Tag Archives: Mount Rainier

An Ode To Turning Around

Contributed by Michael Restivo of Mike off the Map

Rocky mountaintop [Image Credit: Michael Restivo]

Image Credit: Michael Restivo

We stood before an icy couloir that divided Mt. Meeker from the Diamond Face of Longs Peak. Behind us, up a desolate, cold valley, the sunrise illuminated the rock in a brilliant gold hue. We huddled with the wind at our back, barely trying to stay on our feet, ice axe in hand and crampons firmly gripped to our boots. In the brief moments of calm between gusts funneling through the couloir, we pondered our chances on the Dreamweaver Route. Our plan was to climb in alpine-style: fast, light, no rope, and relying on our tools and efficient movement to ascend the 60-degree ramp to the summit ridge. As we stared up the face and came to a decision, a blast of spindrift – swirling, icy crystals of snow, had us pulling our hoods over our mouths. I turned to my partner and I said the words that no climber likes to hear:

I don’t think this is a good idea.

Rocky mountain summit with snow [Image Credit: Michael Restivo]

Image Credit: Michael Restivo

Alpine climbing is always a gamble and never a certainty. Unlike a day at the crag where you have ample time to relax and take in the view, alpine climbing is about efficiency and constant movement. In the mountains, you’re fighting against the weather, the condition of the snow, the movement of other parties ahead of you, and a variety of factors that are determined to slow down the climb. The best alpinists became that way because they knew when to make the call to turn back from the summit. During the ascent, there’s a constant state of awareness regarding the changing conditions. A bluebird day turns into storm clouds and blasting winds within minutes. The snow softens, becomes too warm, and risks sliding. If you’re within yards of the summit, you know to ask yourself:

I may make it to the top, but do I have the ability to make it back down?

This is the question that should plague every hiker, backcountry skier, climber, or snowshoer. During high-intensity backcountry excursions, self-assessment and condition awareness is crucial. How fast is the party moving? What’s everyone’s condition regarding altitude and overall fitness? How much daylight is left in relation to the summit’s distance? There’s always that desire to be bold, be the superhero, and have that story about beating the odds to make an objective, but at what risk? The mountain is always going to be there and the trail will live for another day. Unwarranted criticism about the decisions that anybody makes in the mountains should be taken with a massive grain of salt.

Yellow tent on rocky mountain summit [Image Credit: Michael Restivo]

Image Credit: Michael Restivo

In 2012, on my first attempt of Mt. Rainier, we got caught in a storm on the upper reaches of the mountain. Despite the stinging cold, blinding snow, and unbearable wind, I was determined to make it to the top. Because of my ego and personal pride, I overlooked my condition and kept forging ahead, putting at risk my life and that of my teammates. The fault in my actions that day was due to the fact that I had under-assessed my own condition and tried to push ahead with all my strength despite being already exhausted on the upper slopes. The next few trips, I learned to treat climbs not as a reach for the summit, but instead to enjoy the beauty and the athleticism behind alpinism as a whole. On subsequent trips, such as getting turned back from Mt. Hood due to the warming weather and soft snow, or a turnaround on Washington’s Forbidden Peak because our timing at the base of the route was way off, I learned to respect these decisions for what they were. Not a representation of what I couldn’t do, but just the luck of the draw. An unfortunate side effect of what we do as climbers.

Sun sets over mountain range in Pacific Northwest [Image Credit: Michael Restivo]

Image Credit: Michael Restivo

Every climb is a learning experience. You learn how to read different conditions, how to gauge good movement, and take that into future ascents. During the climb there should never be any kind of doubt or “I don’t know” about the route. Ultimately, the decision of turning around will always be the right one.

How to Avoid an Avalanche

Whether you’re hiking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing through the mountains, avalanches are not to be regarded lightly. We’ve all seen enough video clips and movies to know that they are a force to be reckoned with and one to be avoided at all costs. Even in situations where you played by all the rules and did everything you were supposed to, Mother Nature still sometimes throws a curveball and you might find yourself on a remote snow-covered mountain that’s showing the signs of an avalanche. Here is some information on what exactly you’re up against as well as how to properly prepare yourself.

What Triggers an Avalanche?

Snow crashing over a snowy cliff

An avalanche at Mt. Rainier [Image: environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/natural-disasters/avalanche-profile/]

An avalanche occurs once the weight of the snow is too much and the snowpack fails and collapses under the pressure. It’s hard to determine what the strength of a snowpack will be since the snow grains vary depending on size, density, temperature, airflow, received sunlight, difference in terrain, and more. A lot of avalanches occur naturally either during a storm or when the snowpack changes, such as by partially melting, but can also be triggered by exploring visitors. There are three different types of avalanches to look out for: slab, powder snow, and wet snow.

Slab Avalanche

A hiker trapped in a series of snow chunks breaking away from the snowpack.

A slab avalanche [Image: www.wayneflannavalancheblog.com/2012/01/i-have-this-picture-on-my-wall-in.html]

A slab avalanche occurs when covered layers of weakened snow fracture and collapse. They mostly happen during and up to 24 hours after a storm that leaves 12 inches or more of fresh powder. This new snow overloads the existing layers and creates a break. These avalanches can be huge chunks of snowpack, sometimes spanning an entire mountainside, and typically carry downslope for a long time with the possibility of reaching up to 80 mph. Approximately 90% of avalanche-related deaths are due to slab avalanches—many who find themselves involved in a slab avalanche will rarely escape alive.

Powder Snow Avalanches

An avalanche coming down a mountainside appearing like a cloud.

A powder snow avalanche [Image: www.planat.ch/en/images-details/datum/2011/06/21/schattenbachlawine-walenstadt]

Powder snow avalanches occur with fresh, dry powder and essentially become a snow cloud. These are the largest avalanches to form out of turbulent suspension currents. Typically these avalanches are able to move along flat surfaces for long distances and only make up a small amount of injuries or deaths comparatively.

Wet Snow Avalanches

A smaller avalanche coming down a mountainside made up of clumps of wet snow.

A wet snow avalanche [Image: www.mtavalanche.com/images/10/loose-wet-snow-avalanche?size=_original]

Although wet snow avalanches move slowly, they can take up a large amount of space, can result in serious injury, and end up being pretty destructive leaving trees, boulders, and most of what they come into contact with in their wake. They occur from a loose snow release in snow packs that have a lot of water saturation and are close to melting point. A lot of times these avalanches occur toward the end of winter as the snow is warmed by the longer daytime hours.

How to Prepare for Avalanches

A diagram of a man trapped underneath snow putting an arm above his head and another across his face to create an air pocket.

What to do if trapped in an avalanche [Image: www.artofmanliness.com/2011/12/14/how-to-survive-an-avalanche]

When going on a wintertime adventure on a snowy mountaintop, it’s best to be prepared for even the most extreme situations. Always check avalanche forecasts with park headquarters before heading out for a trip. At the bare minimum, you should bring a shovel, beacon, and probe with you. Beacons (or avalanche transceivers) are important because they can receive signals from other devices to help locate buried victims. A probe is used to dive into the snow and find a buried victim and works especially well when coupled with a beacon. Avalanche airbags and Avalungs are fantastic items that make it so a buried person has a higher chance of surviving and being rescued.

Sometimes even the most diligent and prepared hiker, skier, or snowboarder will hear the terrifying creaks that signify an avalanche. The first thing you’ll want to do is get off the breaking slab as quickly as possible by moving to the side. Snowmobilers are sometimes able to crank the speed and outrace a broken slab. If unable to escape the mass of traveling snow, try to grab onto a sturdy object such as a tree or rock instead. Humans are denser than other debris and will sink faster in the snowpack. Once the snow settles, it refreezes and makes it nearly impossible to move. Throwing a hand above the snowpack and making room in front of your face are the most important things to do if you find yourself trapped. Some claim that spitting will help you determine which way is up or that swimming will get you away from a traveling snowpack quicker, but there is no proof that either actually works. The longer a victim is submerged under the snow, the less chance they have of surviving the incident (usually being buried for more than 15 minutes leads to hypothermia and a lower chance of survival).

Hopefully, this article gave you some new information and makes you feel a bit more prepared for any winter journeys you may be planning. Download our Pocket Ranger® mobile apps to find a park to explore near you!

Iron Peak Hiking in Washington

Contributed by Michael Restivo of Mike off the Map

Fall in Washington takes on a special quality: the openness of the trails, the snow drifting over the high peaks, and the promise of warm cider and even warmer company. As our group trudged the final ridge to the overlook on Iron Peak, everybody was reminiscing about the magnificent season and grandiose vistas, while already talking up objectives for next year. While others are fastening their snowshoes for winter jaunts, many will return to the high mountain hikes in the spring.

Larches in peak fall foliage

Image Credit: Michael Restivo

The extraordinary beauty of the Teanaway River Valley doesn’t enjoy the fame of the Enchantments or the Cascades on the other side of the Stuart Range. The landscape is one of towering larches, easily hikeable peaks, and summer wildflower fields, which turn into some of Washington’s most spectacular fall foliage. The trails ascend through wooded forests, rocky cliff faces, and, above the treeline, to a snowcapped vista of serrated mountain ranges and thin ridges with a multitude of peak-bagging opportunities.

Ridgewalking in the Teanaways

Image Credit: Michael Restivo

To outsiders, this stretch of Central Washington may go overlooked, as they opt for more famous volcanoes and National Parks. While there’s nothing wrong with that, the Teanaways are a gem for locals, who find a multitude of trails that are accessible year-round. The well-marked path doesn’t require much more than lots of water and a good pair of boots.

We chose to hike Iron Peak, a gently sloping massif with enormous views of the early winter landscape. This relatively easy jaunt is completed in just over half a day, with a final unforgettable ridgewalk that leaves hikers surrounded by glaciated peaks. Starting from a pothole-lined road, the rocky, in some places uneven, trail traverses waterfalls, rockslide zones, and lush meadows as it swiftly rises to the saddle under the Iron Peak Ridge.

Rocky cliff edges of the Teanaways en route to Iron Peak

Image Credit: Michael Restivo

As soon as the trail enters the saddle, it becomes apparent why this trail is revered. Between the pine trees to the south, Mt. Rainier looms above a fog and cloud covered valley, while the North Cascades beckon to the opposite side. The highlight of the hike, however, is the entire Stuart Range in piercing, snow-blasted glory, and the remarkable beauty of the South Face of Mt. Stuart. A short but exciting traverse takes hikers to the tip at the top of Iron Peak, where 360-degrees of uninterrupted mountain views are the reward.

 

Gorgeous summit views of mountain ranges in Washington

Image Credit: Michael Restivo

Beyond Iron Peak, the Teanaways have a number of technical climbs and scrambles, such as Ingalls Peak, a 5.4 to 5.7-rock climb over a fin of granite, and Class 2 and 3 scrambles on the Esmeralda Peaks. The interconnected trails allow for multiple loops around the range, and the option to traverse several peaks in one trip.

As we left the trailhead, we drove through the pastoral farmlands with a pink twilight hue streaming through the larches. Central Washington had been the perfect stage for closing this year’s high hiking season. As we were crossing the ridge on our return trip, my hiking partner turned back to me and said, “It’s over, ” but then we started discussing our plans for spring and knew that the next season had already begun.

Climbing Mt. Rainier

Contributed by Michael Restivo of Mike off the Map

A hiker climbing Mt. Rainier in WA

Image: Michael Restivo

Mount Rainier is one of the most celebrated ascents in North American mountaineering. At 14,411-feet, the semi-active volcano dominates the Seattle skyline, and its glaciated slopes are a proving ground for climbers who dream of Denali, and ultimately, the Himalayas. Climbing Mt. Rainier is a serious undertaking, and while it’s not the tallest or even the hardest peak, it has dangers that have been both trying and deadly. The mountain is so massive and isolated, it forms its own weather pattern. It may appear calm on the lower slopes, but often the upper mountain is raging with snow and wind. This post is about my observations as I made my second attempt on the summit. It should not be taken as a guide on how to climb Rainier, but about the experience it entails.

Climbing Mt. Rainier

There is no such thing as training too hard for the climb. The focus for Rainier preparation is less about strength, and more about endurance and having the resilience to perform in difficult conditions. For the entirety of the climb (which involves a day of travel to the basecamp and then a long day to the summit and back), climbers are usually carrying a pack of upwards to 60-pounds or more. For those interested in climbing Mt. Rainier, the training usually involves running small hills with weighted backpacks, taking long distance treks, and moving on uneven terrain in rapidly changing weather.

Mount Rainier is covered in snow

The view while Climbing Mt. Rainier [Image: Michael Restivo]

Mount Rainier is the fifth highest, and most glaciated peak in the lower 48 states. While many climbers ascend to the crater rim at 14,150-feet, the true summit is on Columbia Crest, the highest ridge around the crater. The routes to the summit vary in remoteness, difficulty, and popularity. The most travelled route is Disappointment Cleaver, which travels from the trailhead at Paradise to Camp Muir, crosses the Ingraham Glacier, and travels up the ridge that provides access to the summit. The most treacherous route is Liberty Ridge; with its steep, frequently shifting blocks of ice, it requires advanced alpine knowledge and ideal conditions the entire way up.

Climbing Mt. Rainier takes commitment and fortitude, ranging from two to four days of travel. The first day involves crossing the lower snowfield, whether it’s the steady, gently rolling slopes on the way to Camp Muir, or the pockmarked crevasse lined glaciers of the Emmons. The higher climbers ascend, the more the altitude takes its toll. The route is never straightforward, as the weather closes and opens crevasses and bergschrunds, forcing rerouting in order to avoid objective hazards, such as rockfall and avalanche chutes.

A hiker tents near the summit of Mt. Rainier National Park

Image: Michael Restivo

A typical summit day starts between midnight and 2 AM, when the freeze point locks snow and large boulders into place. While other parties usually define the path, marking the trail with their boot prints, it doesn’t make it any easier. Climbers alternate between using switchbacks, crossing the fields in a zigzag motion, or pushing directly up the snow bank, all navigated by headlamp.

The air above 13,000 feet is cold, but the more that you’re moving, the faster the body warms and eventually the chill is forgotten. While climbing for an extended period of time, the mind is blank, thinking only about footwork or the next break point. Breaks are short and only provide enough time to rest your calves and take a quick drink before continuing on.

A sunrise view after climbing Mt. Rainier

Image: Michael Restivo

One of the most memorable moments of climbing Mt. Rainier is watching the sunrise from the upper slopes. Mount Rainier stands alone above the range, but the smaller peaks of the Southern Cascades and the jagged skyline of the Tatoosh surround it. The sunrise signifies both an end to the night climbing and a sign that the summit isn’t too far off. Its one of the most talked about moments for any climber.

After over 12 hours of continuous uphill, a small rocky ridge leads to Columbia Crest, proudly nestled high above the crater. On my particular experience, clouds and snow prevented us from seeing the magnificent panorama, but we could make out the icy divot of the crater. The summit plateau is wide, and the view looks across to Mount Adams and St. Helens, and even the skyline of downtown Seattle.

A hiker in a blue jacket has made it to the top of Mount Rainier

Victory pose after climbing Mt. Rainier [Image: Michael Restivo]

Climbing Mt. Rainier is the proving ground for bigger expeditions. Its architecture and glaciers help prepare climbers for the bigger ranges, and a first-time ascent is an achievement in and of itself. For inexperienced mountaineers, it’s recommended to take advantage of a professional guiding service. Climbing Mt. Rainier requires top skills in glacier travel, route finding, and immense fortitude. It is a challenge, but ultimately worth the reward.

Hiking in Mt. Rainier National Park

Contributed by Michael Restivo of Mike off the Map

Majestically set against the Seattle skyline, Mt. Rainier dominates the Washington landscape, making it one of the most iconic sights in the state. At 14,411-feet, the mountain is the centerpiece of the national park, and the highest point in the state of Washington. While much of the activity in the national park involves summiting the volcano, Mt. Rainier National Park has acres of magnificent trails, campsites, and Washington’s most famous trek.  Pristine snowfields, deep forests, breathtaking views, and colorful wildflower meadows surround the peak. Hiking in Mt. Rainier National Park features trails for every skill level from easy day-hikes to multi-week epics.

Hiking in Mt. Rainier along the Glacier Basin trail

The Glacier Basin trail leads to up-close views of Mt. Rainier’s famed glaciers. [Image Credit: Michael Restivo]

Hiking in Mt. Rainier you’ll discover over 290 miles of maintained trails. The easier trails around Rainier’s slopes are low-grade and family friendly while still promise spectacular views. The Glacier Basin trail, which traces the White River to an unforgettable mountain valley, leads to up-close views of the mountain’s famed glaciers. Starting at the Glacier Basin trailhead, this six-mile hike on a well-kept trail never goes beyond a low grade, as it ascends over 1,000 feet to the subalpine forest under St. Elmo Pass. The incredible views and easy hiking make this a family and child friendly hike, and the campsites at Glacier Basin Camp lie at the Inter Fork of the White River, with a gorgeous sunrise from the Southern Cascades.

Hiking in Mt. Rainier to Camp Muir Climber's Camp

The trek to Camp Muir traverses the steep snowfield hills as it gains over 4,500-feet in six miles. [Image Credit: Michael Restivo]

Those who are looking for a greater challenge while hiking in Mt. Rainier can attempt the strenuous, but rewarding trek to Camp Muir, the climbers advanced camp at 10,000 feet. Permits are required to camp at Muir, but it makes for an adventurous daytrip over its namesake snowfield. Starting from the trailhead Paradise, the fields under the slopes are snow-covered until midsummer, but in July and August, reveal a carpet of brightly colored wildflowers–one of the prized attractions of the park. The trek to Camp Muir traverses the steep snowfield hills as it gains over 4,500-feet in six miles.  Trekking on the slopes beyond Camp Muir requires a climbing permit, but from the camp, Mt. Saint Helens and Mt. Adams dominate the skyline. It isn’t specifically a camp for climbers, but in the high climbing season, tent spots are hard to find.

A view from the Muir Snowfield while hiking in Mt. Rainier

A View of Mt. Rainier From the Muir Snowfield [Image Credit: Michael Restivo]

If challenge isn’t obligatory, but great views and color are, the trails do lead to many wildflower fields and lakes, reflecting the volcano’s white glaciers in their waters. Trails from Sunrise, Chinook Pass, and Paradise, lead to a series of lakes and fields that are great introductory trips for children. One of the most famed of these fields is Grand Park in the Sunrise District. Deer and Elk forage on the Lake Eleanor Trail as hikers trek through an old growth forest that leads to the flat plains beneath the peak’s South Face. In the summer, Indian Paintbrush, daisies, fireweed, and lilies provides a stunning contrast to the stark-white icy slopes.

Rainier’s most famous trail, and arguably it’s most challenging, is the Wonderland Trail, a 93-mile circumnavigation of the mountain, considered not only a park Classic, but a lifetime trekking experience. On average, it takes about ten days to complete the entire length, as the trail ascends onto high passes, descends into thick forests, and traverses snowfields, alpine meadows, and high passes. If you’re looking for something that requires commitment, skill, and good wilderness knowledge while hiking in Mt. Rainier then try hiking the Wonderland Trail. Much of the trail passes through remote areas and treacherous terrain. The trail requires crossing numerous rivers, sometimes on established bridges, or by improvised method. The river level is dependent on the melting of the glaciers. It’s important to know one’s abilities before taking on a trail such as the Wonderland.

Mt. Rainier National Park is much more than just the mountain. Hiking in Mt. Rainier entails miles of colorful trails, meadows, forests, wildlife, and great campsites, for all ages and all activities. The mountain is still the centerpiece of the park, and in my next article, I’ll be talking about the experience of climbing to the summit.

Walking the Katwalk: Hiking Kendall Katwalk

Contributed by Michael Restivo of Mike off the Map

Between soaring columns of snow-capped stone, lush northwestern forests, and glacial-blue alpine lakes, is one of the longest yet most unusual hikes in North Bend, just 40 minutes outside of Seattle, Washington. The Kendall Katwalk is an exposed passage, perched on top of a cascading white cliff that has all the best features of Washington hiking: hills of green, towering peaks, a breathtaking view of Rainier, and an alpine landscape. It’s hard to believe that it’s so close to the city. From dense forest to the shores of two lakes, the Kendall Katwalk is a must-do excursion for any hiker.

Kendall Catwalk Trail

The Kendall Katwalk portion of the trail [Image: Michael Restivo]

A sign at the trailhead boldly announces that the Katwalk is a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. The seven miles to the lake is long, but despite the elevation gain into the spectacular surroundings, the trail maintains an easy grade. The hike starts on a well-maintained path, weaving through a pine forest, then gently starts to rise through a series of long switchbacks. As hikers slowly gain elevation, several streams and small, mossy waterfalls cut through the middle of the trail, forcing hikers to make small water crossings on slick rocks.

Kendall Katwalk Panorama

Kendall Katwalk Panorama [Image: Michael Restivo]

The trail then ascends into open meadows where abundant summer wildflowers bathe the hills in color. Just to the south is the awe-inspiring Mt. Rainier. After several more long switchbacks, which alternate between forest and open field, the trail cuts under a talus field of gray rock and patches of flower-dotted grass. At this point, the trail becomes noticeably rockier. Just as the scenery on one side of the catwalk starts to get familiar, a bend in the trail cuts over to the other side, and the landscape changes completely.

Mt. Mt. Rainier from Kendall Katwalk

A view of Mt. Rainier from the Kendall Katwalk trail. [Image: Michael Restivo]

A short, rocky section bridges the trail with the Katwalk, which then reveals snow-patched granite spires, the North Bend Valley, and miles of pristine wilderness. Passing over on the other side, it’s easy to see why this trail is so revered. A cliff suddenly drops off to one side and the trail passes by this dramatic drop overlooking the trees and boulders below. The gray serrated ridges give the landscape a very California-esque appearance, and passage on the trail is quite exposed.

Kendall Katwalk meadows

The forest and mountains seen from the meadows. [Image: Michael Restivo]

As the trail evens out, there is a spectacular break and a perfect lunch spot overlooking the mountains. For some the trail ends here, but others continue on to the two alpine lakes less than a mile away. Hikers climb through boulder and talus fields and will find the occasional patch of snow late into the summer. There are several tree-lined avenues that give some shady respite from the exposure. They open up onto the shore of Ridge and Gravel Lake. Ridge Lake is small and accessible – a great place to fill water bottles. Gravel Lake is more scenic and requires a short scramble to its shores; the glacial ice blue water reflects a mountainous backdrop. The long walk back to the trailhead follows the same path and while there are a few short climbs, it never feels strenuous.

The Kendall Katwalk is a fun and easy hike for those who are looking for a unique and adventurous day-hike. While its easy grade makes it a great spring and summer trip, in the winter, the Katwalk becomes ice-covered and slippery. The views here are among some of the best of the North Bend-Snoqualmie Hikes and there is no doubt that this is a Washington classic.

Suggested Gear List: 

  • CamelBak Eddy Stainless Steel Insulated Water Bottle
  • CAMP USA Xenon Trekking Pole
  • ALPS Mountaineering Olympus Backpack

Check out our Pocket Ranger® Gear Store for these items and more!

Climbing Mt. Si: One of WA’s Most Classic Hikes

Contributed by Michael Restivo of Mike off the Map

Climbing Mt. Si view of Seattle and the Olympic Mountains

Seattle and the Olympic Mountains from Mt. Si

Mt. Si is a Seattle classic. Rising over 4,000 feet off the North Bend valley, it encompasses every great natural characteristic about Washington hiking: steep trails, a rocky scramble, spectacular views of the Cascades and Puget Sound, and a day hike challenge that is so well known that climbing Mt. Si (pronounced “sigh”) is considered a dress rehearsal for climbing Rainier. 

The trail starts just out of the parking lot and follows a flat road for 1.5 miles before it starts to rise into a series of switchbacks. The switchbacks alternate between a rocky outcropping that offers the first view of the snowcapped Cascades and a Douglas fir-lined forest. After the first mile, the road delves deeper and quaint wooden bridges cross over a small brook that runs down the side. Just off the trail, it’s possible to spend a moment looking over several small waterfalls that crisscross between the pines.

At two miles, the trail takes a momentary respite into flatter territory, and here it is possible to walk out onto a boardwalk to see the new forest growing out of the ashes of a large forest fire in 1910. At three miles in, the trail becomes looser and rockier, and the trees fan out to reveal the first spectacular view of the North Bend Valley and I-90.

The Southern Cascades and North Bend valley

The Southern Cascades and North Bend valley

From this point on, the trail becomes steeper and thins out noticeably as it crests up above the tree line. The section that will test already exhausted legs comes at the very top, as the trail rises to a boulder-filled meadow. In early winter, small patches of ice may appear, so it is imperative to exercise caution on a small Class 2 scramble to the sharp ledges that sit just below the true summit.

Mt. Si-View from the meadow

View from the meadow

On the best days, the view from the meadow is nothing less than spectacular. Looking to the west, you can see the cities of Seattle and Bellevue set among the Olympic Range. Just to the left, the solitary Mt. Rainier rises behind the clouds—glaciated and ice covered in the winter and mixed snow and dark colored rock in the summer. Behind Rainier, the Southern Cascades recede into the Snoqualmie Valley, while I-90 disappears into pine-forested hills.

Mt. Rainier

Mt. Rainier and friend

Mt. Si-The Haystack

“The Haystack”

While most hikers are content to stay at the false summit, the true summit, known as “The Haystack,” rises grandiosely above the rocky meadow. The Haystack is a serious high class 2 / low class 3 scramble that requires proper footwear and in some cases a helmet, as hikers from above can accidentally kick down loose rock. It is a steep and ultra exposed climb that should be undertaken with a fair amount of experience. At the top, the 360-degree view presents a panorama of the distant North Cascades. Coming off the summit, you should be as cautious in the down climb as you are in the ascent.

Mt. Si

An inspirational mile marker near the summit

The allure of Mt. Si, other than its proximity to Seattle, is its technical difficulty near the top, which makes it a popular training course for serious climbers. In preparing to climb one of the Cascade peaks, many climbers will climb the mountain with 50 or 60 pound packs, or try to run it, as the grade and angle of the trail will make for a formidable challenge.

Mt. Si isn’t truly strenuous until the final third of the way, but those who want a mesmerizing view over Tiger Mountain and Rattlesnake Ledge can opt for Little Si, which is a separate and smaller peak whose trailhead begins just down the road from its bigger sister. Little Si features bouldering and sport climbing walls and an easier trail, which can be used for preparation on Big Si.

Climbing Mt. Si redefines the day hike and turns it into a true challenge with spectacular vistas, a story-worthy scramble at the top and the satisfaction of having completed one of Washington’s most classic hikes. Si is the litmus test for more strenuous trails. Those who are able to complete its hulking 4,000 plus foot elevation can consider themselves ready to take on more committing peaks.

Are you one of them?