This weekend brought more great weather and the chance to get back up into the mountains. This time we went to the Northeast portion of Mount Rainier National Park to hike the Emmons Moraine and Glacier Basin trails. It’s an easily-accessed hike that, on a clear day, provides big payoffs in terms of alpine splendor. By the end of the day, it earned a place amongst my favorite hikes anywhere.
The trail starts at the popular (crowded) White River car campground and follows the course of the White River upwards towards its two sources: the Emmons and Inter glaciers. The lower part of the trail was destroyed by floods a few years ago but has been completely – and wonderfully – rebuilt. The trail is wide, smooth, and gains altitude steadily, but without much pain.
Along the way there’s a side trail to an overlook of the Emmons Glacier and it’s moraine – the giant field of debris left as it retreated after the last Ice Age. The Emmons Glacier is the largest glacier in the lower 48 by surface area; the nearby Carbon Glacier is the largest by volume. On the shoulders of Rainier itself, the Emmons looks like an otherworldly mess of seracs and crevasses, but near it’s toe it looks more like a dusty rock-flow than a river of ice: frequent rock slides from the surrounding peaks have covered the lower part of the glacier. The White River flows out from an ominous-looking ice cave at the snout. Given the rapid melting and falling rocks, visitors are strongly discouraged from getting too close to the end of the glacier.
The Emmons Moraine side trail also provides excellent views of Little Tahoma, a jagged volcanic remnant attached to the side of Mount Rainier (Tahoma, to Native Americans). Although it’s dwarfed by the main body of Rainier, at 11,138′ it’s the third tallest peak in WA and easily visible from 60 miles away in Seattle.
Continuing back up the main trail, we climbed through old-growth forest to subalpine meadows full of wildflowers. Glacier Basin campground is in these meadows at the end of the maintained trail, a great spot for a break or some lunch. (At this point, you’re just a couple thousand feet below the summit of Burroughs Mountain, another amazing hike.)
We wanted to go a bit further, so we followed the increasingly rugged trail upwards towards where it meets the Inter Glacier. This is one of the main routes for mountaineers to climb Mount Rainier, and we saw several roped-up teams ascending the steep Inter Glacier. Our push past the campground was worthwhile, not only for the spectacular scenery but for the chance to see a family of mountain goats grazing in a scree field across the stream from us.
This was our first time on this hike, but it definitely won’t be the last: this was one of the most spectacular & rewarding hikes I can remember. It has almost everything you could want: forests, waterfalls, wildflowers, and sublime alpine splendor. Mount Rainier is a very special place,
The album with some spectacular photos is here.