Eagles Roost>Spray Park>Mystic Lake, ~11 miles
We have a longish day with the promise of non-stop beautiful scenery, and we want to make sure we have plenty of time to enjoy it all without feeling rushed, so it’s a super early start for us today. We wake up at 5 and are on the trail by 6:30. Even though we are eager to get to Spray Park, we make a quick detour to see Spray Falls, one of Rainier’s most impressive (and aptly-named) waterfalls. Just a quick photo and we are off!
The trail up to Spray Park is in thick forest and is steep, rooted and rocky for the first mile before we finally break out of the trees and see our first signs of meadow. A photographer we met at Eagle’s Cliff last night told us that the lower meadow was already past prime, so we keep booking past the first groupings of flowers we see and press on to the upper meadow where the lupine is in its full glory.
We are the only ones on the trail at this time, and it’s really cool to have such a stunning location all to ourselves. Unfortunately, the views of the mountain from Spray Park are best in the late afternoon, but we can’t stop ourselves from trying to include Rainier in our shots anyway. The Mountain is so big, so majestic and so in our face, it’s difficult to resist, even though the early morning lighting isn’t showing it off at its best.
After gawking at all the flowers, we take a short spur trail to a spectacular viewpoint of Mother Mountain and Mist Park for our first break of the day.
From there, we spot a herd of about twenty mountain goats, resting in the grass. There are even a few babies, and, before long, they all get up and start grazing. They are moving parallel to the trail in the direction of the pass. We pack up our things quickly, and Matt runs ahead on the trail to try to catch up to them for some photographs. He reaches the herd just after the pass and is able to get a few shots off as they move across a snowfield.
I catch up to Matt just as the goats are moving out of view, and we continue on our way. Even though we can no longer see them, we can hear their hoofs clanking along the talus field they are crossing, which is super cool.
We are surprised to see so much less snow here than two years ago. We only have to walk over a small snowfield or two, and then we just follow the trail without incident. It is so different from what we remember that it almost seems like an entirely new trail to us. Believe you me, we are not complaining!
We head down into Seattle Park, where there are lots of flowers in bloom. The pink and yellow blossoms around all of the creeks and streams make us swoon, and we stop to take lots of photos of the pretty, little scenes.
Eventually, the flowers give way to trees as we continue down to Carbon River. We stop at the trail junction to the Carbon River Camp and eat lunch there. It’s not a particularly scenic spot, but there’s easy access to water and a nice log to sit on. A handful of other backpackers pass us coming and going. We exchange small talk with some, while others simply pass on by.
After lunch, we have a 5-mile uphill hike to Mystic Camp. We begin our journey by crossing the Carbon River Suspension Bridge, which is way cool. I love a good suspension bridge. I’ll take that over fording a river any day, let me tell you!
Then it is a steep climb beside the Carbon Glacier up to Dick Creek Camp. The glacier is gargantuan, but it is all covered in dirt and rocks, so it’s appearance is somewhat deceiving. I wonder how many hikers walk right on past it without really realizing what they are seeing.
Just before Dick Creek, the trail has been eroded pretty severely, and we have to use a rope to climb up the steep opposite bank where we pick up the trail again.
Back into the forest now, we switchback our way up hundreds of feet and reach one of our favorite little waterfalls from last time on the WT. It is right on the trail and covered in bright, green moss. It’s in dappled light this afternoon, so we pass on the photos this time. Instead, we take advantage of the easy access to cold water and enjoy a quick break.
We have one last, long uphill stretch to the pass below Mineral Mountain, and it goes quickly. We check out the tarn at the top of the pass that was perfect for Rainier reflections last time we were here. The view then was so spectacular that it became the cover photo for our guidebook on the Wonderland Trail. We are surprised to see that the water level is so much lower this year. The scene doesn’t look nearly as impressive, so we press on. Trail photography is all about being in the right place at the right time, which is all part of the fun!
From there, it’s only a mile down to pretty Mystic Lake and our campsite for the night. In the late afternoon light the scenery surrounding Mystic Lake is captivating. We are in an especially good mood as we have many fond memories of this stretch of trail.
As we get closer to Mystic Camp, we are curious to see if we’ll run into Mama Bear with a new set of cubs in this area, since we spotted her right in camp two years ago! We arrive and secure the exact same campsite where it all went down but with no repeat visit this time. We are fairly efficient with setting up camp, filtering water and cooking dinner.
It feels much colder tonight, and we are both eager to get in the tent where we can snuggle in our warm sleeping bags for our last night on the Northside Figure 8. Sleep tight!