Sometime around 3 a.m., I woke up to a high pitched call. I had never heard anything like it. My best guess was that it was a cow elk calling. The call rang out a couple more times. I was just falling back to sleep when I heard a thunderous sound, like horses stampeding. I raised my head to look out our bedroom window and saw forms silhouetted in the moonlight. Our local herd of elk were running within about 7 feet of our window. They were so close that you could feel their hoof beats from inside the cabin.
Day one and day two of our Mt. Rainier adventure had taken us on some beautiful hikes. Today’s plan was to take Mick and Suzy to the Sunrise area on the north side of the mountain. Conditions are very different here giving you a different perspective on the mountain. Sunrise had significantly less snow left on the trails, but there were some questionable sections. I had wanted to check trail conditions at the Visitor Center, but they weren’t open yet. Fortunately, a park volunteer was standing near the car as we were getting ready and asked where we were heading for the day. I chatted with this very nice man for a few minutes and he confirmed that we shouldn’t have any troubles getting to 2nd Burroughs, but that we should not attempt to return via the southern loop due to severe snow hazards.
We left Sunrise by heading south on the Emmons Vista Trail and then hiked a little ways east on the Silver Forest Trail since I heard the wildflowers were good here. We then turned around and traveled west to Shadow Lake and Sunrise Camp where we turned north and began the mile long climb to Frozen Lake. We had two decent snowfields to get across, but they didn’t cause us much grief. I led the pack up both and was able to kick good toe holes in the semi-soft snow.
By the time we had reached Frozen Lake, the clouds had moved in and the wind picked up. We all layered up and took a short break. I estimated that winds were gusting up to 50 mph.
We began the slow climb up to First Burroughs. I think the exposure off to the right of the trail and the barren terrain above tree line were impressive to Mick and Suzy. At the top of First Burroughs, we could clearly see two snowfields we’d have to cross on our final ascent to Second Burroughs. The first one didn’t look like it would be a problem, but the second looked like it could be a bit sketchy. We decided to at least hike up there and see what we thought. A few minutes later we met up with a young man who said he turned around when he reached the second snow field stating, “It looked iffy and I promised my girlfriend I wouldn’t take any chances.” Hmmm…
We climbed up Second Burroughs to the first snowfield. The wind was gusting enough to push me off course at times, but this first barrier didn’t pose any problems. It was level and wide enough that if you fell you wouldn’t slide far if at all. We made it across and then up to the second snowfield. We decided to go for it with me taking the lead. About half way across, I really questioned our decision making processes. The path across had significantly narrowed in the middle and there was a substantial drop off to the left. It was easier to go forward than to turn around, so I gingerly made my way across and hoped a gust of wind wouldn’t push me. Fortunately, we all made it across.
At the top of Second Burroughs, the wind was blowing pretty good and the sun was still hiding behind the clouds. We took a snack break and I got some disappointing pictures of the white mountain set against a flat grey background.
When it didn’t look like the sun was going to come out, we went ahead and turned around. Again, I struggled a bit on the trek across that snowfield and was very relieved when we made it across. I think Suzy and I were pushed to the max of our comfort limits.
On our descent down from Second Burroughs, I turned around and Mt. Rainier was basking in full sun and the wind had died down. Figures! As we continued toward First Burroughs, the crowds really began to pick up. Most of the people we were passing were oblivious to any sense of trail courtesy. But on a positive note, we were fortunate enough to catch a faraway glimpse of a herd of about 30 mountain goats. I had heard several reports of goats being seen on Burroughs over the past week, so I was hoping to see them. While our view was distant, at least we had seen our first Rainier mountain goats.
After First Burroughs, we dropped back down to Frozen Lake and then took Sourdough Ridge back over and down to Sunrise to complete our 7.5 mile loop.
The following day’s forecast was somewhat iffy. We still had time left in the day and the weather was beautiful, so we drove Mick and Suzy over to see Chinook Pass in the NE corner of the park.