I got up bright and early today, and was out of the house by about 7:15 a.m., headed east towards Sunrise at Mt. Rainier National Park.
I had my road map, with route highlighted from Bonney Lake to the end of the road. Dig those crazy-ass switchbacks once you get into the park! It looks worse on the map than it was to drive.I had my topo/trail map too.
And my guide book.
And of course my supplies: Sunblock, hat, frozen water, snack, whistle, knife, lip balm, inhaler, etc. You never ever EVER venture into remote parts of Washington without proper preparation. There is a first aid kit in my car, as well as an auto emergency kit. I also took a jacket with me just in case, didn't need it though.
It was a pleasant and uneventful early morning drive, once I got east of Enumclaw, which is the last major town before wilderness. I stopped at one view point area along the river on the way up there. I probably could have stopped at all of the view points, but I was anxious about the Sunrise Road and if it was going to be a white-knuckle drive or not. Not too far past the tiny community of Greenwater, was the entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park, and then shooting off to the right, Sunrise Road. I knew it was only 14 miles from the turn off to the parking lot at the top. However, I've lived on the west coast long enough to also know that 14 miles can mean an hour or more of 20 mph switchbacks. I was completely prepared to be hitting the brakes the entire way. I was so wrong. The only time I had to stop was due to road construction. There was a pilot car that had to escort traffic to and from a small stretch of road about halfway up. It was only about a 10 minute wait and I was lucky enough to be the first car in line both going up and coming down.
My first stop was at Sunrise Point, which scenery was actually far more dramatic than at the visitor center. I could see from Mt. Adams in the south all the way to Mt. Baker in the north, on the Canadian border. And oh my god there was so much snow!!
The final mile or so was a little hairy. I kept up an audible chant the entire way, "just don't look just don't look". I had my hand up blocking my peripheral vision because I could tell I was up high. Very, very high. With NO guardrails and a sheer drop off on the side.
Sunrise Visitor Center is at 6,400 feet, which is the highest point to which you can drive in Mt. Rainier National Park. To put this in perspective, the highest point in New England is the summit of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, at 6,288 feet. The parking lot at Sunrise is at 6,400 and there is still a giant volcano towering above you. Rainier tops out at 14,410 feet.
It was so deliciously quiet at the top, except for the roar of the river way down below. I walked a couple of the trails and was surprised how winded I got and realized it was the altitude. I know we aren't supposed to approach the wildlife but this little guy hopped into my backpack and wouldn't come out, so I took him home.