WA – Mount Rainier National Park, Chinook Pass (Oct 2021)

I knew I was pushing my luck finding peak autumn colors. But the hikes at Chinook Pass were on my POI list and since there was a nearby fire when I was in the area in early August, I took the detour on my southward journey.

When I got started in the morning I was feeling disappointed in myself. Why? Well first when I arrived at the trailhead the previous afternoon the light was optimal and I should have hiked the very popular Naches Peak Loop Trail but the hundreds of cars removed all motivation for that option. Second I missed a spectacular sunrise by arriving about 15 minutes late the next morning. Would it be a 3-strike trip? I certainly felt more optimistic when I turned around and found this view of Mount Rainier and Yakima Peak shortly after starting my hike.

I knew the only way I’d be able to enjoy this hike was to get an early morning start.

There was no doubt I was a couple weeks past peak colors and with the overcast skies I wasn’t going to get great reflections either. But look, no people! I had the pond to myself.

The northern section of the Naches Peak Loop Trail is shared with the PCT until it continues south dropping to Dewey Lake.

As I turned west, I found an obvious well used viewpoint and was happy to have the clouds part just enough for a little peek of these mountains.

As I stood there, I thought I saw more in the background. Is that snow? If so that must be Mount Rainer.

I watched the clouds drift in and out for a good 30 minutes, playing peek-a-boo with Mount Rainier.

Taking time to watch nature’s magic was exactly what I needed on this day.

As I continued the loop I was gifted this view of Naches Peak.

By the time I reached Tipsoo Lakes, the crowds were arriving and it started feeling like Disneyland.

I took a little break at my car before continuing my hike north on the PCT. My first stop was very popular Sheep Lake. I met a ton of people coming down from an overnight at the lake. Can you imagine sharing with 20-50 people? That’s what you get without permits and quotas and a lake 2 miles from a paved trailhead. My destination was Sourdough Gap at the top of the ridge.

This section of trail was much less busy.

Looking down at Sheep Lake as I climbed toward Sourdough Gap.

Sourdough Gap provided views of Three Way Peak. I thought I’d be able to see Mount Rainer as I’d gotten a glimpse as I climbed up to the pass.

The PCT continues north through Sourdough Gap, but after a short traverse it drops to the right below Three Peaks. The trail that stays high is Crystal Lakes Trail and the visible pass invited further exploration.

Success! That was the view I was hoping to find. Upper Crystal Lake is another popular overnight and day hike destination. It’s important to note these lakes are in the National Park. I don’t know permitting requirements but signs clearly indicated dogs prohibited. Sad to say I witnessed many who don’t believe rules apply to them.

Overall I’d call this day a win although I wouldn’t say it was in my top 10 and it’s unlikely I’d repeat except for hiking this full section of the PCT, which I’m still missing on my quest to complete Washington.

Do you know this tree? There were several along this section of the trail and they didn’t seem to belong but they sure were pretty.

I’m so pleased with my continued knee rehab progress.

ADVENTURE DATE(S): October 3-4, 2021



18 thoughts on “WA – Mount Rainier National Park, Chinook Pass (Oct 2021)

    • Hi Dennis, it does have a bit of the Juniper look but when I read about distribution it sounds like they are fairly rare in Washington. I think John’s identification as a Yellow Cedar is probably correct.

  1. GB Jan. I live in Black Diamond, which is a community at the ‘bottom of the hill’ from Hwy 410. I know about the crowds. It’s such a beautiful and short drive for me but I’ll only go mid week and even then it can be crazy. I did the hike to Crystal Lake a few years ago and there were only a few people there. The further from the parking lot(s) the better!
    I believe the tree is a Yellow Cedar. I know the leaves look like a juniper but cedar’s are similar. Check it out.

    • I agree, Yellow Cedar looks like a match! There’s a row along that section of the PCT near the highway and they seemed out of place but reading about the Yellow Cedar it’s a PNW and Alaska tree so now it makes more sense. Thanks for that ID.

      Another friend recently went up to Crystal Lake from the trailhead on Highway 410. Sounds like a short steep less busy option.

      I looked up Black Diamond, WA. Looks like a nice location surrounded by lakes and lots of green space with parks. Do you get less rain than the Seattle area, snow?

      • We live steps away from a natural area full of trails and hiking paths that was set aside as part of an agreement, I believe, with a developer( Oakpoint) who is going to build 3 giant communities on old Plum Creek/Weyerhaeuser land. It’s not the quiet place we moved to in 1994.
        We get more rain than Seattle. More snow too. Living next to the foot hills the clouds stack up against the mountains and pester us with wetness. The wind can be a problem also. It flows over and through gaps in the areas around Chinook Pass. It is still beautiful though and honestly, I don’t know of any place that isn’t being developed.
        If you are ever up this way again check out the Carbon River entrance to Mt. Rainier Nat. Park. There is a magnificent old growth forest along the path to a campground that you can use as a base for exploring. The path used to be a road to the campground but the Carbon River kept washing it out so they closed it. To expensive to keep up with repairs. Anyway it’s a 4 mile flat, easy hike to the campground from the entrance. Knee friendly, kid friendly, and the thousand year old trees pretty much refocus your attention to their magnificence.
        Don’t want to keep babbling here but I just read a book, ‘Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest’, by Suzanne Simard, that I think you would find interesting. I did!

        • Another friend just read that book, loved and recommended also. It’s on my list!

          I lived in Everett for a year and hated the gray and misty skies. I don’t think I’d do well in your area either. Thanks for the tip on Carbon River. I think they had to close it to even hikers after the fall storms. Hopefully they’ll reopen before it’s time for me to visit.

  2. The pictures look amazing! We were out to Washington twice, once to see Rainier/Cascades and just recently in September to backpack in Olympic. The more I see your pictures of Washington the more I want to come back!

    It’s so awesome what you’ve been able to accomplish with your knee rehab. Did you follow a plan of increasing your hike mileage/elevation (10% rule or some other metric) or just go based on pain scores? I made significant progress in my knee rehab 2020-2021 and was able to backpack 50 miles in Olympic without pain, but I still struggle with adding back more activities (weight lifting, rowing, etc.) not to overdo it and set myself back. I was hoping to start a long training phase for backpacking with more elevation (hoping to accompany my friend on the PNW Trail next year), but now I have to take time to scale back after feeling twinges of tendon injury.

    • I didn’t follow a plan per se but after nearly 6 months in PT I learned to be conservative. I had one lengthy setback in early spring after pushing myself before the muscles had rebounded to support my knee. I lost so much muscle in my quads during the 3-4 months without full weightbearing. That proved more limiting than the knee, which in many ways was probably good. The surgeon and PT told me to plan on 12-15 months before full recovery. I have found that to be true. My body is still working to catch up. I’m playing it conservative so I don’t undue my year of hard work.

      If you can I recommend seeing a sports PT and have them evaluate you and provide exercises to help build the supporting muscles. That’s my focus this winter. Lots of single leg strength building and balance exercises.

      • Thanks, Jan! Each injury I slowly learn to be more conservative (it’s taken a good while to sink in), so I admire the discipline you have! It’s so difficult when you just want to be out there and back to normal, especially when PT can be so tedious. I have been a frequent flier at PT the past few years between my knee and a sprained ankle in August (I did go out on my first solo backpacking trip in years, had a great time, until 1 mile away from the car and slipped off of a rock…). My therapist is wonderful and during my ankle rehab she would keep an eye on how the knee was performing. I felt like I’d achieved “normal” until I became overzealous in the gym in Oct-Nov. Have to keep reminding myself just because I am pain free doing squats now doesn’t give me the license to heap on weight or distance. So, I have similar goals to you this winter with lots of single leg exercises.

        Wishing you a stronger hiking season in 2022, and hopefully I’ll get there myself!

        • Thank you for taking time to comment and share your story. My motivation has been watching friends who seem to be on the never-ending cycle of injury setbacks. I’ve historically been destination/goal driven (not always enjoying the journey) which I think helped me stay focused. I still need to drop a sh** ton of weight I gained during the process and continue to work on rebuilding strength and general conditioning before I’ll consider myself ready to tackle all the #epic stuff on my list.

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