the nisqually river by Cougar Rock Campground and a few pictures from Eagle Peak on a hot, hazy day

These are some more pictures from the weekend we spent at Mount Rainier a couple weeks ago. Cougar Rock Campground is located in the southwest corner of the park at 3,100 feet. For a point of reference, Paradise Visitor Center just up the road is two thousand feet higher while Sunrise Visitor Center on the east side of the mountain (my personal favorite place when I’m in the mood for a mob scene of nature lovers) is more than three thousand feet higher.

The dusty campground is literally just around the corner from where I took this picture. You could walk here.  A lot of people who stay at Cougar Rock Campground will at some point do the easy hike to Carter and Madcap Falls up the Wonderland Trail. To get there you have to cross a footbridge over the chocolatey maelstrom of the silty Nisqually River.

The Nisqually River is fed by the Nisqually Glacier and flows for 80 miles before emptying into Puget Sound between Olympia and Tacoma. Up higher in the Cascades, the Nisqually occasionally makes a spectacle of itself. In November 2006, 18 inches of rain fell in a 36 hour period. Several years later, you can still see the evidence in the form of scoured silty low bluffs that appear as though they must crumble more and more each year and head to the Nisqually Delta. This is the footbridge over the river.

There was more elevation gain to Carter Falls than I anticipated (according to the sign Adam is standing by, 400 feet) and I didn’t want Adam to get worn out in the heat so I carried him on my shoulders. See how his shorts are soaked? That’s from the sweat on the back of my neck. Carter Falls isn’t very accessible as long as you’ve got a four year old in the party, I was disappointed. I had visions of us soaking our feet in a splash pool. Madcap Falls was still ten minutes beyond up the trail. Diana was in charge of dinner for everyone back at the campground, so we had to turn around and return to Cougar Rock. I’ll be back, Madcap!

If you can somehow work your way down to the base of Carter Falls, it appears pretty enough. Maybe you can exit the trail further back and scramble down to water’s edge and then make your way upstream to here. It’s pretty darn rocky, though. To tell you the truth, a quarter of a mile back there’s a splash pool that’s a lot more interesting than the waterfall here.

The next morning I hiked the trail to Eagle Peak’s saddle by myself. Eagle Peak is part of the Tatoosh, a mini subrange as it were, of impressive-looking serrated peaks in the south part of MRNP. There are a few easy summits in the Tatoosh for wimpy hikers like me. Last summer I scrambled with Adam to the top of Plummer Peak. Eagle Peak looms over Cougar Rock campground, so it was practically calling out my name.  My hiking boots were on fire, I blazed my way up 3.6 miles/3,000 feet in less than two hours. My goal was to avoid hiking in the oppressive mid-morning heat. And to be back to Longmire Inn in time for my rendezvous with Adam and his mother. The Eagle Peak trail is wide and nicely graded and it felt fine to be in the forest. I could have used some views sooner considering the difficulty of this very steep walk. Basically, you talk to yourself and swat horseflies for several hours until there is anything of note to see besides humongous trees and moss. Normally I like humongous trees and moss, but not when the barely visible outline of spectacular Mt. Rainier is teasing me through the canopy of firs. I’m a little mixed on whether or not the payoff at the saddle of Eagle Peak was worth the effort. In the end I’ll say it was worth it to me….. since I was already on the Mountain and it felt like a bonus hike. I wouldn’t come all the way up to MRNP just to hike this trail, however. That’s the frustration. When do you make time for interesting little hikes like this? I think I know at least one answer, now. They work great when you’re car camping and you didn’t get any sleep the night before so you figure you might as well get up before anyone else and go hiking.

All my pictures from the saddle by Eagle Peak turned out hazy, so I’m glad I got up here relatively early! An hour later, this picture would look like someone pulled a lace curtain down in front of your face. Heat and forest fires reared their head on this weekend in the form of terrible air quality. Here’s Mt. Rainier from Eagle Peak saddle (that’s Eagle Peak on the left….it doesn’t look like much, but there’s dangerous, exposed scrambling involved. If you look closely, you can see big Comet Falls in the distance.

In this short telephoto shot, the lush, emerald meadow above Comet Falls is Van Trump Park (elevation 5,800 feet). I hope to hike here before snow flies. In fact, the snow level is coming down to the 7,000 foot level on Sunday. Sunrise Visitor Center closes this weekend! It is starting to feel alarmingly un-summer-like around here, even though it was unusually muggy and warm this afternoon.

Below is a picture of Comet Falls from last summer, when we hiked there with our friend Amanda. That was a tough hike for me, I carried Adam in the backpack carrier the entire way and I was not in very good shape at the time. But ever since we were here, I’ve been pining to return and hike above the falls to see what it’s like in Van Trump Park and at Mildred Point (which has a flabbergasting view of the Kautz Glacier, or so I’ve been told). I’d like to time it so I was up there when there is a lot of pretty fall color, but that’s a tricky quest someplace like Mt. Rainier. You can wait until autumn peaks, but there could be a bad snowstorm the next day that covers the trail and makes you wait another entire year to visit. So we shall see. Van Trump would be a fairly easy day hike, it’s six miles round-trip with 2,200 feet elevation gain. I would go early but stay all day so I could be in the meadows in the late afternoon when everything looks prettier.

Through the haze and painfully bright morning light to the east, Pinnacle Peak’s dark western face was foreboding. Rockfall is a problem on that mountain for scramblers, no doubt due to the presence of the terrible Tatoosh Troll. I think perhaps rockfall would be the least of my problems, Pinnacle’s summit seems downright exposed. In the black and white picture below, to the right below Pinnacle Peak is  Pinnacle Saddle, and the ridge arm that slants up to the right leads to the top of Plummer Peak. I took Adam up there last summer. Plummer Peak is an easy scramble, if you can even call it a scramble. It felt like a scramble to me because I had Adam with me. I felt a mild case of i-shouldn’t-be-here-Diana-would-kill-me-if-she-knew-i-brought-adam-here-itis, but it really was not that bad. For the final twenty or thirty feet to the summit, I had to take Adam out of the backpack carrier and let him climb up the steep rock-and-root steps within my grasp while I simultaneously monitored our position near big drop-offs. Let’s just say I had a heightened sense of awareness.

To give you more reference for where I was, here’s a view of the Tatoosh Range from the slopes above Paradise. You’re looking south here. Eagle Peak is to the left of the fir tree that stands alone on the far right side of the frame. See the silhouette of the distant mountain behind the bumpy ridge leading out from Eagle Peak? That’s Mt. St. Helens! The saddle between Pinnacle and Plummer Peaks is plainly visible to the left of the prominent clump of fir trees in the center of the frame. Pinnacle, on the left, is pointier.

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