IntroductionIt was projected as possibly one of the last really warm days of the year. I of course was working graveyard but really wanted to get out there and enjoy some summit before fall came crashing in. So I decided to check out the western side of Mount Rainier National Park, specifically the Mowich Lake area. I had been in the general area before with a May trip to Florence Peak and a June trip to Martin, Virginia and Berry but now I really wanted to hit heart of the Irish Cabin Peaks Tolmie and Howard.
I tried to get a number of people to go but unfortunately I had no takers so I decided to head out solo and see what I could do. My goal was to hit Tolmie, the true summit first and then see if there was a possibility about going for Mount Howard as well. For me I knew it was going to be tough because I was going to have a lot of sleep deprivation from working the late night shift. But life is very short and when you have a good weather day in Washington State you have to take advantage of it. So though I was quiet tired I decided to head out to Mount Rainier National Park.
Tolmie Peak Trail
Once at the park I stopped and took a ten minute rest and then decided to head up for Tolmie Peak. At 3 miles one way and about 1300 feet of elevation gain on a well graded trail, heading up to the lookout was nothing thrilling in technical value but in terms of beauty and scenery very worth while. I was feeling the fastest today but the well graded trail made it easy for me to head up to the lookout.
On my way up to Tolmie Peak I decided to stop off at beautiful Eunice Lake. From the vantage point of the lake it was hard to believe that the rest of the way up to the Lookout would be well graded trail. The towering cliffs of Tolmie Peak literally rose right from the base of the lake and the lookout tower looked like it was right on one. As for the lake it had a beautiful blue color and was very clear.
Onward and upward I went up the well graded trail to the lookout. The trail steepened into switchbacks but never really became difficult at all up to the ridge. Once on the ridge I got my first shot of Howard Peak. From the ridge Howard Peak looked very doable but I want to get a little better perspective so I continued to the lookout tower. I took in the good views from the lookout tower. Once at the lookout tower I saw the true summit right before me. Though the true summit is only ten feet higher than the Lookout Tower it requires traveling across a faint boot path over an exposed narrow ridge. For safety precaution I put my helmet on because I did not know what I would be facing.
The Traverse to The Real Summit
The toughest section of this traverse was actually getting myself to commit to this traverse. Usually I would have no problem with this traverse because I would be with other people. But this time I was only the person willing to traverse to the true summit. In my heart of heart I knew though that after this traverse there would be something better on the other side. For the most part I stayed on the ridge and followed the faintest of boot-paths. There was clearly exposer here and one wrong move would have clearly been my last. But I just kept my eye on the prize and before long I was on the true summit.
The reward here was the fact that the true summit clearly had the better views. It had better views of Mount Rainier and better views of all of the surrounding Irish Cabin Peaks. I also got a great idea of the landscape I was going to have to cross if I were going to do Howard as well. And from what I saw it looked like I was going to only face Class 2 conditions.
Well it was time for me to get a move on it if I wanted to get to Howard Peak. I was quiet tired from working the night before but the beautiful day just made me want to get to that summit more. I carefully made my way across the faint boot-path toward the lookout tower. At times I nearly lost the trail but stayed on it even in the exposed sections. Once off the exposed boot-path and on to the main trail took a small break at the lookout tower. I soaked in the views, talk to a bunch of tourist who thought I was crazy and than made my way for my next goal: Howard Peak.
From the lookout tower I headed down to evenly sloped lupine fields right off the northern side of the trail. From I headed off the beaten path towards Howard Peak. It is amazing how just 200 yards off the trail and you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. Slowly I dropped into the col between Howard Peak and Tolmie Peak. I bushwhacked between some berry bushes (blueberries were tasty) and through some small trees. At one point I was reminded that bears do like berries as well. I did not see the bear but I heard something very large in the woods nearby. At this point I did what I know best and used my voice to tell the bear where I was so I did not scare it.
After walking and talking my way past the col I found a nice open ridge which lead directly to the true summit of Howard Peak. Going up the open ridge which appear to be a nice mountain goat path lead me into another small path of stunted trees and then finally into the true summit. The true summit does have good northerly views but the east rock really looked like the better pick for pictures. I then made my way over to the eastern summit I did not realize it at the time but there is actually a faint boot-path from the true summit to the eastern summit if you stay near the southern edge of Howard Peak. I instead stayed in the open fields and took way over to the eastern rock. I got to walk what will probably be the last of the snow on that mountain. Once on the eastern summit I got to take in more of the views. It is amazing how impressive Tolmie Peak looks from this angle.
I did not spend long though on this rock or on the true summit of Howard Peak because I had to head home and get some well needed rest. My body was getting fatigued and I had to be back at work later that evening! So at that point it was time for me to get myself off the mountain, back to the trailhead and get on back to bed for my three hour nap before work.
I headed on back through the open fields and berry bushes this time making sure I was much more vocal. The heat from the sun though was starting to take its toll on me and I was getting a little slow while heading on back. Luckily I was very well hydrated on this trip so that kept me going strong here. Within thirty minutes I was back onto the Tolmie Peak Trail. One look at Eunice Lake and I was sorely tempted to take a dip but I knew that I was clearly now getting quiet tired. So I continued on the trail back to the car. Though the trail was very easy the ups and down of the trail were starting to have an effect on my fatigued body. Hiking with little sleep can really zap energy. The sleep issue maybe why I have had great success with three day ascent of Rainier and Shasta. On those trips I got at least 18-20 hours of sleep the day before and the peaks themselves were much easier than expected.
When I finally got down to Mowich Lake I ran into a ranger who told me he spotted me on Howard Peak. We got into talking about the many peaks in the region and he told me some important information in this region about some of the other peaks here. Looks like I got a good region in the next couple weeks to check out!!!! From there it was a short walk back to the car where I took a quick shut eye and headed on back home for a better sleep.
Conclusion: Fall is Here...
I want to say though my body was very tired and fatigued from this trip I was very glad to be able to experience one of the last warm days of the year. When September comes around I personal believe that peak-baggers in the Pacific Northwest have got to take advantage of every good day they have because there only a couple days left before cooler, cloudier and rainier/snowier days come in. Thankfully I took advantage of one of the last good day. The next day my wife BearQueen and I took a hike to a dried up waterfall with storms in the area. While there the winds of fall knocked over three trees on the trail we were on and rained rather heavily on us. It is a wake up call that the weather in beginning to change and that we have to take advantage of whatever beautiful days we have left.