This weekend, instead of grilling corn and watching fireworks for Fourth of July, we headed to Mt. Rainier National Park to backpack. We were originally going to explore Glacier National Park, but I had a bit of a fit when I read that berries were peaking along the best backpacking loops leading to near daily grizzly sightings. Don't get me wrong - I don't want any animals to go extinct - but I was happy to read that it is believed that there are no longer any grizzly bears in the Mt. Rainier region. When it comes to bears and cougars I'm very faint of heart. In our usual style, we arrived in the park at 2:00 AM and slept for a few hours in a parking lot. I swear we don't actually like sleeping in parking lots, but it seems to happen on an alarmingly regular basis. Maybe, just maybe, it could have something to do with the fact that we rarely plan things in advance. Anyways, around 6:00 AM we began our "sit in front of the ranger station hoping to score a walk in trailhead permit" vigil. While we didn't land exactly what we wanted we were granted permits for a three day trip with a night each at Granite Creek and Glacier Basin. I think our pictures can testify to the fact that we were in no way gypped by this arrangement. Every part of the trail was beautiful, with amazing vistas and super close views of Mt. Rainier. And to top it all off the wildflowers were at their peak. Too lucky.
The way to Granite Creek consisted of a leisurely hike across a high alpine valley before making a steep descent to a small creek with four camping sites. Having specific sites for backcountry camping was a bit new to us, as we have yet to experience it anywhere else we've backpacked. We enjoy picking out our own sites, but the bonus to this was that these sites were nicely leveled and maintained with a bear pole for food and an open air pit toilet. Man, taking a dump sitting out in a meadow watching flowers be ruffled by a gentle breeze is a lot more pleasant than using a regular bathroom! Kinda makes you feel dissatisfied with "real" bathrooms. Like you sit down and think, "I might be here a bit... where's my view?"
The next day we made the stiff climb back to the alpine valley where we picked up a different trail along the ridge of Burroughs Mountain. This brought us even closer to the summit of Mt. Rainier. In fact, we were so close that there were people hanging out along the trail with binoculars, watching teams summiting the peak. A few hours in we met these two guys who had already hiked like 12 miles that morning to our approximate 5. You know how when you meet really bad ass people out on the trail you have to suddenly act really fresh, like you could do an 18 mile day no worries? Okay, so maybe you don't have to act that way, but if you believe that subtle trail shaming is a real thing, then you most likely will. With that said, we were secretly a touch relieved when they decided to part ways with us and take a detour to a lookout tower.
Soon thereafter, we started a multi hour descent into Glacier Basin via some serious switch backs, and later a lovely trail along the glacier fed creek that tumbled past the camp sites. Glacier Basin is one of the areas used for summiting Mt. Rainier, and when we arrived we found a large group checking all their gear before heading up to one of the base camps. While we were cooking dinner one of their guides came into our camp and asked if he could leave his gear with us while he escorted a client who had decided not to summit back down the mountain. We were happy for him to do so, and he proceeded to pile it at the entrance to our site while we headed to the creek to filter water. Upon returning we were surprised to find a ranger moving his things and checking under our backpacks. At first he didn't even say anything and we just stood there kind of awkwardly watching him riffling around. Finally, he notified us that the guide's gear had been placed on top of some plants which was unacceptable and so he was moving it. He said he was checking under our backpacks to make sure they weren't on any plants either. A quick inspection of the place where the guide's gear was revealed a few leaves springing back into position on a little bramble patch in an otherwise plant free area. Even though we always follow Leave No Trace principles, we spent the rest of the evening half expecting Mr. Angry Ranger to burst into our camp from some secret hiding place to notify us that we'd done something else wrong.
The next day we hiked out along the creek until we reached the White River Campground. Now came the trick of hitching a ride back to our car, which was parked up at Sunrise Trail where we started our journey. We've had pretty good luck doing this in Yosemite National Park, so we were feeling pretty confident. We parked ourselves on a nice corner of the road with a good pull out and put on as much charm as we could muster in our tired and filthy condition. Even when you only get passed by a few cars, it's a weirdly depressing feeling to watch them fly by without even a hesitation. What's even more galling is when they smile and wave but still don't stop! Luckily, we only had to wait about ten minutes before a nice guy heading to Sunrise to trail run picked us up. Thank you Trail Running Guy and everyone else who has picked us up in the past. When we reached our car food was on the mind, as we'd nicely polished off everything we'd brought. As such, we decided to head straight home but made one small detour to check out the Ohanapecosh River. So beautiful. I'm pretty sure we'll be back to camp there soon. And that sums up our awesome weekend at Mt. Rainier. We're definitely planning to go back for another adventure in the near future, so if anyone has suggestions for sweet trails or sights, let us know!