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Burn After Reading

Empty White Mountain summits. Tourist-free Yellowstone geysers. Rarely hiked Yosemite ridges. Rangers, guidebook writers, outfitters, and ultra-hikers dish their favorite routes for the first time.

MT. RAINIER NATIONAL PARK, WA
Your guide:
Carl Fabiani, a 45-year  park staffer who has hiked every trail, some “100 times over”

Day: Crystal Lakes and Crystal Peaks 
See elk, mountain goats, and Rainier’s biggest glaciers.

Fabiani regularly sees quintessential Pacific Northwest wildlife (mountain goats, elk, deer, and marmots) on this route, but says, “the deserted lakes and high and wild views of the Emmons, Winthrop, and Carbon Glaciers will likely make you miss at least a few of the animals.” From the Crystal Lakes trailhead on WA 410 in the park’s lesser-trafficked northeast corner, the trail branches after a steep 1.3 miles; the left fork goes to the lakes (six miles out-and-back) and the right fork to the 6,600-foot summit (7.6 miles out-and-back, or 11 miles to combine both forks).

Weekend+: The Tahoma Glacier
Climb a pro’s favorite route.

After more than two-dozen trips to the summit of 14,410-foot Mt. Rainier, Fabiani deems Sunset Ridge his all-time favorite. “It’s on the west side of the mountain, which gets the most sun and feels very remote.” But it includes near-vertical sections of ice. Another local legend, Peter Whittaker, owner of Rainer Mountaineering, Inc., offers an easier nearby alternative: Tahoma Glacier. “Maybe you’ll see mountain goats,” he says. “But you won’t see people.” The Tahoma is the largest glacier on the west side, and commercial guiding is not allowed on it, which all but guarantees breaking trail. “It’s a hidden gem.” Hike or bike 3.5 miles from the Westside Road closure to Round Pass. Take a .5-mile shortcut (signed, bike rack available) to reach the South Puyallup Trail. Hike 1.6 miles to the Wonderland Trail and the South Puyallup campsite, and turn north to climb switchbacks 2,500-feet (over 2.5 miles) to St. Andrews Park. Leave the trail here, hiking a faint climber’s path northeast along the increasingly rocky Puyallup Cleaver. Several bivy sites dot the ridge, but continue to 9,200 feet to dig in beneath 10,992-foot St. Andrews Rock. “You can see the sun set into Puget Sound, and its last rays hit the glacier,” says Whittaker. Next day, access the Tahoma for a 45-degree climb. A-game glacier and nav skills required.

Week+: The Wonderland Trail
See every face of Rainier.

Think of it as a backpacker’s pilgrimage, suggests Fabiani. The Wonderland Trail, circling Mt. Rainier, may be no secret, but it should rank “in every hiker’s top five list, no matter where you live,” he says. Why: “Every few miles, the mountain looks different and is totally new again. This is 95 miles of pure astonishment.” You’ll traverse relentlessly rugged terrain, ascending one glacial moraine ridge and then dropping into the next glacier-carved valley, one after another. Hollows of dense, dripping, cool and shadowy forests of giant Douglas fir, western hemlock, and cedar open to sun-drenched subalpine meadows bursting with lupine, phlox, and pink monkeyflower in late July and August. Fabiani recalls counting nine bears one day in the Indian Bar area on Rainier’s east side. He suggests taking the WT alternate route through Spray Park and Seattle Park for better views of Rainier and wildflower meadows, and exploring off-trail around the area—“there are many small streams and lakes, waterfalls, acres of meadow, and we once saw five bears in one day.” He also calls the view from Moraine Park walking toward Mystic Lake, with Rainier’s icy north face towering in the background, “tough to beat.” He would know. Go in September for more solitude. PRO Map to order a custom topo map of this trip printed on waterproof expedition paper.

Map Green Trails Mount Rainier West and Mount Rainier East ($7 each, greentrailsmaps.com)
Permit Backcountry camping: Apply beginning on March 15 for trips during July or August ($20 per party). Climbing? Add $30 to $43 per person for a climbing pass.
Contact (360) 569-2211, nps.gov/mora

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