Tatoosh Range, Mt. Rainier National Park, WA

In September 2005, BACKPACKER editor Jonathan Dorn joined the magazine's Northwest sales rep Nick Freedman and his friend, Susan, for a weekend hike in the little-known Tatoosh Range before a summit attempt on Mt. Rainier. (Photos by Jonathan Dorn)

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After just two miles, the trail to Snow Lake ends. And so does the traffic. Continue off-trail into a small kingdom of jagged peaks, huckleberry-carpeted hillsides, and rarely seen or photographed views of Mt. Rainier.

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A thousand feet of teetering talus climbing from Snow Lake up to the Unicorn Creek bowl weeds out the dayhikers and casual backpackers. Move slowly to prevent ankle sprains (or worse).

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This gulley is a shooting gallery of loose rock. Spread out as you climb, and avoid crossing below other hikers while they’re moving.

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Like any good talus gulley, this one gets steeper as it goes, finally topping out with a few hand-over-hand moves.

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The reward: your pick of off-trail campsites with unbelievable front-porch scenery.

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Our tent site was on a tundra bench that had a snow bank nearby for water and a patch of huckleberries to add to our oatmeal.

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On day two, we cross and climbed yet another talus field (the Tatoosh is a much more shattered range than Rainier, more like the North Cascades). We’d seen an interesting ridge from camp that appeared to lead to good views.

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The beginning of the ridge. Rainier is beyond the clouds in the distance.

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A view back from the ridge in the general direction of our camp.

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Rainier’s 14,411-foot bulk peaks out from the clouds. This ridgeline walk afforded some of my favorite views in any national park in the country.

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Nick the showboat makes an easy move look much harder than it really is.

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We watched two climbers work their way to the summit of a nearby peak in the Tatoosh Range, until they were two tiny silhouettes.

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The result of a morning spent loitering among the berry bushes.

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A rare cloud-free view of Rainier, just after dawn on our hike out on day three.

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And again from farther down the trail. For a full route description, interactive map, and GPS downloads for this route click here.

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