September 1, 2014
Get ready for a spanking on this one, as it provides 26 miles and 8200 feet of vertical, the hardest parts off trail. It took me nearly 17 hours to complete. This is the third in a series of hikes I planned for Mt. Rainier National Park where vistas above 7000 feet and off trail travel let one experience a whole different world outside of the Wonderland Trail. Although already planned, the timing was spur of the moment. My wife was in LA moving my daughter back into school and the weather forecast changed for the better for Monday, Labor Day. I was prepared to do a little suffering on this one so I skipped sleep and drove to Mt. Rainier National Park, starting my hike at 1:20 AM from Sunrise. My early morning hike to Mystic Pass had me exclaiming out loud about the star show above, Milky Way and all. I stopped numerous times to turn off the light and take in the vistas above my head. Eventually the stars gave way to the superior loomin' essence of the sun about the time I reached Mystic Lake. The easiest part of this hike is the on trail portion, hiking Sunrise to Mystic Pass, just short of 10 miles. From there I took the obvious climbers trail to access Curtis Ridge, one of my favorite places on the mountain overlooking Willis Wall. This place inspired me long ago for my side business/avatar name. Usually I/we stop at what I call the "Jut" on Curtis Ridge at 7200', but I wanted to go higher to a point just below where more obvious scrambling is involved on the ridge. It is possible to go left of the ridge and climb via the snowfield to access a notch at around 9000' for even more spectacular views, but that makes for a pretty full day. All day was on the chilly side, but a cold wind had me bundled up on Curtis Ridge the entire time. I found that 7800' on the ridge offered in your face views of the Willis Wall, Carbon Glacier and the starkness of Curtis Ridge. After this I bopped over to Point 7000 on the map to tag another 7000' high point. Then it was basically rejoining the ridge to return to Mystic Pass (6000') to head for my next destination.
Up to now I had merely been patted, the spanking started with the off trail portion from the WT to get to Old Desolate. I have been to the Elysian Fields from Windy Gap but this was my first explore of this interior area from the Mystic side, so it was all new to me. I started climbing a boulder field from about 5700' off the WT but found that a wash to the left was actually a better option, and this is what I took on the way down. After some semi strenuous scrambling I was deposited in a flat, almost meadow type area above Moraine Park. Here is where I had a decision to make, as (as far as I can see) the best way to Old Desolate is to drop on the easy grade into Moraine Park and climb up to an easy looking ridge from the opposite direction. I was on a time table, however, as I had to pick my wife up at the airport that evening, so I tried to make this go by scrambling the loose boulder field on a more direct line. The whole time I was uneasy about rocks being shed from above and the boulder field was very unstable and loose. My determination to make it to OD was finally overcome by these factors and I decided to turn back and get out of that mess at 6600'. Old Desolate will wait for another day, but that's OK as this area looks so interesting one could spend days up here in Moraine Park, Vernal Park and the Elysian Fields. I finally descended to exit the boulder mess and took the wash back down to the WT, and from there it was the 10 mile exit back to my vehicle. I was about 30 minutes later than I wanted to be but Wapiti Woolies was still open at 7 PM so a double shot Mocha did the trick to get me home in time to pick up my returning spouse. This was a difficult trip but the building up via the two prior hikes and a week trip to the Pasayten Wilderness made it entirely doable without undue suffering. The next and last in this series will end with over 10,000 feet or vertical and 41 miles, so don't touch that dial!