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John is an avid hiker, spending a goodly portion of his time up in the hills, or sitting in front of a computer.
Trail notes: Spray Park is one of the most beautiful areas of Mount Rainier. Some would have you believe that Spray Park isn't as beautiful as some of the other Alpine Meadows in the Park. This couldn't be further from the truth. Spray Park truly stands out as a relatively undiscovered gem.
The trip to Spray Park starts off at Mowich Lake elevation 3700 feet. It is best to get there early and better yet to get there early during the middle of the week to ensure you get as much of the alpine scenery to yourself as possible. It wasn't crowed this day and I didn't see that many people. Still the awe of the landscape just seems to make the absence of people all that much more desirable. The trail starts off losing a couple hundred feet of elevation to round Fay Peak, Hessog Rock, and what appear to be some avalanche chutes. Make sure that you do not take the Wonderland Loop trail which you intercept about 10 minutes in unless you are heading to Paradise! Instead, continue on for about 30 minutes or so through alpine old growth trees shrouded for the most part with long stringy moss. Another thing which stands out about this section of the trail is the quiet you that gets ever more pervasive with elevation and forests in particular. After the first half hour you reach the lowest elevation of the hike and begin the upward journey. The uphill isn't bad and frequent trailside attractions present themselves. The first is Eagle Cliff look out which was the location of the best picture of Rainier I have taken (()). If you are arriving later in the day for this hike you will likely find people here. After this point the trail takes on more of a mine car like feel. In a way the trails construction reminds me of the scene in Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom where they are racing coal cars. The trail sort of has that I can't believe this is real feel. It just seems the trail makers much like the makers of the Indiana Jones scene simply couldn't make such a creation. In the case of Indiana Jones they couldn't and used computer generated graphics. In the case of the trail quite clearly they did make it - after all you are now walking on it right?
The next stop up the trail another 20 minutes or so is the spur trail over to Spray Falls. I opted to catch this on the way back since I was eager to get up to the meadows and enjoy the environs. If you are short on water, which you shouldn't be at this point fill up here since water isn't so reliable until you are in Spray Park proper. From the Spray Falls spur the trail gets steeper and switchbacks it's way up for about 20-35 minutes depending on your speed. Care should be taken on the way down if traveling with kids since there are a few of the switchback turns could be ‘an adiós amigo’ if one isn't careful.
As I came up the switchbacks I began noticing the undergrowth lightening up and suddenly as often is the case Whamo I am out in Spray Park proper - Wow! It seemed there was an entrance to Spray Park just past the bridge entering the first meadow. I wondered what kind of wonder I was in for. Spray Park it actually quite large as alpine meadows go. In fact once you have entered the Spray Park proper you will be ascending albeit more gently than the switchbacks for the better part of an hour to the Saddle. Don't fret your legs won't feel anything since the surroundings are so magical. In the distance you will see two large cinder cones up against Mount Rainier; they are (from left to right) Echo Rock and Observation Rock. It really didn't seem real. During this time you will see as many alpine flowers as you probably have anywhere and also likely seem several marmots. Do please stay on the established trail though several people have gone over hill and dale and in places it does show.
Upon reaching the Spray Park Saddle you have a great view down into Seattle Park which if doing a trough hike to the Ipsut ranger station would be the way to go (would seem to be an awesome idea!). I wasn't so instead I turned my attention toward Echo and Observation rock. At the saddle there is a climbing trail leading directly up toward them. Like most everything in the Park they appear closer than they actually are, and I was content to head up this trail for about an hour. During this time there seems to be endless Kodak moments with hidden lakes making themselves apparent, and the discovery of stone shelters. Anyway it is just a wonderful place to take lunch, a break, and contemplate the wonders of nature.
The time was growing later and I still wanted to see what was going on at Spray Falls so I began my return. The return is just as neat as the ascent was, probably nicer if you prefer the downhill. Upon reaching the spur to the Falls I turned off and walked across the log bridge. The falls are about 10 minutes from the main trail and are definitely worth the extra effort. Spray falls is quite large, in height if not in flow.
Returning to Mowich Lake was quite nice too and ultimately yielded the parking lot. Upon reaching the lake I knew what time it was - time to take off my boots and get some of that ice cold water on the hot feet - ahhh!A word of advice, if you are doing this hike there is a trade-off to be made. If you come early in the season late June-July the wildflowers will be more colorful but be aware there will likely be bugs. If you don't mind the skeets, by all means come early and experience the full beauty. Alternatively if you visit in late August-October it will be dry as a bone and no bugs to speak of.
|Best Time to Hike|
|July through October|
|Hike Time||Difficulty||Rating||Distance||Elevation Gained||Max Elevation|
|7 Hours||12.0 Miles Round Trip||2,600 Feet||7,000 Feet|
|Miles Away||User Rating|
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