Thursday, September 5, 2013

Burroughs Mountain, Mount Rainier National Park

THIRD BURROUGHS – SUNRISE, MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK The hiking season at Sunrise is short – the road to Sunrise is the first to close when snow falls and trails there often melt out later than other trails in the park. That’s a good reason to make some room on your September calendar and head to Sunrise when conditions are favorable. We’d waited for a good weather window and the sun was shining when we hit the road. Temperatures were ideal for hiking though when we arrived at Sunrise a drama was unfolding before our eyes. Three climbers had fallen into a crevasse on the Emmons glacier and helicopters were setting out to rescue them. Another climbing team had heard their calls for help; the climbers were successfully air-lifted out and we are hoping they will completely recover from their injuries. When we started hiking helicopters were flying back and forth all morning and at various points along the trail folks with binoculars were tracking the progress of the rescue, scanning the glacier with binoculars as clouds of mist rose and fell as the mountain played hide and seek for much of the day. From Sunrise we took the Sourdough Ridge Trail, turning south (left) at the T-junction facing Mount Rainier. Sunrise is hovering between late summer/early fall and we could even sense winter waiting in the wings as golden-mantled ground squirrels and chipmunks darted about, racing from rock to rock in hopes of hand-outs to shore up their winter reserves. Flowers have neared the end of their bloom; hellebore has gone to seed, only asters and sand dock are still hanging on though we saw fading magenta Indian paintbrush, fireweed and lousewort in the meadows near Sunrise. Past Frozen Lake (off-limits to the public) is a five-way trail junction at 6,760 feet. There trails head to Mount Fremont, Berkeley Park, Grand Park and Mystic Lake via the Wonderland Trail and Burroughs Mountain. Junctions are well-signed. The Burroughs Mountain trail is snow-free; snow patches lingered until August this year; not unusual for trails at this elevation. Though snow would not be an issue on this warm, late-summer day we also know how quickly the weather can change at these elevations. One moment you’re sweating in the sun, the next fumbling for your parka with numb fingers. Fortunately for us the fair weather held but it was a different story higher on the mountain. Soon you will also pass a junction for the Sunrise Rim Trail (some hikers make a loop by starting out on the Sunrise Rim Trail and hiking back to Sunrise via Sourdough Ridge). When we reached Second Burroughs at 7,400 feet (a plateau with a stone bench set inside a protective rock wall wind-break) we took a break. Many hikers are content with Second Burroughs. Here you’ll usually have company but the summit is generous and there’s room for all with plenty of places to settle and take in the views. In addition to hikers you’ll be visited by those ever-optimistic golden-mantled ground squirrels and chipmunks with their bright, sparkling eyes and their tiny, nimble paws. If you’ve watched one eat you know what I mean. Feeding them is discouraged though some hikers can’t resist. By the time you’ve reached Second Burroughs you’re in the tundra zone; anything that grows in this zone is dwarfed by the harsh environment. Plants are few and far between and those that do grow hug the ground. From Second Burroughs Third Burroughs looks further away than it is though getting there is considered a “grunt”. The view of the trail is a little disquieting as the trail from Second Burroughs plummet to a plateau before resuming a steep climb to Third Burroughs. The sight of the trail between Second and Third Burroughs can be a little discouraging but remember you can always turn around when you’ve had “enough”. If you do get to Third Burroughs you’ll have a significant climb back to Second Burroughs (most hikers prefer going down on the way out, not up!). Since you are hiking toward Mount Rainier the view should inspire you to keep going if the weather holds and if you’re an experienced hiker. Of course the last stretch of the climb is the steepest (funny how that is so often the case when it comes to mountains). The last few feet are steep and rocky and if this is your first visit to Third Burroughs the close-up views of the crevasses on the Winthrop and Emmons glaciers may make you gasp. Here are the beautiful and terrifying precipices and dungeons of the mountain. Here you will look straight down into the deep, pale-green crevasses of the Winthrop glacier (directly below), Steamboat Prow (a jutting rock formation that splits the Winthrop glacier from the Emmons). The Emmons glacier is directly above and on our visit most of it was under cloud-cover though we could hear the helicopters coming and going. That thin ribbon of water on the dark moraine below the Emmons glacier is the origin of the White River. Overall the views are harrowing but inspirational – Steamboat Prow, Little Tahoma above the Emmons glacier, composed of rotten, brittle rock loosely glued together with ice (a climber’s nightmare); you may even get a glimpse of icy Willis Wall and Curtis Ridge if the clouds allow. Third Burroughs is far enough for most with several places to settle and no lack of views; even though there were quite a few hikers on Third Burroughs we found a niche out of the wind which had become strong enough to almost knock me down at one point. From hikers with satellite phones we learned that the climbers were alive but in critical condition (their condition has since been upgraded). Though we dreaded the climb back to Second Burroughs it’s never quite as tough as we imagine. We paced ourselves and took another break at Second Burroughs as the sun was warm and there seemed little reason to hurry. By the time we’d returned to Sunrise the rescue was completed and the fallen climbers safely off the mountain. A reminder – the Sunrise Visitor Center is now closed for the season (the Visitor Center closes after Labor Day weekend) and the road to Sunrise will close with the first significant snowfall. Be sure to check road status before you set out for any hikes at Sunrise. Getting there: From Enumclaw drive SR 410 (east) to the White River Entrance of Mount Rainier National Park; display the appropriate pass or pay an entry fee. When you get to the junction for the White River Campground continue on the Sunrise Mountain Road to Sunrise, elevation 6,400 feet. Map: Green Trails No. 209S (Mount Rainier Wonderland Trail) Additional Information: Call the park at 1-360-569-2211 to confirm road and facility status, fees, rules and regulations or check their website for current information: To view photos of Burroughs Mountain click on the link below, scroll down to second set. . Karen Sykes