Monday, August 17, 2009

Skyscraper Pass, Mount Rainier National Park


We like trails with solitude but do make exception for trails at Sunrise, Skyscraper Pass (and peak) being one of them. The hike starts out on the Sourdough Ridge trail where we turned left, following the ridgeline. After passing the junction for the Huckleberry Creek trail (right) the river of hikers began to thin out as the trail crossed a talus – just past Frozen Lake we came to a 5-way junction, where many casual hikers call it a day. Here we turned onto the Wonderland Trail, following signs for the Wonderland Trail and Berkeley Park.
From the 5-way junction near Frozen Lake the trail begins dropping to a plateau where Skyscraper Peak comes into view (be glad Skyscraper Peak is closer than it looks). As we continued marmots whistled, warning of our presence. At the next junction some hikers turned off toward Berkeley Park (right) - we continued on the Wonderland Trail (left).

Most flowers have passed their prime though there were still some blooming in the meadows - asters, magenta paintbrush, yarrow, lousewort, lupine and bistort. There is a bronze tint to the meadows, an indication that autumn is not far off. We also saw several marmots dashing about (or lazing) between the Wonderland Trail junction and Skyscraper Pass.

It’s about 1,000 feet of gain to Skyscraper Pass at 6,786 feet. The Wonderland Trail continues, descending to Mystic Lake (alas, too far for a day hike). We had considered dropping from the pass to Granite Creek Camp on the Wonderland Trail but backpackers we talked to say the trail was mostly in forest until Mystic Lake.

We love forest hikes but on a clear day at Sunrise there was no dithering about where to go. From the pass a boot path climbs to Skyscraper Peak – our revised goal for the day. The peak is only about 300 feet above the pass.

Skyscraper Peak is a minor summit but with 360-degree views and well worth the effort to get there. From the ragged summit directly below is the silver squiggle of the White River winding through the valley and views down to the lush green of Berkeley Park. Take a map to identify other peaks and places - need I mention that there are also great views of Mount Rainier?

The trail to the summit is rocky and somewhat exposed; if you don’t like heights you can always stop shy of the summit – the views are almost as good. The peak is a jumble of volcanic rocks, many serve as great places to settle and bask.

Though most flowers will soon fade, don’t rule out this hike yet. Gentians are popping up in the meadows and marmots are busy dashing about. Late summer and early fall are also an excellent time to visit for fall color though with chillier temperatures you may want to add an extra layer of clothing or two in your pack.

Getting to the trailhead: From Enumclaw go east on Highway 410 to the White River Entrance of Mount Rainier National Park and continue 14 miles to Sunrise, elevation 6,400 feet. Trail. Allow about 2.5 hours drive time from Seattle.

Trail data: It is about 8 miles round-trip to Skyscraper Pass with about 1,200 feet of elevation gain including ups and downs. Skyscraper Peak is about 8 miles round trip with 1,600 feet (total) elevation gain. The map is Green Trails No. 270 Mount Rainier East.

For more details on fees, rules and regulations contact Mount Rainer National Park at 360-569-2211 or visit their website at

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