Happy Earth Day!
While my timing is purely coincidental, today is the perfect day to share our favorite hike!
Day 50 (September 17)
Mount Rainier National Park – Sunrise Region
After our tour of the visitor center and breakfast with an unexpected friend, we depart Sunrise (6400 ft elevation) via the Sourdough Ridge trail.
About a mile into our hike, we pass Frozen Lake on our right, and come to a five-way trail intersection. Here we continue on Burroughs Mountain trail.
Several different times on today’s hike, I am delighted to hear the “Eep-eep” of Picas, but again am not able to catch sight of one. We are, however, entertained by a half dozen active marmots in a boulder field. The largest marmot moves directly toward me and “poses” about five feet from me, where he patiently watches me fumble with phone and cameras for a minute before scurrying across the trail behind me and up the hill.
I turn and take a look back down toward Frozen Lake before continuing on the trail up through more talus slope.
The views from First Burroughs (7160 ft elevation) are stunning in every direction. From here, one may decide to continue on to Second Burroughs, or loop back to the visitor center via the Sunrise Rim trail or by retracing one’s footsteps on the Burroughs and Sourdough Ridge trails.
We keep moving forward, inching closer and closer to the mighty mountain, every step bringing the texture of the glacier’s surface into clearer focus.
We reach Second Burroughs (elevation 7402 ft), take some pictures, and share our lunch spot with 40-50 other hikers. While this seems like a lot of people, it isn’t off-putting, though no doubt this popular trail can get super-crowded on weekends or in peak summer season.
From Second Burroughs we can see a single-track trail winding down through a tundra meadow and then up and over another peak. What’s this!? We can get even higher and closer to Mt. Rainier!?
A few fellow hikers share our curiosity about this path, but no one seems to know how long it is, or the additional elevation gain. We chat with a solo hiker who decides to go for it. We have been careful with our water consumption and still have snacks, and so 15 minutes later we too head down the mystery path with these words in mind:
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” – T.S. Elliot
We will later find out that the trail we are hiking is to Third Burroughs. And it is definitely more strenuous than the trail to Second Burroughs.
As we get ever closer, closer to Mount Rainier, the sky turns steely blue and the clouds begin to radiate straight out from the mountain in all directions.
The final half mile up to Third Burroughs is tough! The trail gets steeper, and the exact path isn’t always easy to follow through the slippery snow. That said, because a few hikers have gone ahead of us today, we can tell the general direction, so we have no fear of getting too far off-trail. This would not be the case if the snow were deeper.
Fresh tracks! Mountain Lion? Wolf? Coyote?
We are now so close to Mount Rainier that we hear rock falls and the the moans and cracks of the glaciers. We are listening to geological change in real time.
The final push up Third Burroughs (7828 ft elevation) is a steep hike/climb through small jagged boulders, which also cover the narrow 100-yard long peak.
If no clouds are present, one can see straight down into the deep crevasses of the Winthrop glacier on the Northeastern side of Mount Rainier. We are twenty minutes too late for this, and the building clouds are obscuring the glacial valley 1500 feet below. Still, we know how fortunate we are that the mighty mountain is showing herself at all today.
Solitude is another reward for one’s hard work to reach Third Burroughs. We spend about 20 minutes up here and share the peak with only four other hikers.
My new hiking boots not yet broken in, I chose my worn-out Merrills for today’s hike. I’m glad the snow isn’t any deeper.
More views from Third Burroughs…
That’s Little Tahoma Peak in the right side of the image below. Robert does his best mountain climber pose for the shot, then we start back toward Second Burroughs.
Per a ranger’s suggestion this morning, after passing First Burroughs we leave Burroughs trail, and make this a loop hike via the lesser-used Sunrise Rim trail. The Sunrise Rim trail offers views of Emmons Glacier and Emmons Moraine, the White River and an alpine lake. This is a higher vantage point of the same glacial valley that we saw on yesterday’s hike two thousand feet below.
A short length of the Sunrise Rim trail runs along the side of the steep mountain through talus slope. While not really difficult to traverse, this is the sketchiest portion of our hike today.
We leave the tundra and talus slopes behind and reach the subalpine forest, where the autumn color of the shrubbery is coming along nicely. Soon after, we come to the Sunrise campground. Between the campground and the visitor center, late-season wildflowers bloom and we see lots of bear fur and scat right on the trail for the next half mile.
The clouds are rolling in now, chilling the air and obscuring mountain views. We arrive back at the visitor center elated from our perfect day of hiking, realizing how fortunate we are for this opportunity to experience one of mother nature’s perfect masterpieces.
After our challenging yet exhilarating hike, we return to camp, eat a hearty macaroni dinner, and celebrate the day. Robert declares he will “drink the mountain that I hiked today” and enjoys a Rainier beer, while I treat myself to a Deschutes Pacific Wonderland. Does he look cold here? Because it’s getting quite cold tonight.
A few notes and tips for hiking to First, Second, or Third Burroughs:
Every website seems to have different distances listed for this hike. Perhaps that’s because there are different loop options. These are the approximate round trip distances of the Sourdough Ridge –> Burroughs –> Sunrise Rim loop trail route that we took:
- First Burroughs 5.2 miles (moderate)
- Second Burroughs 6.4 miles (moderate)
- Third Burroughs 9.4 miles (strenuous)
Note: The National Park’s trail maintenance ends at Second Burroughs, which is why Third Burroughs trail is not on their trail map.
- Wear sunscreen and a hat. With the exception of the last mile or so of this route, you will be hiking in full sun without a tree in sight.
- Take a lot of water. There is no access to water along the trail.
- Be sure to use the restroom before you set out. There are no facilities or privacy on this trail until one arrives at the Sunrise backcountry campground (at this point you are only a mile away from the visitor center).
- Trekking poles are helpful, and highly recommended if one is hiking all the way to Third Burroughs.
- Wear layers. Take a rain/wind blocking jacket and gloves. The weather can change quickly up here, so be prepared for cold, wind, and snow anytime.
- Set aside plenty of time for the hike so you won’t have to hurry. You will want to stop a lot to take pictures and enjoy the views. We were on the trail for about 6 hours.
- Mind your backpack at Second Burroughs. The chipmunks here are super-aggressive and will steal food out of your pack. They will also beg, which is pretty darn cute. But please don’t feed them, no matter how temping it is! Try to keep this area crumb-clean.