Our unique early-season Rainier backpack itinerary did not disappoint! 8 days, 92.6 miles and 24,705 feet of elevation gain.
The original plan: Eastside Loop, Northern Loop, and Mother Mountain Loop. However, we had to change the plan half way through the trip.
Day 1: Grove of the Patriarchs TH to Indian Bar
9.5 miles, 4,423’ gain, 5hrs 22 mins moving time
Woke up at 5am and loaded the car with our packs, egg (mc)muffins, and a thermos of coffee. We got to the trailhead at 10am. We left the car at 10:30am.
The first day carrying a heavy pack is always rough.
After gaining a few thousand feet in the forest, we switched to mountaineering boots and bushwhacked through hard snowpack and downed trees before we broke out into sun-exposed climb up the Cowlitz Divide.
Took lots of breaks, because it was hard and hot. Don’t judge.
We expected that cornice at 5930.
Lots of kick stepping, plunge stepping, and route finding for the rest of the day.
The Indian Bar group shelter was half way buried in snow.
After downing our first homemade dehydrated meal – brown rice, beans, veggies, and American cheese – we sipped tea and enjoyed cookies. Time for bed!
Day 2: Indian Bar to White River
11.4 miles, 2,536’ gain, 6:03 moving time
After morning coffee, granola, bathroom, and breaking down camp, we started hiking at 7:30am. We slipped on our fake crocs before crossing the cold-a** Ohanapecosh river. Frozen feet for the win!
But after navigating through 2000 feet of thick trees and packed snow, the day got hot. The open, exposed snow fields of Ohanapecosh park are truly unforgiving, but breathtakingly beautiful.
Of course we always take a selfie at Panhandle Gap!
Summerland had lots of moats to navigate, but when we got through the worst of it, we had coffee and tea on an inviting flat rock.
We switched to trail runners for the long hike to White River, where our food cache awaited us.
Day 3: White River to Fire Creek
11.9 miles, 3,192’ gain, 6:11 moving time
Time to go to a more isolated part of the park and start the Northern Loop! With no food caches available at Mowich, it is time to carry 6 days worth of food. That is HEAVY.
We were glad to have that over with when we started the climb up to Grand Park, where we witnessed a heard of elk playing in a pond. We watched as we ate sausage, tortillas, and kale chips. The sight was phenomenal!
Descending to Fire Creek Camp was long and annoying, but the campsite was worth it: wide open, warm, sheltered, and filled with magical streams. We had plenty of time to drink lots of hot chocolate, eat our “better than Mountain House Chili Mac” chili-Mac, and lay around listening to Beethoven sonatas.
Day 4: Fire Creek to
Ipsut Carbon River
14.8 miles, 3,514’ gain, 8:18 moving time
After switching out of mountaineering boots, we descended over 4,000 feet down to Carbon River. My knees and IT band hate long and steep descents, so I needed a break half way down. The West Fork crossing at the bottom was doable, but we had to bushwhack like crazy.
Later, at Carbon River, we ran into a terrible bridge crossing. One look, and Andrew and I both knew instantly that we were not going to cross it. After assessing our map and discussing our options, we decided to bag our next itinerary plans to do the Mother Mountain Loop- 2 days of our trip. We jumped on the Wonderland Trail and hiked an extra 2 miles to Carbon River Camp.
Ipsut to Eagle’s Roost Day Hike/Scramble into Seattle Park
7.3 miles, 2,828’ gain, 4:25 moving time
We went off trail so that we were IN Seattle Park rather than just looking at it from the summer trail. We scrambled up a random formation with a sturdy area for sitting. We enjoyed some alpine tea, lil smokies, tortillas, and kale chips – all while taking in a stunning 360°.
We wouldn’t have had this day if it weren’t for the Carbon Bridge being out.
Eagle’s Roost to Carbon River to Mystic Lake
5.9 miles, 3,127’ gain, 3:29 moving time
Ready in rain gear, we started our hike in the forest. Although misty and cool, the hike was quite pleasant. We admired the Carbon Glacier moraine only a few hundred feet across the way.
After crossing Dick Creek, I rounded a corner and saw a black bear on the trail, about 100 feet in front of us. We made ourselves known, and he nonchalantly looked back at us before continuing to ascend up the trail. Well, that’s the direction we are going too, but she needs her space!
We decided to descend back down to Dick Creek, hunker down in our sleeping bags, and drink tea (no sugar, no milk, and no snacks because smells and bears).
We waited out the bear and bad weather for 2 hours before the weather cleared enough to start the rest of our hike. We were more thankful more than ever to have this short 6-mile “off-day” built into our itinerary.
After gaining the ridge, the descent down to Mystic Lake was awe-inspiring.
Day 7: Mystic Lake to
Sunrise White River
12.1 miles, 2,917’ gain, 5:41 moving time
We woke up to rain/snow mix. It was bitterly cold, with low visibility.
The Winthrop Crossing, which is always a source of anxiety because it is out half the time, was a breeze. The bridge was IN!
We again admired the Carbon Glacier, with a myriad of ice fall and seracs.
Running low on food and disliking the bitter weather at 6,000 feet, we decided to move past our original camp and descend to White River. We grabbed our cache and made a bee-line for the historic ranger hut (now decommissioned).
As he set up camp, Andrew saw a black bear walking through the campsite.
Day 8: White River to
Deer Creek Grove of the Patriarchs Trailhead
18.8 miles, 2,169’ gain, 6:30 moving time
We made it from Deer Creek to the car at a quick pace of 3.5 miles per hour. The vision of 5 Guys Burgers kept us motivated.
We got to the car at 5pm, did our traditional water dunk before booking it to White River to retrieve our cache buckets.
Total Moving Time: 44:48:53
Total Distance: 92.6 miles
Total Gain: 24,705 feet
Early-Season Rainier Backpacking Game Changers!
***3-SEASON MOUNTAINEERING BOOTS, TRAIL RUNNERS, AND CROCS
Unless you don’t mind freezing feet, sloppy footing on steep terrain, and slippery river fording.
***TRASH COMPACTOR BAGS
Protects your clothes from getting wet in the rain and snow.
You need them for hiking in the rain and protecting your pack and other items while you camp.
***EXTRA FOOD. ALWAYS HUNGRY
No getting around it.
For steep snow terrain, and building your bathroom.