timberland shop at Mount Rainier’s Sunrise area
SEATTLE Every summer I return to Sunrise. It’s become my place of pilgrimage, a dazzling mountain panorama that gives me solace in bad times and joy in the good.
The Sunrise visitor area perches at 6,400 feet in the northeast corner of Mount Rainier National Park, the highest point in the park to which visitors can drive. It’s the most beautiful parking lot I’ve ever seen, tucked amid wildflower filled meadows and with wondrous close up views of the immense bulk of 14,410 foot Mount Rainier, glistening with glaciers and snow.
Like a Rainier hungry lemming, I lace up my hiking boots and always head for Sunrise’s Burroughs Mountain trail to get an even closer, more dramatic look at Rainier.
Burroughs is the most democratic of trails, with something for everyone. Stroll through meadows shimmering with purple blue lupine and scarlet paintbrush wildflowers. Walk along a rocky ridge with weather wizened alpine firs framing Rainier. Hike a steep bit to the top of Burroughs, a series of small tabletop summits of desolately beautiful tundra high above the tree line. At trail’s end, three miles from the parking lot and up at 7,400 feet on what’s called Second Burroughs, sit on a sun warmed rock and gaze at Rainier.
On sunny summer days it seems as if all human life is on the Burroughs trail. In the first five minutes of a late August hike I hear five languages. A toddler trots proudly along the trail in front of his family. Teenagers in stylishly torn jeans, including a girl in most unsuitable strappy sandals, saunter along. A posse of seventy something hikers moves briskly past. Parents tote babies; young adults, going far beyond Burroughs on overnight hikes, tote big backpacks.
It’s not just human life. Moseying parallel to the trail, but thankfully several hundred feet below, is a black bear. Starkly white mountain goats graze on an emerald patch of meadow. Ravens swoop overhead on inky black wings, and chipmunks dart among the rocks.
All this just a two hour drive from Seattle (or about 2 1/2 hours from Kelso).
My parents first took me to Sunrise and the Burroughs trail more than 30 years ago. My dad, prematurely bent with arthritis, would toil part way up the trail, then sit and smile at us and the mountain. My mom, ever lithe, would bound to the top of Burroughs, basking in the Rainier view and pulling endless little snacks from her daypack.
My mother, now 93 and the most ardent fan of Rainier, can see the mountain from her Seattle home, and greets it first thing in the morning and last thing at night. When I’m at Sunrise, I celebrate her.
Sometime this month, on a sunny day and before the first snows of fall close the high country road for the season, my mother and I hope to slip away to Sunrise. She was a “meadow rover” a volunteer ranger on Rainier’s trails well into her 80s, but she won’t walk far now, her breath too short so high. But we’ll find a place to sit in the sun and face the mountain. And we’ll celebrate life.