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Van Trump Park

Mount Rainier National Park

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September 18th, 1999

9.0 miles
3360 vertical feet
Total Time: 6:25

Rating: 8/10

Directions:   View Driving Map

In contrast to all the other hikes we'd done on our Seattle trip, this hike started out in a Sierra Nevada-like forest. It was completely shaded as we started the steep climb up. We shortly came to a bridge over a cascading waterfall.

On the other side of the bridge was a disturbing notice. It gave details of an inexperienced hiker who'd been missing since July 8th. He'd last been seen on the trail to Mildred Point, where there was a dangerous river crossing (it being two months later and the water level lower, the crossing wasn't dangerous anymore). One would presume he'd fallen in, but they still haven't found any trace of him. Eerily, when I returned home I received the latest issue of Outside magazine, which mentioned the presumed death of the hiker (Joe Wood, former editor of Village Voice).

Falls at the footbridge

The trail follows the river above Christine Falls. Some of the trail wanders right through steep rock-strewn hillsides, but the trail is wide and in good condition. The trail soon returns to the forest. There's a footbridge across a creek fed by some nice waterfalls. At first I thought it was Comet Falls, but I soon found out otherwise. A few yards later, we had our first glimpse of Comet Falls, tumbling 320 feet over a sheer cliff. It was a magnificent sight and a great place to take a break for lunch.

Comet Falls (too bad I didn't have a graduated neutral density filter)

A closer look at the cascade after the falls

After our break we continued up the trail for a closer look at the falls. As might be expected, there was a rainbow at the end of the waterfall. As we climbed higher we encountered more and more wildflowers on the side of the trail. They were much more numerous than on the Skyline Loop hike of the previous day.

A closer look at Comet Falls

Lupine near the falls

Rainbow under Comet Falls

2.7 miles into the hike, there's a trail intersection. To the right is Van Trump Park, and to the left is Mildred Point. I was hoping to visit both; we first took the right path toward Van Trump Park.

After a short climb, we came to a clearing. Jean sat down for a break while I investigated the trails in the area. I took a trail leading up to a ridge, thinking that would be it and I'd turn around. But it kept going past that. Soon I had great views of green hillsides dotted with wildflowers; above that, snow patches, glaciers, and the summit of Mt. Rainier itself. To the south were great views of the Tatoosh Range, Mt. Adams, and Mt. St. Helens -- views better than the previous day's hike.

View of Mt. Rainier from Van Trump Park

I kept going, but I kept reaching false summits. I had no idea the trail went this far. It was also quite steep. In the end I would end up climbing 500 feet from where Jean was. I was torn between returning and telling her to come up with me, and going on so I didn't have to do all this climbing again. I was frustrated that I hadn't brought my radio along with me -- it was in my pack, next to Jean. As I neared the top, I saw some people coming down; I told them to notify Jean where I was. I ran up to the top, took some pictures, then raced back down. I'd been gone about a half hour by the time I rejoined Jean, who was battling all the bugs which were biting her.

Descending from the top of Van Trump Park

We descended back to the trail intersection, then headed toward Mildred Point. We shortly came to a pair of hikers coming from Mildred Point. I asked how it was and they replied "Beautiful. Gorgeous." Encouraged, we continued on.

On the way to Mildred Point

This should give you a sense of how steep it was. No switchbacks.

The trail actually descends down to the river just above Comet Falls, crosses it via a foot bridge, then starts climbing. And climbing. And climbing some more. The trail, unfortunately, disdains the use of switchbacks. It heads straight up a gully. The "trail" if you could call it that, had deteriorated into sand, which made climbing even worse. There are some arguably nice views along the way (if you're not too exhausted to notice them). But Mildred Point gives a view of a "blasted crater" as Jean put it. Basically, for all the effort put into getting there, the view sucks. It was supposed to give, according to my hiking book, "a stunning view of the recalcitrant Kautz Glacier." It actually was stunning -- stunning that after such a tough climb we were rewarded with such a horrible view. It was a big giant gray crater with a dirty glacier on top. And I still don't know what recalcitrant means.

The "blasted crater" view at Mildred Point

A closer look at the recalcitrant Kautz Glacier. I wonder if those "clouds" are actually caused by an ice fall.

After that disappointment we rapidly started our descent. Our trekking poles helped us zip down the mountain. While we were disappointed with Mildred Point, Comet Falls and Van Trump Park were very nice. If I ever do this hike again, I'll just be sure not to take the left fork.

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