August 25, 2020
Fifteen minutes. Ten even. That’s all I needed. If I’d gotten up fifteen minutes earlier than usual… Oh, I did. I got up at 3:45 and left the house at 4:15. Yes, I skipped my adventure latte! If I hadn’t knocked my coffee mug over at the door… If I’d taken the interstate instead of the back road to US 12… If I’d passed the truck in the dark the first time he kindly signaled it was safe, or the second, instead of waiting until the third time when I felt safe…
Fifteen minutes and I would have been at Sunrise Point for the colored part of sunrise. Well, I was too late, I figured I would just keep my eyes peeled for a different highlight.
Maybe it will be Frozen Lake in the early light. I don’t know why this tiny pond even has a name and signage to it. It’s the water source for the visitor area and is surrounded by a cable fence and “Keep Out” signage, incongruous in this wild land. But this morning it’s rather lovely.
I was headed to Skyscraper Pass. A new hike. Or Berkeley Park, my favorite destination from Sunrise visitor center. I planned to decide when I got to the decision point.
There weren’t too many cars in the lot at 6:45, and I quickly discovered that most of the occupants were heading down as I went up. They arrived early for sunrise. By the time I got to the five point intersection, which includes the trail to Fremont Lookout where the worshipers had all been, my shadow and I had the mountain to ourselves.
I didn’t even know where the Skyscraper trail was, but signage at the second most popular spot on Mt. Rainier is abundant. No worries. I reached the five points intersection with its plethora of signs, none said Skyscraper. Fortunately, at the last minute, I had taken a screen shot of the directions on Washington Trails. I do not like to be lost. On the other hand, if I didn’t find it, I would just go to Berkeley. (WTA.org is the only organization I give a recurring gift to; which doesn’t say much for me, but it says a lot about them.)
I could go a bit farther toward Berkeley before I had to make a decision. And I was beginning to realize I had seen the trail before, traversing the slope above the Berkeley trail. One going down into the center of the bowl and the other rising to the rim.
As I approached the decision point, keeping my eyes peeled for mountain goats, which always qualifies as a high point, I chose. Untraveled roads are the most interesting to me when there is opportunity. I have more to choose favorites from, then to return to when familiar feels right. Skyscraper Pass it was; though I had no desire to go up Skyscraper Mountain. High is high, I had no need to be highest.
The flowers were nearly gone, but I have had more than my share of spectacular flower hikes this season, by which I mean more than one. This side of the mountain opens late after the winter snows, and between heavy snow and the Virus, it might have been later than usual this year. And now, already, there are signs of autumn. Summer is short here.
I hiked higher and higher looking down into lushly green Berkeley Park—okay, a little wistfully, knowing there were still flowers along the creeks—and up into Herself. Mt. Baker, where I hiked at the beginning of the month, is a large dot over the park beyond the range.
A marmot! A pair! Marmots always go on the highlights list. And jays, a whole flock flitting in one spot. Grey jays for sure, but every now and then a flash of blue. I finally got a photo, but it didn’t stay put long enough to focus. I’m not sure what it is, maybe a mountain bluebird.
One hiker passed me on the way up, and there was a work crew putting new bridges in muddy spots. Otherwise, this is apparently not on Sunrise’s popular hikes list. It is the Wonderland Trail, though, and as I wandered on the pass, I waited to reenter the trail for a pair of backpackers to descend.
Or at least I thought it was the pass. But wait, maybe that’s it over there. Or maybe it all is. And there is the mountain I’m not going up. I see the hiker who passed me at the top. He’ll be heading down soon. I can see the whole trail I’ve just come up, and there is only one hiker on it (who turns out to be a WT hiker and not going up Skyscraper).
One reason I wasn’t going is because a friend said there isn’t much room at the top. But there is no one here and no one coming. And I skipped the last push and scramble at Mt. Baker two weeks ago. So…well…why not. Go for the adventure!
The trail starts up through steep meadow with Rainier rising behind. It becomes slippery with shale and gravel and I feel a twinge of anxiety for the return, but I’ll deal with it later, on the return. At least it’s not on an edge. Except for one part. I probably could have done the scramble at the top without my hands, but I use my hands. I’m probably high enough. But I’m so close. It’s just a strength thing, it’s not dangerous, other than a possible sprained ankle, and no one around.
I DID IT! I SUMMITED A MOUNTAIN! I’m so proud! And look where I’ve been!
And there is my highlight of the day: Grand Park from the sky! One of my favorite hikes (see this year’s log here). It’s massive!
I both want to stay and stay, and really want to be down from here. I know I will be slow, and I don’t want to be observed. Also I want my feet back at the bottom, though I am very pleased that my aeoracrophobia has not kicked in hardly at all. I really have conquered it! I start down, slowly. I’m not anxious, the thought was worse that the reality. My feet and my poles are as sure-footed as a mountain goat…at glacial speed. Speaking of which, I am looking into the glaciers, but there are still no goats. On the return, a fellow traveler tells me there is a huge herd of about 100 so high on a ridge you need binoculars. They must be staying far from the Corona crowd this summer.
I’m all the way back down before I see anyone else. Then I pass three pairs between the foot of the mountain and the pass. My timing was perfect. I see nearly no one else after that until I’m back to the five points, which includes the trail I came up on from the car and those to the lookout and to Burroughs 1, 2, and 3. All three are heavily occupied now. I take the fifth trail, the less traveled Shadow Lake trail back to the visitor center.
This was my 14th hike this season, getting off to a slow start as I Stayed Home, Stayed Safe. Summer will head into autumn soon; and a whole new big adventure is coming to my life, reducing available days to choose a sunny one for a hike. And this adventure will last for weeks, or months, or maybe a year. No, I’m not hiking the Camino de Santiago. You’ll have to wait for the reveal. But barring another early snow such that robbed Paradise of color last year, I do hope for a sunny Friday next month for my annual High Skyline hike.