Day 6: Northside Figure 8, Mt. Rainier

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Mystic Lake to Sunrise Trailhead, ~10 miles

We are hiking out to our car today. It is a Saturday, and we have 10+ miles to go until we get back to Sunrise. Then we need to find a place to stay on a busy, summer weekend night. Given all that, we decide to get up at 5 and hit the trail as early as possible. We are very efficient in breaking camp, and, as we are brushing our teeth, we even get the bonus of seeing a doe with her small fawn walk right across our front porch meadow (the exact spot where we saw Mama Bear with her two cubs in 2014!)—sometimes it really pays to get up early!

We are on the move by 6:15, and we have a definite pep in our step, being rather excited about the prospect of good eats and cold beer in our future. Before long, we drop into a glacial river bed. This stream crossing is easy, but the trail is pretty steep and sandy, making getting in and out of the river bed a bit challenging.

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From there the trail takes us over a moraine along a pretty grey path through stands of bright green fir trees. This is a pleasant section of the WT that is surprisingly flat, a rarity on this mountain, to say the least! At its end, we cross the roaring, silty Winthrop River on a sturdy log bridge and begin the long ascent up toward Sunrise.

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We switchback our way up the side of the Winthrop Glacier. We are really close to the glacier here, and it is hard not to be impressed by the big wall of ice to our right, even if it is mostly covered by rocks and dirt at our elevation. We get passed by the three boys who camped next to us with their sister and father last night.

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The boys are hiking on their own this morning. They look familiar to us, and we ask if they have ever hiked the Wonderland Trail before. Indeed, they have, and, after a short coversation, we confirm that they are the same boys whom we met on the WT last time at Klapatche Park when they tried to trade food with us—yet another strange, small world coincidence this summer!

We continue on through the forest past Granite Creek and begin the last push up to the trail junction to Skyscraper Peak. There are tons of lupine in bloom all along the trail here, and the pretty purple flowers make a pleasant distraction from all of the uphill that we are doing.

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Finally, the trail opens up, and we are above skyline with our first good views of The Mountain all day. Even though we have seen this mountain from so many different sides and for so much time while hiking in this park, it still blows us away to see it again in its full glory. It is so stinking big, so majestic, so impressive. This is one alpine view I don’t think either of us will ever tire of looking at, no matter how many times we see it.

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We blow past Skyscraper Peak, a worthy destination especially in the early morning or late afternoon, but, unfortunately, we don’t feel like we have the time to explore today.

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Dipping into the greater Sunrise system of trails, we see heaps of day hikers as we cross above Berkeley Park. We always appreciate having some trail time to ourselves, but this area of the park is so dang beautiful, sharing it with so many others can only be expected.

We stop at the Frozen Lake trail junction for a quick snack before picking up the Sourdough Trail for our last 1.4 miles. With one last look at the mighty Rainier, we set off for the final stretch, knowing this won’t be our last time in this beautiful national park.

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The very last section of trail is relatively flat, and we fly though it, seeing the Visitor Center appear below us in no time. We get back to our car by 12:30 pm on a busy Saturday, and we are bombarded by people asking if we are leaving. Matt doesn’t like being rushed and makes them all wait as we chuck off our boots and get settled back into the car. Finally, we reluctantly pull out and give up our primo parking space to a lucky recipient.

Before we know it, we are outside the park boundary and at the Naches Grill in Greenwater enjoying a celebratory beer for completing another awesome trek on Mt. Rainier. Woo hoo!

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