Friday, July 7, 2023

Rainier Skyline Trail

The Skyline Trail loop at Rainier is the premier dayhike for the average tourist visitor to Paradise. I would describe it as your typical National Park loop where everyone and their grandma are out there giving it a try. On the plus side its getting people outdoors. On the negative, it makes for a crowded trail and a number of people who are one step from calling search and rescue. The trail is consistent with amazing views of Mt. Rainier and in a year like this, 2023, even in early July, had plenty of snow patches to deal with on trail. While there is no summit on a trail like this its primary destination is the Panorama Point overlook near the high point of the loop.

Trip Info:
Skyline Trail Loop, counterclockwise, from Paradise
Trailhead Elevation: 5,428 ft.
High Elevation: 7,038 ft.
Distance: 5.91 mi. 
Elevation Gain: 1,833 ft.
Start Time: 11:58am
End Time: 2:48pm

Trip Report:
We tarted out at the beautiful steps right near the main visitor center which also have Rainier as a fitting background. These would be the same steps mountaineers seeking to summit Rainier would use if they were taking the standard route that eventually goes through Camp Muir. There are actually a number of trails that spread out from the steps and the signage at trail junctions was very well done by the park service to let you know which is which. All the trails near the visitor center are paved at first.

The beginning steps with a John Muir quote

All my descriptions will be from the counter-clockwise direction. You can do the loop in either direction and it seemed on our day there was a fairly even 50/50 split of people doing each direction. The shorter side of the loop is the west side. This also means it is fairly steep and more direct. If you want the quickest path to Panorama Point take the west side. The east side of the loop takes a more circuitous route.

The first half mile of the Skyline Trail was paved up to the Myrtle Falls area. Here there was a brief bridge crossing and then dirt trail began. Nice of the park service to pave things and make Myrtle Falls accessible.

Ascending the paved trail

Looking up at Rainier from the Myrtle Falls area

After the Falls the trail continues shortly to a small rib on the mountain and then begins to descend for a bit and head east. Then led to a set of switchbacks and a new ascent up to a flat saddle where the snow really began to come in. The snow was patchy from this point onward. It was a fairly warm and sunny afternoon so this meant the top several inches were getting slushy. Never saw any post-holing and neither would spikes have been necessary. We even had a 100 foot ascent up a snowfield guarding the trail and this was fairly easily navigated.

Increasing amounts of snow along trail

One of many great looks up at Rainier

The flat saddle

More snow crossings

After the flat saddle the trail mellowed out a bit with some snow crossing and then eventually a creek crossing. This was a short bottleneck with about a dozen hikers all hitting the creek at the same time. It was about a 20-foot crossing of a shallow creek and there were enough larger rocks in the midst that one very carefully could keep their feet dry.

Up at Rainier from the creek crossing area

Heading into the creek crossing

From time to time you could see the trail ahead as we continued to gain. The climbing began to feel relentless as I would watch the altimeter and always be surprised how much more we had to go. We continued to encounter hiker after hiker and I made the remark "it felt like Bierstadt on a Saturday".

Ascending still more snow

At just over 6400 feet the climb veered northeast to another ridge and more climbing on loose rock. In many places the snow would be obscuring the snow but the route was never impossible to follow. I was also closely keeping track with my GPS. In this upper area I did find that our route varied from an older GPX file that I had found. It appears that an older trail took a lower route from the east to Panorama Point. Where now the route seemed to go up and around, peaking at around 7000 ft, to hit Panorama. If I were to wager a guess I would figure this was to avoid all the snow that bowls up in the area that is getting avoided. I wouldn't be surprised if there were many summer hikers struggling in this area and they decided to reroute the trail.

If you look carefully you can see trail segments ahead and above

Fun shot of a ledge section of the trail and Jonah looking out to the south

In the snow bowl area we did make one interesting discovery. We saw a large group of people down in the snow. I surmised they were one of the mountaineering guide groups practicing self arrest and snow travel. This was confirmed later when we saw one who appeared to be a guide with full rope and helmet assisting other climbers. It certainly seemed like more than a handful of people horsing around.

Guide climbers practicing on the snow

Another Rainier money shot

From the Panorama Point area another discovery was seeing several Rainier mountaineers with full gear making the trek up to Camp Muir, presumably for a summit the next day. It appeared the path up to the Camp leaves from just above Panorama or from the trail leading out just west of it. Looking above we could see several dozen hikers/climbers ascending the snow below the Camp. We couldn't see the Camp itself but in the picture below we were pretty sure it was in the upper area based on the maps.

The path up to Camp Muir

Looking out from just above Panorama Point

Another money shot up at Rainier

Beautiful waterfall running off from the glacier

Views from Panorama Point.
Mount Adams is on the distant horizon behind the double peaks far left of center

Mt. Rainier from Panorama Point

The hike down the west side of the loop was on good trail with less snow. About halfway down there is a square concrete pad where the Skyline meets the Alta Vista Trail and from this point onward the paved trails begin once more.

On the hike down the west side of the loop

An absolutely enjoyable hike to take in the views and the mountainside fun at Mt. Rainier. I am looking forward this fall to returning to Washington and Mt. Rainier with my brother. We have plans for some summits (not Rainier) and also hope to make the trek up to Camp Muir.

I have a track and waypoints from the activity all contained in the embedded Google Map. Check it out and use at your own risk.

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