If your favorite route up the mountain is melted out, or you still can’t come up with the 30 bucks for the climbing fee, or you just want to look at the Rainier routes from afar instead of slog up them, head for the Tatoosh. On a clear day, you can take in most of the range looking south from Camp Muir. I’ve spent the better part of many days staring at the Tatoosh from the Butler Hut and listening to Tatoosh traverse stories. Some call it a “meadow run” (B.S.). Others call it an “ ___ buster” and all agree it’s “an easy place to get lost or cliffed-out”. The ridge line extends more or less continuously from Eagle Peak in the west to Stevens Peak at the east end. The eleven peaks range in height from 5,958 ft (Eagle Peak) to 6971ft. (Unicorn) and on a good, long day or better yet two days, you can tag all eleven. The trail, which mostly sticks to the ridge from Boundary to Plummer, is well worn but rarely traveled. Some peaks, like Pinnacle (6567 ft) for instance, have trails to the summit block. Other parts of the traverse require some route finding.
Last week the meadows were in full bloom and there was still just enough snow pack remaining to refuel with water along the route. We started from the Tatoosh Lake trail head, outside of the park off FS road 5270. The Tatoosh Lake trail takes you to the ridge at 5200 ft. From there, you can either descend to the lake for water, or you can head directly to Boundary. From either the ridge or the lake the way to Boundary requires some route finding. The terrain is mixed and gorgeous in every direction. We went around and under some obvious cliff bands, through meadows and across a couple steep scree fields on the way to Boundary. Along the way, we disturbed grouse and deer, and stepped over bear scat and porcupine remains. We hiked through glacier lily, paintbrush, beargrass, and red columbine.
Leaving Unicorn toward Foss (6534 ft.) involves a short scramble down some rock onto a snow field (ice ax is handy here). People have reported that the way to Wahpenayo (6231ft) also involves some cliff-hanger route-finding moments, but we ran out of time and descended to Snow Lake and Stevens Canyon Road after Plummer. The nice thing about this traverse is that there are plenty of exit options before Eagle Creek trail should you run out of time or fair weather.
Here’s a few tips for the trip:
- Bring some serious bug killer or prepare to be eaten alive
- Bring a GPS, map, compass, and someone who knows how to use them.
- Refill your water containers at every opportunity. In later months, be prepared to bring lots of water with you.
- Pack light and wear some trail runners or light hiking shoes.
- Take it easy on the tender meadows.
- Get a backcountry permit for overnight.
- Be in excellent shape or prepare to suffer.
- Be happy on Class 3 terrain.
~ Lynn Finnel