Summit Block of Banshee Alpine Terrain above Summerland Rainier from near Panhandle Gap
Banshee Peak is the highest point which lies at the head of the Sarvent Glaciers in Mount Rainier National Park. The Sarvent Glaciers are the only true glaciers in the park that do not originate on Mount Rainier itself. Banshee's western approach, from Summerland and Panhandle Gap, is some of the most stunning alpine terrain in the whole park. It is also unique in that it provides an open tundra hike experience similar to that found on many peaks in Colorado, but so rare in the Washington Cascades. Once on the summit ridge, there are fantastic views of the sheer faces on the Cowlitz Chimneys across the Sarvent Glaciers.
The approach route and destination are absolutely stunning. It will take you through the raging wildflowers of Summerland, into the barren, rocky, ice-sculpted region below Panhandle Gap, and then into soft tundra and open alpine wandering. All the while, you are greeted with amazing views of the Emmons Glacier on Mount Rainier.
Panhandle Gap is the highest point on the Wonderland Trail, the famous objective of so many backpackers and hikers. It is often a "bottleneck" along the Wonderland Trail, as all traffic coming from Indian Bar to Summerland must pass through it. The number of hikers and climbers in this area is therefore a fairly high. Accordingly, it is likely that Banshee is climbed fairly often.
In a area of unparalleled beauty, this one really stands out. It is absolutely out of this world.
Flowers Near Summerland Arriving at Summerland Alpine Tarn above Summerland Bear at Summerland
Drive SR-169 South from Renton to Enumclaw. From Enumclaw, take SR-410 to Mt. Rainier National Park. Shortly after passing the road to Crystal Mountain Ski Area,, you will enter the National Park. Drive a couple of miles, turning right onto the White River Road in the direction of Sunrise. Drive a few more miles to just past Frying Pan Creek, and park in the trailhead parking lot (about 15 parking spots for cars). Find the trailhead directly on the other side of the road.
Take the Frying Pan Creek Trail 0.1 miles to its junction with the Wonderland Trail. Take the left junction of the Wonderland Trail towards Summerland (in another 4.1 miles). This trail is like a highway, wide and smooth, with barely a rock or a root. You can walk three abreast on some parts. National Park hiking at its most comfortable.
At 3.5 miles, cross Fryingpan Creek on a log footbridge (5200 feet). After crossing flowery meadows with great views of Little Tahoma and Mount Rainier, climb switchbacks 600 feet to enter the meadowy plateau of Summerland. Great campsites are found in the trees at the left of the plateau. Directly above, see Meany Crest
looming over Summerland.
The Route From Summerland
Panhandle Gap Open slopes with Tatoosh Range Traversing to Banshee
From Summerland, take the 1.4 mile long trail to Panhandle Gap. Panhandle Gap is the high point on the Wonderland Trail, and can be snowbound well into August in a normal year. Be sure to have an ice ax for this part of the trip. The trail to Panhandle Gap (6800 feet) winds through barren ice-ravaged rocky terrain. You will cross over a footbridge over a tributary of Fryingpan Creek coming from the remnant glaciers in the large alpine amphitheater above Summerland.
Just before Panhandle Gap (about 200 yards), there is another small saddle to hiker's left through which you can hike and gain access to the slopes of Banshee Peak. Otherwise, continue on to Panhandle Gap, then traverse left to the open slopes of Banshee.
Hike the wide-open tundra slopes of Banshee another mile and another 600 feet higher, reaching the ridge and traversing to its highest point at the extreme eastern end of the ridge.
This is a fairly long day from the Fryingpan Creek Trailhead (7.5 miles each way), so you will want an early start. Luckily, most of the trip lies along very comfortable, well-graded national park trail, and is much less exhausting and hard on your body than some of the steeper, rockier trails in the state.
Trip Stats: 15 miles round-trip. Difficulty: Class 2. Elevation gain: 3600 feet.
Red Tape and Camping
Descending Slopes of Banshee Cowlitz Main Chimney from Summit Flowerfields on Banshee Rainier from near Summit of Banshee
Entry into Mount Rainier National Park is $15 per vehicle per week. If you arrive before 7:00 A.M. on a weekday, it is likely that the guard station will not be manned, and you can get in free. Additionally, you can buy an annual pass for all U.S. national parks for $80, which also covers the fee for parking at Forest Service Trailheads as well.
Permits are required for overnight camping in the park. They can be otbtained at the White River Guard Station. They can also be reserved over the phone, unless there is only one left. It is then given out on a first-come, first-served basis.
Camping is permitted only at Summerland. There are fantastic camps in the trees at Summerland. There is even a permanent shelter built there. Summerland has great access to running water, expansive meadows with wildflowers, and a lot of wildlife as well. As of the author's last visit there, there was a bear wandering through the meadows.
Above Summerland, there is no camping permitted until you reach Indian Bar.
TOPO! Software Image Banshee and Cowlitz Chimneys
For information including road closures and camping restrictions, you can contact Mount Rainier National Park at: Mt. Rainier National Park
Another great site is this excellent Mt. Rainier climbing blog, which gives up-to-date snowpack and road conditions on Mt. Rainier and the all of the roads: Mt. Rainier Climbing Page