On my drive to Sunrise the nature teases me with a beautiful view of Mount Rainier. Soft clouds rise from the valley and the sun filters through them. It’s a picture perfect morning. At least from the driver’s seat of my Jeep. When I get out at the parking area, the wind slaps me with a sharp autumnal chill.
I start hiking bundled up. I’m happy with that, or at least happier than the passenger who jumped from the car parked next to me in shorts and was desperately trying to find out whether it was possible to buy long pants anywhere around.
The initial half mile or so is uphill and even though it’s not terribly steep I know it’ll warm me up. I have been here before, more that once, and I have multiple photos of Mount Rainier from this particular meadow but the mountain is standing there so proudly, it’s impossible not to whip the camera out. I make my compulsory photo stops and I can’t believe my luck. It was overcast during my entire drive with low hanging clouds that concealed the views and they broke just when I arrived. The timing could not be more perfect. It’s going to be an awesome day, I think, until I connect to Sourdough Ridge and turn to snap one more shot. And the mountain is not there anymore. And the clouds that swallowed it are closing on me fast.
The next section follows the spine of Sourdough Ridge for about a mile and a half. I am now walking in the clouds but despite the lack of views I find my surroundings fascinating. The slope on my right shades me from the wind and without the wind it’s quiet and peaceful around me and few times I pause to watch the clouds and their ever changing formation, an art nature renders right in front of my eyes.
Sourdough Ridge spits me at Frozen Lake intersection. I have seen Frozen Lake frozen before but today there is only one small snow patch remaining above its northern shore and without the snow blanket I can see that its water level is alarmingly low. Several trails commence here. One of them runs southwest climbing up Burroughs Mountain. On a sunny day the views of Mount Rainier from Third Burrough are unsurpassed. Fremont Lookout trail trends north. I can pick up a small figure of a hiker in red jacket heading that direction, fighting his way uphill against the wind. It looks like an unpleasant endeavor. I admire his determination. The last trail descends west through the head basin of Berkeley Park. If I want to climb Skyscraper Mountain, that’s where I have to go.
But do I still want to climb Skyscraper mountain? I hesitate to answer the question. The weather is not clearing and my motivation takes a hit. Not because of lack of views. I still enjoy the moodiness around me quite a lot. What makes me uneasy is the fact that there is no official trail to the top of the mountain and I’m not crazy about following a faint boot path into an unknown territory. I briefly consider returning to Sunrise and spending some time in the visitor center but it feels good to be outside and I still have couple miles ahead of me on a well established trail.
They are relatively easy miles, dropping me first through meadows full of fragile alpine plants. Their reddish tones contrast against the brown dirt and grey gravel. Anything above them is a mystery.
Shortly after leaving Frozen Lake I came upon another intersection. Down the hill is Berkeley Park, a month ago when wildflowers were in their peak it would be my destination of choice but today I take the left spur which immediately starts ascending towards the Skyscraper Pass. I meet other hikers here, those who hike 93 mile long loop around Mt. Rainier called Wonderland Trail.
“What’s up with the weather,” one of them mentions when we pass each other. “It’s much colder that I thought it would be.”
“It should get better soon,” I say. “The weatherman promised the clouds will clear after 11:00. And when the weatherman says so the mountains have to listen, right?”
We both laugh and wish each other good day before we part our ways. The truth is that it’s now 10:52 a.m. and the clouds are as heavy as ever. When I arrive at Skyscraper Pass few minutes later, I stare into the blank nothingness in front of me and I’m not able to make even the faintest of the shapes where the mountain should be. This is is, I think. My turnaround point. I set up my tripod to take selfie at my final destination and while I’m doing so, there is a very brief window when I can see down towards the base of the mountain. The summit path seems to be quite obvious. It feels like a sign, like the nature is giving me a hint to explore further.
I only can see about 10 feet ahead of me at times but what I see is a path easy and safe to be followed. And so I keep climbing. I don’t expect to see much from the top but at least I can say I made it.
The clouds start breaking when I’m about ¾ way up. At first it is a small blue sucker patch above my head then there is a window through which pointy rugged peak wants to be admired. When I step onto the semi broad summit, beautiful view down to the valley grabs my attention. On the other side, the sun highlights a meadow and crowns of the trees. It’s my own private reward for not giving up. And it’s freaking awesome.
Distance: 8 miles RT
Elevation Gain: 1,300 ft
Trailhead Directions: From the White River entrance to Mount Rainier National Park on Hwy 410, follow the road to its end and the Sunrise parking lot.