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Dayhiking Glacier Basin

A long time ago (OK, not that long ago, just feels like it), back in the summer of 2003, Ford and I set off to hike Glacier Basin at Mt. Rainier National Park. He was nearly 5 at the time and we were spending our first summer living in King County, Wa hiking 3-4 days a week. We were following the snow line as it melted in the Cascade Mountains and around Mt. Rainier. Well on that trip I picked wrong and we hit snow about 2 miles in. It was the normal icy crud and I punched through up to my upper thigh and fell forward. Realizing I was lucky I hadn’t broken it I hobbled back down to the truck. Ended up with a pretty bad bruise on my thigh as a reward.

Us along Emmons Moraine that trip:

I meant to go back and finish the hike. I really did. But then summer came and there was so many other trails – really pretty trails, tons of alpine wanderings. Then the next couple years were all about hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail and then that one day in November of 2006 the trail simply ceased to exist after the torrential rains destroyed so much in the area. That favorite saying of hikers and climbers that “the mountains will be waiting” isn’t always true – 18″ of rain can change a lot. So when this past week it was announced that the new trail was complete and open – and my friend Lynn emailed me asking if I wanted to hike – well I knew it was time. Time to finish that trail! Kirk and I had taken Ford and Walker last summer and had checked out the first half of the new trail so I knew the new trail was going to be amazing. (It was built to a level rarely seen these days – a trail so smooth that you can walk without looking down!) Kirk said he would watch Ford and Walker for me, give me a free day out!

This is what I went for – to see an amazing basin:

The trail starts at the White River Campground. The parking lot shares with people picnicking, Wonderland Trail hikers, climbers (Glacier Basin is a major climbing route for the mountain) and hikers. It pays to be early and we were parking before 8 am. That was pretty early for this girl these days…woooh!

The trail takes off in the woods and stays in cool open forest for most of the first mile. The park has also repaired Emmons Moraine trail and built a new access trail to cross the Inter River – Lynn coming back from checking it out:

You get a lot of views of Rainier though, no lack of that! Lynn had never had not hiked the trail before and had thought we’d be in the deep woods most of the time. She was happily surprised. We came up to where the trail hooks around the Inter River, I could see where last year we had picked our way along the river bed to continue. The new trail was so much friendlier!

Me posing in front of the river and the top of Rainier (with the hook of Little Tahoma to the left):

It is getting harder to wear a pack right as the weeks go by, I had borrowed Ford’s current daypack as his doesn’t have a stiff hipbelt. I could wear the soft webbing belt under my stomach and still keep the pack stable! I don’t think anything can help the fashion crime of wearing purple horizontal stripes and all cotton though 😉 No way was I wearing synthetic tech clothing – that and I can’t wear any of my hiking pants currently – and my hiking shirts are all short. I’ll stick for the next few months with my “stylin'” wardrobe that fits.

As the trail starts climbing the views get amazing – you gotta stop and enjoy them!

The trail darts back into the bright forest and takes a hook and goes around the back side, losing all views. Here we encountered the only snow of the trip, a few patches of it. Nothing technical, nothing too scary. All easily walked over. The wildflowers were just appearing. Lots of Glacier Lilies and Avalanche Lilies! The last .7 of a mile of the trail was hard, it is steep. I was feeling every bit of my anemia as we hiked from 5600 feet to 5900 feet. It was to me the hardest 7 tenths I have ever hiked, the snow patches were not helping. Hike 50 feet, stop and breathe. The anemia makes it so it is harder for my blood to process oxygen as I go up in elevation. But I was not going to stop this close from the payoff! And then suddenly it levels out and you come to a junction – a trail heads on to a drop with this view:

Looking down we could see climbers and hikers below us, heading towards St. Elmo Pass:

We turned back a few feet and took the turn into the backcountry camp and walked through – this is the route once takes for the views!

There is even a pretty lake tucked in to the far right as you walk out into the start of the basin. (From certain angles you could see parts of The Burroughs ridge as well)

The basin itself was just simply amazing. And this is just a tiny bit of the view. A tiny bit of Rainier is visible, just a bump of white in the middle. The camp sits in a copse of trees and the “maintained trail” ends at the camp – but it goes on and on, through the meadows, down to the river and across it and then onwards for even more rambling. I was just fine with sitting in the shade, on the edge of the meadows. The bugs were not bad, there was a gentle breeze and it wasn’t hot either. I mean…how often do you get that kind of perfect weather in alpine? In August?

For lunch I made myself a no-cook couscous salad:

We took a long break which for me helped a lot, got my energy back up. After fending off the moochiest pest of a ground squirrel (to the point of throwing pebbles at it) we packed up and headed back down. The views I had missed on the way up were nice to take in – I could see across to the backside of Burroughs and see the trail that winds down from Burroughs 1, across the open slope. I could see Yakima Park as well (that is where Sunrise is). All green now, the snow finally is nearly gone!

As we dropped a bit more and came to the last meadow and we saw a happy bear doing its thing – munching on vegetation. OK,  it is that brown blob in the middle of the photo 😉 I go by the rule of sanity – if you see a bear take a photo from a distance and then carry on. No tempting fate!

The hike out went fast although we passed a lot of people (on the way up we saw only a handful of other hikers – most of which was the 3 climbers with the sweet boom box backpack with rocking tunes……) The Seattle thing that is – get up and have breakfast, look outside and decide to go hiking. Get to the park on 2 pm…..no thanks. Those 8 am starts are so much nicer – and quiet!

The trail is about 7.49 miles total, with our side rambles and the walk to the parking lot and around 1600 feet gain. No scary water crossings either – every creek crossing is bridged!

~Sarah

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Comments

  1. Ok, adding to my bucket list – to visit you & go for a hike! Talk about paradise!

  2. Lori, you would love it! I was just so happy to be outside and hiking a real hike 😀

  3. Nice to read your report! The NPS recommends a topo map for this hike. I don’t have one at the moment – is the trail well marked so that it’s crystal clear which trail it is all the time?

    • Once you get on the trail there are only 2 junctions and both are well marked. The issue is that the current maps do not show where the new trail lies – still a Topo for the area is good, to know the 2 junctions (although the first junction for the moraine trail is in a different place as well now!). As well when one does get to the end of the trail it isn’t marked that to see the basin you must hook right at the camping area and walk through.

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