Mt. Rainier trip- Plummer Peak


My wife and I had reserved a room at Mt. Rainier’s Paradise lodge prior to hearing the news about Lee and Judy, and even though we were still in mourning, we decided to go anyway. It was especially difficult knowing that we were going to be leaving our kids behind, just like our friends did, and go a bit “off trail” to the top of a mountain with steep drop-offs on all sides. Our goal was to get to the top of Plummer peak, one of the few peaks in the Tatoosh range across from Mt. Rainier, and a fairly easy peak to bag. There is only a very short scrambling section, aided by a few dead trees that offer plenty of places to hold on to, so it would be quite hard to fall on this hike. This was my wife’s first mountain peak.

But I also had another reason for going to this particular peak, instead of pinnacle peak or one of the others. You see, I remember one day seeing a picture of Mt Rainier, reflected in a beautiful little lake framed by gorgeous trees, and it was an almost idyllic spot, one of those pictures that just makes one think WOW. When I saw the picture, I wanted to find that little lake, but when I looked at the topographic maps, I could’t find any lake that would fit the bill. I also looked at the trails on the maps, and none of them seemed to go to any lake that would fit the bill either. Being the geek that i am, I decided to try to find where it was in the most geeky way possible. I got out a ruler, and lining up prominent points on the mountain decided that the location was somewhere between Pinnacle peak and Denman peak, making Plummer Peak, which sits right between them, the most likely location. I knew from previous trips and pictures of the Tatoosh range that Plummer peak has a few snow fields the seem to be permanent, and since no maps showed a lake, the picture had to be from a tarn formed by snow melt. But where? Cross referencing the map with a picture of Plummer peak taken from the summit of Pinnacle, I found a few different possibilities for the Tarn’s location, made a bunch of sketches on the maps and headed out to find the location 2 years ago. It turns out, it was the first guess, and easiest of all of them to get to, located right in line with the “trail” (technically, all of this is off trail). The only trick is that you have to get there at the right time. The tarn is tiny, and the snowfield feeding covers the tarn location most of the time. But, if it melts too much, then the tarn will go away as well. Two years ago I hit the tarn at the ideal time- it was August 20th, there was still plenty of snow behind the tarn, and the banks were dry, so you could get the maximum reflection possible. For a pic of the tarn location, click the picture of Plummer Peak.

Unfortunately, this time we got there too early, despite it being September already. The tarn was present, but the snowfield jutted far into it. Also, the snowfield was undercut by the tarn, and I didn’t want to have it collapse from my weight sitting on it. So, the only way for me to get pictures was to lie down on the snowfield, and get my camera as close to the water as I could. But due to the smaller size of the tarn than previously, it wasn’t quite the same as it should be, but made for decent pictures anyway.
After a brief stop here, we continued up to the top of the mountain. The trail branches off before the tarn, and then climbs steeply up over loose scree fields. On the way up it is actually very difficult to follow, and seems to disappear multiple times. When coming down, however, it is much more clear where the trail is. It climbs steeply, then cuts into some trees very close to the top. Here the trail is very steep and has large steps, but you can use the trees to help lift yourself up. Once past the trees, it is about 10 more vertical feet and you are on the summit.
From here, there are views to Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and even Mt. Hood in Oregon. But most spectacular is the view of Mt. Rainier, huge and unbroken from this angle, looking to the North. There is a spectacular 360 degree panorama of the cascades from the summit. You have to be quite careful at the top, though… the top is loose rock, unstable, and there is a very steep several hundred foot fall on several sides of the peak. Be careful.

After a good night’s sleep before heading home, we decided to go on one more short trail, so we chose the Lakes trail, leaving straight from the Paradise Lodge. This was a wonderful trail, full of wildflowers, and with a Marmot who seemed to really want to be photographed. It winds past babbling rivers, small waterfalls, and beautiful fields of flowers. The trail starts by going past Myrtle falls, then cutting across a face just above the road from paradise, then climbing a short but steep set if switchbacks onto a beautiful meadow, that meanders downward to a point at which you can overlook the Stevens Canyon. The most beautiful wildflowers, I think, were along the trail above the Paradise road- they were tightly clustered and very dense along the 10 feet or so on either side of the path, which was ablaze in pinks, purples, and reds.

Pauline and I had done this hike once before, on our first anniversary, and at that time, in late September, the fall colors were glorious… the entire hillside was a deep red. I was hoping this would again be the case, but it is just a bit too early in the season. We were also here about a month before, and the wildflowers were much less impressive. It seems like September is the ideal time to come on this trail.