Mt. Fremont Lookout
August 18, 2021
The plan for Wednesday—with the promise of sun—is to hike to the lookout above Sunrise. It’s a hike I have long wanted to have done, but not necessarily one I want to do. You know how that goes? You want it in the rearview mirror? There’s no way I will get there for sunrise, which is for sure spectacular; but even though I’m only thirty minutes away, hiking in the dark is not my jam.
I do think I could get to Sunrise Point, though, and watch it from the car, with my new thermal mug of coffee. But it is so friggin’ cold, I can’t get out of bed. Not that it is one bit warmer when I do drag myself out and take off my jacket and down vest so I can get dressed.
As I wait for hot water to drip excruciatingly slowly through the ground coffee into my new mug—espresso concessions in the NP campgrounds would make a killing, just saying—I keep running across the road to watch the mountain turn shades of pink. Good grief, the beauty of these relatively untouched places is breathtaking. (No enhancement was applied in the posting of these sunrise photos.)
The key fob won’t open the car door again, and it dawns on me that too is about the cold. I kept my phone in my bed all night and the battery didn’t drain, giving credence to my theory about the cold. The temperature on the dash says 37º; it for sure must have been literally freezing during the night. (Back at home, I Google it. Yep, extreme cold drains batteries in both fob and phone.)
I stop at the point, but of course I’m too late—having watched it from my campsite—then go on to the end of the road. I don’t want to be too early to set off for this hike; I’ll wait for the sunrisers to get down first, clearing the narrow trail. I sit in the car and finish my hard-earned coffee and read my book.
On the trail, I meet the last of the sunrisers, and otherwise I have the trail to myself with the ground squirrels for company. Viewed from the other trails I take from the intersection of five trails, the one to Fremont lookout has struck me as relentlessly up, exposed, boring. I prefer forest, waterfall, creek, and meadow hikes, but I do love a good vista, and this trail provides that in spades, if not any of the other criteria.
I can see all the other places I’ve been from this trail: 1st and 2nd Burroughs, Berkeley Park, Skyscraper Mountain.
The trail description calls it “strenuous.” Elevation gain, and over what mileage, is the only criteria for exertion for me, and I would call this one moderate. But I suppose there are other factors: footing (it’s rocky and one must watch foot placement) and fear factor (there is a very long and steep drop off to one side). I realize again, I am truly over my aeroacrophobia. When you do a thing enough, you let go of fears.
About half the trail is out of sight from the beginning, but the rest can be seen from around the bend. No surprises here. But a whole lot of awe.
And when I get to the top, holy Mother of God, Grand Park. I saw it last summer from Skyscraper, but it’s so much closer from here. It is aptly named; I think there is nothing like it. Maybe looking down into the Ngorgoro Crater Conservation Area in Tanzania, another place I am privileged to have seen. I have been to the Park several times now, and it is amazing from boots on the ground perspective; but to see it from above blows my soul wide open.
There was some smoke smell coming up, and the horizon is hazy, but I can just make out Mt. Baker and Mt. Adams. No doubt St. Helens is also visible on a clear day; and maybe Hood.
I’m alone on top for about a minute, when two unrelated hikers arrive at the same time, one going one way around the tower from the steps, and the other going the other way. Trapping me in between. At least they are silent, meditative really. When I’m able, I move to each of the four sides and worship the view.
I look down into a beautiful park in a bowl far below and I’m grateful there are such spectacular wild places occupied only by angels and animals. It’s magical to think so. But if perchance there is a trail there, I want to go. I don’t see one.
People are coming and I take my leave. I meet many on the return, there will soon be a crowd, and they are noisy. Again, I have lucked into perfect timing. A woman, heading the same direction I am, who must have turned back, asks me how my poles are helpful. “Every way imaginable,” I say, then elaborate. She confesses she and her husband had to turn back; she was terrified of the open height. “Aeroacrophobia,” I tell her, knowing it’s sometimes helpful to have a name. “I understand. And the poles help with that too.” Her husband—who had been looking bored—got interested then too. Perhaps hearing that it had a name will help him help her.
Back at the five points intersection, that I have now done all five trails from, one of which splits into two, I choose, as usual, the longer less popular one to return to the car. It’s a meadow route and I’m hoping for marmots. (Have you ever noticed that “popular” and “peopley” sound the same?)
At the bottom—no marmots, and the flowers are pretty much gone too, but also few people—I start down the service road, as usual, which is interminably dull, and then turn back, deciding to do the extra mile and go via Shadow Lake and the Sunrise Rim Trail. Brilliant!
Back at the campground with my book, my chair and I follow the sun for the afternoon until the wind comes up. I escape to my tent for a nap and the wind buffets the sides of my shelter. I stake down the corner ties of my rain fly that are still factory rolled. The way this trip has gone, it’s a foregone conclusion that the fly will fly. Of course the wind has stopped by bedtime, but I am prepared. I put the key fob, along with my phone, in bed with me, but it’s a warmer night too.
I had considered going home today after the frigid nights, but I have a plan for tomorrow. Stay tuned to see how it turned out!