Mt. Rainier - August/September

10:37 a.m. on March 11, 2014 (EDT)
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Hey everyone,

I was thinking of adding a trip to Washington's Mt. Rainier National Park to my list.  Perhaps in late August or early September and doing the whole 90+ mile loop.

I'd love to hear about any experiences (both good and bad) about the park or region.  

Logistics is a bit sticky. Went through a few options this weekend. I'd fly into Seattle-Tacoma and from there drive to Ashford where the parks free shuttles begin.

Now driving there is kind of interesting.  Option 1: rent a car, have it sit a week, drive it back.  Option 2: take a taxi one, call when needed to return after trip. Option 3: Take a tour shuttle bus and then on the way home, unsure.

The tour bus appeared to be the cheapest, but many are a full day's worth of time.  Rent a car would add up too because I would rent it for a week and it's the length of time "used" that's killer. The taxi would be convenient but price can add up (using one site's calculator around $170 each way).

Obviously in my back pocket would be if I meet someone nice on the plane or terminal and I can bum a ride, even for a price is no big deal.

There's an REI 4 miles from the airport which I can use as a supply point for fuel canisters which is convenient.

Any thoughts on logistics, park/trail notes, or general advice?

Thanks to all in advance!

-Daniel

11:53 a.m. on March 11, 2014 (EDT)
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I would check the meet-up pages for the area hikers and see if you can get a ride arranged. Seattle folks are pretty nice folks and you have time to "get to know" people from there.

I urge you to be sure you have all the essential rain stuff and waterproof your fire. Bring a fire starter, don't just rely on matches. Take some stuff to keep in a dry sack as tinder as  well. Though that time of year can be an Indian Summer, rain can come and lots of it.

 

Here is a meetup link!

1:00 p.m. on March 11, 2014 (EDT)
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What gift said. Easy place to find a ride. Call the main REI store in Seattle.

I spent a summer in forestry school just down the road from the Park. We were in the field everyday. We built fires in the woodstove in our hooch about half the time. It is usually wet in ways most people have not experienced. Last year had great weather but that is a once in 25 year event. August is much drier than September.

You will need great rain gear, a tarp you can walk around under, good stove or even two. Lots of fire starters. If you are on the "Wonderland Trail" a lot of it is above treeline and there is no fuel or restrictions on fires. Fires will only be feasible a minority of the time. It is a great place to hike but a lot of the time all that beauty is obscured by clouds and fog. Best wildflowers around. Mtn goats and elk herds, marmots, pikas, and not that many people. Good luck.

1:01 p.m. on March 11, 2014 (EDT)
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Great link giftogab, thanks.  I'll check it in detail tonight.  Waterproof gear and equipment has now moved to the top of my list!

3:20 p.m. on March 11, 2014 (EDT)
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Also make sure your navigation skills are up to par, I understand the trail can get a little confusing on the East side of the mtn, depending on snow levels although by Aug/Sept. you should be fine in most years.

I'd also recommend a pack cover.

4:29 p.m. on March 11, 2014 (EDT)
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Thanks Jeff and ppine.  Like always, seems like the right preparation and appropriate expectations of the potential trail conditions with weather and navigation are most important. 

6:45 p.m. on March 11, 2014 (EDT)
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Jeff is right about a pack cover. Very important in the wet.

12:48 p.m. on March 12, 2014 (EDT)
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Daniel, I live in Seattle and have spent a good deal of time on Mt Rainier. I would take a stove, and not rely on fires. In most places in the park, you will not be allowed to have a fire. Although July, followed by August are the driest months of the year, September, especially early to mid-September, is often the most beautiful. A few things to be aware of and something that may catch non-locals and some locals by surprise. It can snow on any day of the year. I participated in a SAR once looking for a family that was unprepared. Shorts and tennis shoes in August. It can rain a lot, more on the Carbon River side and less on the White River side. Don't expect solitude in the more heavily traveled areas such as Sunrise or Paradise. Spray Park and Seattle Park and Observation Rock are quite nice and less crowded. Indian Henry's always gets a lot of people. The Tatoosh Range is also a good place. There are some other areas nearby that are worth visiting. The area around Chinook Pass has some great hikes and views of the mountain. Even in August, some trails may require passage over snow fields. Be mindful of bears in August and September in the "beary" patches.

I don't know where your base is, but rain gear, good rain gear, is essential. Tarps are ok lower down, but a good mountain tent that can deal with storms, would be my choice above the tree line.

4:31 p.m. on March 12, 2014 (EDT)
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may be able to help with getting you a ride, at least for one leg of your trip.  I live near SeaTac airport and my main hiking playground is in the National Forest on the NE side of the park.  Along with general schedule conflicts, my ability to help will also depend on which entrance to the park you want to use to access the Wonderland.  PM me if you want to discuss this further.

I'd recommend listening to Erich's advice.  That was good.

Adding to that:

I recommend that you contact the park service very soon to get a better understanding of how their campsite reservation system works.  Their reservation system is one reason I have never done the Wonderland Trail.  It's set up on a first-come-first-served basis, and they schedule you based on availability.  This means that if you're a 20-mile-per-day hiker, you may still only be allowed 7 miles per day (or whatever) based on if campsites are available for you.  This puts a damper on your ability to hike your own hike.  I would recommend connecting with them sooner than later since I'm sure the campsites are already filling.

Note regarding trail difficulty: Physical fitness is important for the Wonderland.  For example, a 20-mile-per-day hiker should expect 5,000 to 7,000 feet of aggregate elevation gain per day.  What comes up must come down, so expect the same kind of knee-pounding downhill as well.

Managing moisture:  Since my hiking playground is so close to the mountain, this is a part of the conversation I can speak to.  First, expect to hike wet much of the time.  I had to get used to it.  The area does not typically get deluge-type precipitation during the time of the year you're planning to go.  When it's wet, it's more like constant drizzle and humidity.  The forest holds a good amount of moisture, so even when the sun is out you'll find you're wet just from the humidity of the surroundings.  I would predict this to be more of an issue in late September than in August.  Here's how I handle it:

  • Use breathable synthetics and wool.  Zero cotton.
  • Rain gear: you can use a poncho over you and your pack for ultra breathability.  This has the issue of being susceptible to fabric tearing while bushwhacking.  I carry a poncho and pretty much don't use it.  I find that typical rain jackets (even Gore-tex) create a sauna-like experience, so I stay away from them.  I carry rain pants for the worst rain situations.  On the whole, they never get used.  My typical rain jacket is a Montbell Tachyon Anorak - which is not a rain jacket at all.  As a wind jacket / shirt, it's not rain proof.  It does do a great job of catch-and-release with the drizzle, and it breathes very well so I don't usually get the sauna experience while wearing it.  It's also so light weight that once I get in the sun I can get it dry and stow it quickly so I can get on my way.
  • Footwear: In the Pacific NW, this is where Gore-tex and other "like" permeable waterproof fabrics really shine.  I definitely recommend Gore-tex for your shoes / boots.  Alternatively a non-waterproof but super vented shoe with thick socks would also do a great job here.  If that's your choice then you'll spend some of your time drying socks.  I prefer the Gore-tex option.
  • Backpack:  I recommend using a Cuben Fiber pack with taped seams and a roll-top closure.  Any non-waterproof pack (even with pack cover) will just collect water (via direct exposure and humidity) and end up heavier to carry IMO.  That water gets into the pack so you'd then need waterproof sacks inside the pack (again, heavier). Of course there are all kinds of ways to handle this, but from my experiences the best solution seems to be a Cuben Fiber bag.  Note, the newest Cuben Fiber has very different (much better) waterproofing characteristics compared to Cuben from even a few years ago.  So if going this path, I'd recommend buying new rather than used.  Zpacks has outstanding options.

Last but not least, there is a Wonderland Trail expert out there that I think is worth listening to.  It's Willis Wall (Steve), and he has loads of great info to share.  He even has a video series on the trail (for sale) if you want that much detail.  Here's a link to his blog:

http://www.williswall.com/willis-wall-blog/

Have a great trip!

3:05 a.m. on March 13, 2014 (EDT)
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Placed disposable cache (paint bucket) at Sunrise Ranger station before we returned to start of hike.  Caution!  It is full of mice.  As are all of the group shelters along the way.

We left Longmire going counterclockwise.  The second time we skipped the part from Paradise to where the trail leaves the road up Nickle Creek.  Exiting at Longmire is a graceful way to get back to civilization.

Bring a tripod if you are planning on taking pictures.  Parts of the trail with all the fungi are very dark.  If curious try to find a small field guide to the mushrooms of Rainier.  Amazing how many different there are from gargantuan to pin head size.

It is an awesome walk.  First time was a start on Labor Day.  Mostly good weather except for some minor drizzle on parts of two days.  First of September gives you two or three days of very nice huckleberry fields on southeast side.

Second time was mid August and had one more rain day.  I took pictures of every bridge. Not one alike. Bring plenty of battery power and storage media.  Certainly enough water along the way so that you don't need a lot to carry.

Plan on taking several extra days to so that you can make a comfortable and interesting trip of it.  So much to see.

I carried rain pants.  Never used them.

The visitor's center had hot baths for a buck included towel.

$150-200 would be a cheap price to pay for somebody to drop you off and pick you up 9 or 10 days later.

You can plan camp spots and apply for them. Register now.  Be prepared with back up options including reversing the direction around the mountain.  Don't worry, both ways are uphill all the way.

A tent is better than a tarp.  It normally doesn't rain so hard as to not be able to carry on the next day.   Plan on walking in the rain for some portion of the trail.  The main problem is that you have committed to a camp the next night.  If you fall short or don't make it, somebody might be out a place to sleep when you do stop for the night.  Planed camp management will be a daily nagging stress.  People in the northwest just see rain as a different form of sunshine.

Make sure you can walk stairs laden down with a pack for 8 straight hours.   This is a good trek pole trail.  Start a jog/walk program now.

This truly is a Wonderful Experience and worth the effort.  The next time I do it I'm going to take 6 weeks. Section hike 2 weeks for each major leg of the trip.

7:44 a.m. on March 13, 2014 (EDT)
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Erich, herdingcats, and speacock...awesome information and very helpful! Body preparation for the trail as well as mental preparation for the weather will be key, not to mention getting a schedule down for each day of my hike.

If things get more concrete in the next month (plane ticket, site reservation, etc.), I'll let everyone know where I'm at in the process. Thanks again!  

10:02 a.m. on March 13, 2014 (EDT)
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Daniel: Enjoy your trip. There is no place in America like the Great Pacific Northwest and the Cascades. I miss it every day, though I love being a desert dweller now too. My bro was going to Climb Rainier this July but waited too long and the trips were all full. So he will climb Baker this summer and Rainier the next (for his 60th!)!

10:48 a.m. on March 13, 2014 (EDT)
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My suggestion to bring a tarp was in addition to a tent, not in lieu of one. Standing around in the rain or spending 3 days in a backpacking tent is not fun.

Plan to arrive at the Park early before your hike and get used to the altitude. Check out the 1,000 year old Douglas firs and western red cedars in the Ohannepecosh R. In a good snow year you can explore the ice caves near Paradise. The Kautz Creek mudflow is one of the best examples of primary plant succession anywhere. I would start on the White River side given a choice. Try Ipsut Creek for access to the snow and ice on the north side and Carbon Glacier if you are equipped for it. Use a lot of caution near the terminus of any glacier, and be very careful of crevasses and snow fields. The Mountain gets a very high snow load, but warm temperatures thaw it out and that allows the snow and ice to move around a lot.

I had plans to climb the Mountain twice with friends from forestry school. We were turned back both times by weather. In those days getting a permit was simple.

12:15 p.m. on March 13, 2014 (EDT)
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I would add a couple of things. Bugs. Not many from my perspective, but they are there. speacock was somewhat lucky with the weather as far as rain goes. September is usually quite nice. I have seen it rain for two weeks straight from the last week of August and the first week of September, then get glorious through mid-October. Since the rain is more drizzle and the temperature moderate, a cagoule might be a nice alternative to rain jacket and rain pants, or as a supplement. I would vote for a pack cover. Having grown up and spent most of my life on the Wet Side(West Side of the Cascades) I'll make an observation about rain. In the PNW it comes in many forms, from more than 2 inches in a day that we had last week end, to a heavy fog that drips, and everything in between. Outdoors people here have a number of ways to deal with it. I prefer all leather boots for their durability, their water resistance, comfort and for kicking steps in the snow fields you are likely to encounter any time of the year. I have seen folks hike with umbrellas. Wool is great as it keeps you warm when wet. Having hiked in other areas, the PNW weather is quite damp. Other places have a hard rain, but once its gone, the humidity allows you to dry out. Often here, even after the rain stops, it is still damp and will remain so until the next drizzle. Its a rain forest.

12:35 p.m. on March 13, 2014 (EDT)
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Erich said:

I would add a couple of things. Bugs. Not many from my perspective, but they are there. speacock was somewhat lucky with the weather as far as rain goes. September is usually quite nice. I have seen it rain for two weeks straight from the last week of August and the first week of September, then get glorious through mid-October. Since the rain is more drizzle and the temperature moderate, a cagoule might be a nice alternative to rain jacket and rain pants, or as a supplement. I would vote for a pack cover. Having grown up and spent most of my life on the Wet Side(West Side of the Cascades) I'll make an observation about rain. In the PNW it comes in many forms, from more than 2 inches in a day that we had last week end, to a heavy fog that drips, and everything in between. Outdoors people here have a number of ways to deal with it. I prefer all leather boots for their durability, their water resistance, comfort and for kicking steps in the snow fields you are likely to encounter any time of the year. I have seen folks hike with umbrellas. Wool is great as it keeps you warm when wet. Having hiked in other areas, the PNW weather is quite damp. Other places have a hard rain, but once its gone, the humidity allows you to dry out. Often here, even after the rain stops, it is still damp and will remain so until the next drizzle. Its a rain forest.

 Erich...in the 12 years I lived on the west side and 18 on the east....anytime I was in the mountains I got eaten by mosquitos. Even when others with me did not. I agree with your climate assessment whole heartedly.

4:25 p.m. on March 13, 2014 (EDT)
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Yea... the bugs.  I handle them with a head net.  It's a nice look.  They're somewhat immune to DEET unless you use 100%.  Even then, it only seems to last a few hours at best.

I'll also recommend pre-treating your clothing / shelter with Permethrin (be careful while treating around cats).  I've been using it with outstanding results.

4:45 p.m. on March 13, 2014 (EDT)
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That sounds like a good idea.  I actually recently got a hat that I reviewed that was treated with Permethrin.  With this cold weather I haven't had a chance to try it out yet though.  The tag states that it's good for 70 washes which is pretty impressive, even if it only lives up to half of that.  We'll see.

That's also a good thought for any forum, not just this one.  Any recommendations regarding the Permethrin such as brand.  I know REI has a Sawyer type that's a spray.  Does anyone know of any other types of treatment like a wash? I know I can Google, but everyone's recommendations is what makes this worth it!

7:08 p.m. on March 13, 2014 (EDT)
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I've been using the spray on Sawyer type and am very happy with it.

11:55 p.m. on March 13, 2014 (EDT)
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Daniel Oates said:

That sounds like a good idea.  I actually recently got a hat that I reviewed that was treated with Permethrin.  With this cold weather I haven't had a chance to try it out yet though.  The tag states that it's good for 70 washes which is pretty impressive, even if it only lives up to half of that.  We'll see.

That's also a good thought for any forum, not just this one.  Any recommendations regarding the Permethrin such as brand.  I know REI has a Sawyer type that's a spray.  Does anyone know of any other types of treatment like a wash? I know I can Google, but everyone's recommendations is what makes this worth it!

 The Sawyer bottles ar walmart say the same thing about 10 washings more like six...I never thought of trying to get some from my local farm supply store like goose suggested.

12:59 a.m. on March 14, 2014 (EDT)
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Daniel, I have done the whole thing, mostly in fits and spurts, and I did a 60 mile chunk in one go one year.  You have gotten good advice...but...I want to throw my two cent's worth in.

You have to submit your bid to do the Wonderland trail (either whole or part)  by mail or fax.  Last year the park received 4 TIMES its normal permit requests. It's a crap shoot to even get in. 

Know there are some tricks about putting together an itinerary. Try counterclockwise. Be willing to try back country camping.  You have to list your first choice and second choice camping options.  Back country campers are permitted at White River campground and Cougar Rock campground if you need a place in between back country sites-- and these are the only places you are allowed a campfire, but not in the back country camping sites.

If you are in good shape, you can probably manage 10 - 15 miles a day, but Herding Cats is right about the big gains and losses. The bugs won't be nearly as bad in most places later in the year. 

August/September snow fields should be melted down or have good boot pack, but good map skills can be helpful. Probably the trickiest place on the trail for snow and ice can be the climb up to Panhandle Gap, the highest point on the Wonderland.  It can be VERY icy -- but doable. It's more unnerving than anything to go over sometimes :)

By mid-October, permits are no longer required, but the weather becomes a REAL gamble by then. It can be spectacularly gorgeous, or spectacularly wet and cold!

http://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/upload/mount%20rainier%20park%20map.pdf


This map is helpful to get a good feel for the trail and terrain.

http://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/upload/trailmap-2.pdf

This map is great for mileage and campsites.  I am surprised it's still readable after all the looking I have done at this map for planning :D

And like Herding Cats, I might even be able to help out either giving you a ride myself, or helping you to find one.  Heck, all us PNW's could take you out for an adult beverage after your hike!

I am including pictures of Panhandle Gap and surrounding area from 2 years ago -- one from mid-September, the other from early October.  To be honest, the weather was unseasonably fantastic, especially in October.  But I wanted you to see what could be in store for you.

The first several pix are from Mid September, '12:


P9174036.jpg

* the climb up to Panhandle from Summerland


P9160297.jpg

*going UP the snowfield


P9160275.jpg

*Heading up the pass


P9174030.jpg

*Going through tricky stuff


P9160278.jpg

*The Reward


P9160279.jpg

*Looking south east. Mt. Adams and Goat Rocks are usually visible. Too many forest fires for that.


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*Patchy snowfields on the way to Indian Bar


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*the shelter at Indian Bar

These few are from early October, three weeks later:
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*Near Cowlitz Divide on the way down to Box Canyon


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*Mt Adams in the distance. Note the forest fire. It closed the PCT for the season.


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*Near the Cowlitz Chimneys

I didn't want to bore you with my family album, but I wanted you to see pix from a time frame approximate to yours. Hit the right weather, and your standard for outdoor beauty will change forever!

If you have specific questions or want advice, etc, shoot me a private message. 

11:34 a.m. on March 14, 2014 (EDT)
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That was a great post second gear!

11:56 a.m. on March 14, 2014 (EDT)
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ppine has a good solution to a long wet spell that you don't want to walk in.  We've carried a home made light weight 10x10' tarp out of sylnylon.  It has grommets on edges and one in the center to receive a couple of trek poles lashed together to provide head room.  Fits in a side pocket of pack.  You can skip the edge grommets if you use pebbles or short stick to tie a knot around the fabric to attach to limbs. Nice to be able to prepare meals in an upright position and stay relatively dry and warm.

You will be required to use the available toilets provided by the park.  They rather you urinate in the woods however.  Dick Creek campground's "throne" was perched upon a large stump 10 feet above the 5 tent camp space.  It takes a bit of agility to get up to it and get settled in.  It is open air.

+1 for second Gear and shows the flavor of the trip.

Get those permit requests in soonest.

1:04 p.m. on March 14, 2014 (EDT)
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secondgear, that was a great post, thank you, and thanks for sharing your family album!

5:33 p.m. on March 18, 2014 (EDT)
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WOW secondgear! That was a great report and wonderful information!

9:08 p.m. on March 27, 2014 (EDT)
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Wilderness Permits & Reservations - March 27, 2014: As of mid-afternoon today, after 12 days of accepting reservation requests, we have received just over 1300 applications for wilderness permits, which is far beyond average. At this rate we will have received a record number of requests for the March 15- through March 31 time-frame. As numbers continue to climb, the odds of being able to successfully fulfill all requests for reservations have been significantly reduced, especially for those seeking backpacking permits. The option to a reservation is a first-come, first served permit.

 

The park reserves a few first-come, first-served permits per day. BUT you have to be AT THE DOOR when the office opens, or your chances for that day decrease. I am not sure if they will allow people to pick the next day's itinerary the day before with the high request volume this year. :(

7:08 a.m. on March 28, 2014 (EDT)
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Wow, thanks for the info secondgear.

11:39 p.m. on April 16, 2014 (EDT)
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Daniel:  This just dug up from the Deep Pit.  Earliest trip. 

Day 1 Longmire to Paradise River 0.0 3.5
Day 2 Paradise River to Nickel Creek 13.2 9.7
Day 3 Nickel Creek to Summerland 24.1 10.9
Day 4 Summerland to Sunrise 31.9 7.8 (cache pickup?)
Day 5 Sunrise to Mystic 41.5 10.6
Day 6 Mystic to Mowich Lake 54.9 13.4 (cache pickup?)
Day 7 Mowich Lake to Golden Lakes 65.1 10.2
Day 8 Golden Lakes to N. Puyallup R. 70.1 11.5
Day 9 N. Puyallup R to Devil’s Dream 82.6 12.6
Day 10 Devil’s Dream to Longmire 87.6 5.0

There are side trips of a few miles that can be made by dropping packs and hiking to viewpoints.


We resupplied at Sunrise. 

Latest trip we skipped the area between Paradise River to Nickel Creek.

December 21, 2014
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