The hike around Mother Mountain took us through forests, a lake, alpine meadows, rocky peaks, and back down again.
It seems like a holiday for us isn’t complete without a hike or two. In April it was Romania and this time we decided to break up our five week stay with a trek in Mount Rainier National Park. We didn’t have a vehicle or a great idea of where we wanted to hike but somehow it all came together.
In the end we spent four days and three nights walking around Mother Mountain, a 17-mile loop trail in the north-west of the park. It led us up steep mountains, through forests and high meadows, and gave us spectacular views of Mount Rainier, an iconic snow-covered volcano.
We began our trip at the Carbon River Ranger Station
We stayed with one of my closest friends the weekend before the hike and she kindly was able to drop us off. At seven o’clock in the morning on Monday morning we were sitting outside the door of the Carbon River Ranger Station waiting for it to open up.
When staying the night in national parks you need to have a Wilderness Pass and to reserve camp sites. At Rainier this year it’s a first come, first serve, policy. You show up on the day you want to set out and if reservations for camps are full then tough luck.
Our trek took four days and covered 27 miles of mountain trails
We were in luck and got our passes and from that ranger station we walked just over five miles in to begin the loop. Five miles in and five out added just over ten more miles to our 17 mile hike. A perfect distance for a few days walk.
We nearly put ourselves out of action the first day though. Not due to the bears or cougars that live in the park but to underestimating how hard an ascent of 3200 feet would be. The climb from the Ipsut campground to Ipsut Pass was killer. With 22 pounds on my back and a few weeks of overindulging it was probably not the smartest thing to do.
We spent our first night at Mowich Lake
Just 1.5 miles downhill from the pass was the first place we camped at – Mowich Lake. Although we hiked into it, many of the folks staying there drove in and it was rammed. Later we found out that it was massively overbooked due to two groups of Sierra Club members.
Though the lake was stunning and having bathroom facilities was great, this turned out to be our least favourite place to stay. As soon we had breakfast we set out for Eagles Roost, just a couple of miles away. Day two was our rest day and we needed it after burning our legs out the day before.
We were worried about getting lost
At Eagles Roost we chilled out, organised our trail food, and chatted to a couple that we’d met the day before. They were doing the same loop as us but in reverse order and had just come down from Spray Park. We were worried by their story of getting lost on the mountain and kept referring back to our map.
The trail so far had been very clear and we didn’t have the time or inclination for a detour. We decided to be very careful and to keep an eye out for any side trails that might lead us off the path.
Day three was all about being wowed by Mount Rainier
It was near Eagles Roost that we also got our first taste of Mount Rainier. All throughout the first day we trudged along with not even a glimpse of her snowy peaks. It was the look-out just before our second camp that we spotted her in all her glory.
From there and on day three we climbed up another 1500 feet to Spray Park where the mountain sits framed by alpine meadows. The video at the top of this post shows us walking into the first of these meadows.
In spring they’re covered in wildflowers but in September it’s autumn colour that compliments the white mountain. The long hike up was worth that view.
Porcini Mushrooms growing in the park
Another thing that got me excited on day three was finding Porcini mushrooms. Also called Ceps, Steinpilz, and Penny Buns, this mushroom is one of the best for both flavour and texture. I hadn’t had time to go looking for them on the Isle of Man before we left so finding them on the trip was exciting.
Josh whacked the first one with a stick so technically he found them first. Then afterwards I spotted several very mature mushrooms before stumbling on two that were perfect. I sliced them up with my swiss army knife, sautéed them in onions, and added them to a fancy pot of Ramen noodles.
The descent was harder than the ascent
The loop around Mother Mountain is not an easy hike. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who wanted a fun day hike or who isn’t wearing appropriate hiking gear. Even so, walking 3000 feet down a steep, rocky mountain was not fun for my feet. We crossed snow and slopes made up of large stones and gravel. Down, down, down, for half the day. You can’t move too fast either or you risk falling.
Also, a seam in one of my boots started to split and though the boot was fine it was no longer waterproof. Walking downhill and through streams led to getting the worst toe blisters I’ve ever had. They were under the toes and between and a week on they’re just now healing.
The Carbon Glacier
We camped at the Carbon River camp on the third night and from there walked back out to the Carbon River Ranger station the next day. Because the trail had been destroyed by flooding in 2006 we had to take a short detour over a suspension bridge and were stunned by the sight of a glacier.
You hear of glacier-fed rivers but how often do you see the actual glacier right there, feeding the river? The Carbon glacier is dark and grubby and its waters are milky with sediment. It was an awesome and startling sight when you’re halfway across a wobbly bridge.
Time to head back
By the end of day four we were tired and Josh kept mentioning pizza. I kept thinking about the cushy bed that waited for us back in Enumclaw. It was definitely time to head back to civilisation. At the end of the day we sat playing cards in front of the ranger station and as day turned to dusk we were whipped back to a much appreciated warm house.
The hike itself was stunning and highly recommended and you wouldn’t believe the size of some of trees we found, aside from all of the other natural wonders. I’ve read that the loop can be done in day or two but I can’t see how you could do it in less than three if you’re walking in from where we started. If you’re interested in finding out more check out this information on this hike.