Trail for a short while before splitting off toward Berkeley Park.

We have seen a fair number of flowers on the trail up to this point, but, as we drop down into the meadow, it’s as if the Mount Rainier flower factory went into overdrive. Everywhere we look, there are colorful bouquets of flowers competing for our attention. The purple lupine, red paintbrush, yellow brachted lousewort and white hippies-on-sticks are all mixed and mingling together in beautiful arrangements. It is simply stunning, and we are having way too much fun—the sheer abundance of flowers all around us is amazing.

If that weren’t enough, there is a delightful little stream and a backdrop of beautiful mountains surrounding us. We are loving Berkeley Park!

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We would probably just stay right in that meadow all night if we could keep taking photos, but the light is fading. We start making our way to camp, and, when we arrive, one of the sites is already taken. There are three tents set up, but all of the occupants are already in them, even though it’s not even 8:00. The only other individual site is closed due to a tree hazard, so we take the group site near the occupied camp and hope it’s ok.

As we are setting up, one of our neighbors emerges and asks if we know anything about the trail ahead. We share the information that the ranger told us, and she heads back to her tent for the night. We filter water and complete the camp chores before allowing ourselves to sit in our comfortable camp chairs with backs! We eat our delicious Indian eggplant dinner with fresh naan and feel like we have died and gone to heaven. It is so nice to eat something with a different flavor on the trail.

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We are both eager for bed and climb into the tent. We practically fall asleep as Matt reads me the trail description for tomorrow. Just then, I remember that I need to take my contacts out and grab my small toiletry kit only to realize that I have forgotten to bring my contact storage container. Arghhh.

Matt suggests that I use the aspirin and electrolyte containers we are carrying in our first aid kit as a substitute. It’s not ideal, but I don’t have much choice. I empty the containers, clean them out as best as I can with a little water and give them a go. They are way bigger and deeper than they should be, so I do my best to make sure the contacts are covered with enough saline solution to keep them wet. I hope I don’t tip them over during the night. Knowing my luck, I’ll probably wake up to the contacts being stuck to the side of the containers, drying out all night. What a bozo I am to forget something so essential! I guess that’s what happens when you get a little too comfortable?!?!

What’s the most important thing you ever forgot to bring on a backpacking trip?

6 thoughts on “Day 1: Northside Figure 8, Mount Rainier

  1. If I had a nickel for the times I forgot some random toiletry item like this, I’d be a rich girl! Been there, done that with the contact case! The most important thing that I’ve forgotten, however, was something that actually turned into a great teaching moment for my kids: http://www.hopeandfeathertravels.com/2014/08/foothills-folly-part-iii.html. My kids and I still laugh at the look on my face when I had to tell my best friend what I had forgotten with 7 hungry kids in our midst. Great post, as always, and now you have me eyeing the Sony a6300 (I have the Sony RX100 III, which I love, but this one looks dreamy…)

    1. OMG! What a funny story! And how cool that your son was able to save the day for everyone. Love it! We do love the mirrorless camera, but we probably love our PeakDesign Capture Clips even more. Be sure to ask Santa for one of those, too, if you don’t already have one! Cheers!

  2. Hi guys! I love reading your posts and looking at your beautiful photos!
    I have a mirrorless Sony rx100 and have been wanting to get the Peak design capture clip for more ease of use, but I’m interested to know what you use as a cover for your camera to protect it?
    Also what date did you go on your trip? Were mosquitoes a problem?

    1. Thanks, Charubala! We absolutely love the PeakDesign Capture Clip for backpacking and know you will to. PeakDesign sells a handy shell for your camera that is great for keeping light rain and dust off your camera while hiking, so be sure to pick up one of those if you get the capture clip. We did this trip in early August and didn’t find the bugs to be too much of a nuisance, but we always carry some bug spray with DEET in case we need it. Cheers!

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