Eagle Peak, Mount Rainier National Park
The incredible summer weather in the Puget Sound region just kept on rolling. Despite it being a Saturday, I thought I'd venture out to Mount Rainier to walk up a little peak in the Longmire area. After stopping at a coffee shop for a big coffee and pastry, I sped out to the park, hoping to avoid the crowds that were sure to come later on. There were several cars in the parking lot near the trailhead, but not so many to worry about. After crossing the Nisqually river on a log bridge, the trail began switchbacking almost immediately through dense, virgin forest. No sunlight could reach me, and only occasionally could I see out of the forest to judge how high I was, but the walking was easy and smooth and I was happy to be out stretching my legs again. An hour went by, and I began to get annoyed with the forest and its enclosure. Unlike rainforest, the pine and fir forests of the Cascades are not the most interesting of places to be. Fortunately, the trail ran out into open, flowery meadows and then began to climb somewhat seriously.
July 30, 2005
Mount St. Helens came into view, and beyond it Mount Hood (that is in Oregon, you know). Sweating profusely from the effort, I made the final push up to the saddle between Eagle and Chula peaks. The view of the big guy was, well, big. The Nisqually Glacier, the source of the river I had crossed earlier, and the Paradise complex seemed to dominate the land toward the mountain. Paradise was a scar from where I stood, but waddling tourists need a place to go as well.
Over my shoulder I could see Mount Adams off on its own, with no mountains around for comfort. Mount Adams is the third highest peak in the Cascade range, shorter than only Rainier (the highest) and Shasta (the second). Hood is a bit smaller, but easier on the eyes that the bulky Adams or the fat Rainier. Not that any of them are ugly.
I lounged in the sun for forty minutes, hearing people come and go from the end of the trail, where there was shade and two logs to sit on. Bits of conversation would float toward me from time to time, but mostly I worked on my tan, for the second time this week, and swatted at flies. Thought about climbing Rainier, but that seemed like awfully hard work to me. Much more pleasant to sit in the sun and swat flies.
From Lakewood, take SR 512 east to SR 7 and follow the signs directing you to Paradise. After passing Alder Lake, reach the town of Elbe and take SR 706 to the Nisqually entrance station of the park. Unless you have an annual pass of some sort (Golden Eagle, for example), you'll need to pony up $10 at the entrance station. Drive to the Longmire complex, ignoring the first turn off sign (this takes you into the hotel area). Take the second right and pass through the employee living area. Park in the obvious place. The Eagle Peak trailhead is on the other side of the Nisqually river, but the main bridge is out. Follow the signs for the Eagle Peak trail detour.
It is 3.6 miles up to the saddle, where the trail mostly ends, and it is mostly straight up, though the beginning of the trail is gentler than the end, which gets very vertical. Total elevation gain is something like 3,000 feet. I hiked up in 75 minutes, but I think most people would find a 3 hour ascent more realistic. It also took me 75 minutes to walk down. From the saddle, you can scramble up to the top of Eagle Peak, but I didn't much see the point in it. The top of the peak is 200 feet higher than the saddle. You might get more of a view of the western end of the park, I suppose.