The Burroughs, 07/19/09

After “losing” the first weekend in July to my grandmother’s 80th birthday party and the second to a Saturday spent soaking at Breitenbush Hot Springs, we were well overdue for a hike. Sunday was the only day available to us, so we settled on a dayhike at Mt. Rainier National Park.  I’d seen some stunning photographs taken from the Burroughs trail near Sunrise, and yearned for some in-your-face views of The Mountain—on prior trips to Mt. Rainier National Park (Spray Park, Summerland) the eponymous mountain remained frustratingly hidden in cloudcover.  If the weather forecast was to be believed, this day would be different.  It was.

Mt. Rainier and wildflowers from just above Sunrise.

Mt. Rainier and wildflowers from just above Sunrise.

On top of our hike starting at the always-busy Sunrise Visitor Center, we learned during the week that it was Get Into Your National Park Free Day, or some such thing.  So I set my alarm early, had no trouble getting Nicole out of bed, and we were on the road at 04:40.  I love early starts, but even as we cruised through Enumclaw and the tip of The Mountain lit up, I wished we’d started even earlier.  At 06:40, just two hours later, we pulled into Sunrise with our pick of the parking lot.  Ten minutes later, we were on wide empty trails through lupine with outstanding views of Mt. Rainier.  Of course, the views of Mt. Rainier are outstanding from the parking lot.

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Nicole above Sunrise.

Nicole above Sunrise.

The trip reports which inspired us to take this trail talked of the Third Burroughs, but various other sources (Green Trails Map #270, 50 Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park, and the signage at the visitor center itself) make no mention of any Burrough beyond the Second Burroughs.  That said, we were set on the Third Burroughs as our ultimate destination, as the ~six-mile-round-trip to the Second Burroughs didn’t sound like quite enough.  The trails are all well-signed, and it’s easy to simply follow the arrows.  After several junctions and a mile/mile-and-a-half of easy walking, we reached Frozen Lake at 07:40.  Along the way we’d seen only two people—a 1:1 people to marmot ratio!

After skirting south of the roped-off Frozen Lake, the trail reaches the First Burroughs and climbs upward for the next ~twenty minutes until you reach the top with sweeping views of Mt. Rainier and the Second Burroughs in the distance and vistas as far as Mt. Baker, Glacier Peak, and Mt. Stuart to the north.

Mt. Rainier from the First Burroughs.

Mt. Rainier from the First Burroughs.

From the First Burroughs, which sits at ~7300′, the trail climbs another ~100′ over the next ~twenty minutes until you reach the Second Burroughs.  Along the way, there is still a small patch of snow to traverse, and since it was still early in the morning—I believe we were the first to cross it—the snow was still a bit hard and we had to tread carefully.  We were glad to have our trekking poles.  At 08:35 we sat down in the stone shelter atop the Second Burroughs for a small snack.  The wind was quite cold atop both the First and Second Burroughs, and we each had a few layers, including our rain jackets with hood up.  Views were amazing in every direction.  At the First Burroughs, we’d met and passed a couple who’d come up via the lower portion of the Burroughs Loop Trail.  After our brief snack, they approached the shelter.  As we were eager to get moving again and warm up, we left the shelter to them and started toward the Third Burroughs.

A fine perch for a marmot.

A fine perch for a marmot.

Me in the shelter atop the Second Burroughs.

Me in the shelter atop the Second Burroughs.

From the Second Burroughs, the trail drops a few hundred feet before gaining it all back and then some to the Third Burroughs.  Just after leaving the shelter (and the only people we’d see until our way back up the Second Burroughs on our return) we saw a small group of eight or nine mountain goats, including a big old Billy and four small kids.  After snapping several photos, we moved onward, as the Third Burroughs looked to be a bit of a workout.

Goats on the Burroughs.

Goats on the Burroughs.

Nicole takes in The Mountain and the Third Burroughs.

Nicole takes in The Mountain and the Third Burroughs.

We climbed through the tundra-like landscape and up the Third Burroughs, several times losing the trail under snow, but always finding it again at the upper end easily.  Again and again we congratulated ourselves on getting up early.  We felt like we had the entire Mountain to ourselves.

Looking back at the Second Burroughs.

Looking back at the Second Burroughs.

Climbing the snowfield on the Third Burroughs.

Climbing the snowfield on the Third Burroughs.

At 09:40 we reached the top of the Third Burroughs (7828′) and were treated to an entirely new view.  Now much of the lower north side of Mt. Rainier, which had remained hidden, was visible.  Particularly impressive was the entirety of the Winthrop Glacier.  The views to the West, Northwest, and Northeast weren’t to be ignored either.  We sat and lunched (taking care to keep crumbs from the chipmunk), took photos, and relished the solitude for a half-an-hour before we decided it was time to turn around.  It was 10:10.

The Mountain.

The Mountain.

Me.  And The Mountain.

Me. And The Mountain.

Winthrop Glacier.

Winthrop Glacier detail.

I took several steps down the largest snowfield before I dropped to my behind to glissade and Nicole dropped in behind me.  Since I was leading the way, she gained quickly on me, picking up speed with cries of glee and finishing with a 360° spin as we reached the bottom.  It was her first glissade, and only my second (after Spider Gap).  By 10:55 we were atop the Second Burroughs, our pants nearly dry, and the population went from zero to ten, twenty, thirty.  I estimate we saw ~150 people on the way out, with all levels of preparedness and civility—or lack thereof.

Even with all the foot traffic, we reached our car by 12:10 and left the overflowing parking lot ten minutes later.

Nicole on the way out.

Nicole on the way out.

Down the First Burroughs to Frozen Lake.

Down the First Burroughs to Frozen Lake.

I cannot recommend this trail highly enough.  I also must reiterate my belief that it is imperative you start early.  For the first two-thirds of this hike, we felt like we had the place to ourselves: the vast, barren tundra landscape of The Burroughs, the panormaic views in every direction, and, of course, The Mountain itself, filling the frame for nearly every step of the hike.  The views are there no matter how many people are on the trail, but the atmosphere isn’t.

Stats: ~8 miles round-trip from the Sunrise Visitor Center (6400′) to the Third Burroughs (7828′) and back, with maybe ~2500′ of elevation gain and loss, taking into account the loss and gain between the Second and Third Burroughs.  We at our lunch at a higher elevation than we’d ever hiked to previously.  It took us 2:50 to get to the Third Burroughs, and 2:00 to get back.  Total time on the trail: 5:20.  We saw every Washington State volcano—except for Mt. St. Helens—from the side of the largest.

As always, a few more photos at Flickr.

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