Mt. Rainier National Park – Northern Loop Day 3

Day 3 started with the sound of water dropping onto the rainfly for our tent. We guessed by the sound that the rain had finally relented and what we were hearing was the water falling from the surrounding trees. We had managed to stay relatively dry inside the tent save for a small amount of condensation that had built up during the night. I ventured out to use the toilet and retrieve our bear bag and discovered we had guessed right. We decided to have a bar for breakfast instead of trying to cook under the dripping trees and then began packing up. There was another couple at camp who had arrived after the rain had started. We learned that they had gotten pretty soaked and it sounded like it had been a pretty miserable night.

We got our first good look at Yellowstone Cliffs as we headed back toward the Northern Loop Trail.
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The clouds were breaking up and it looked like it might be a pretty nice day. The forecast had called for a slight chance of showers in the morning followed by a mostly sunny afternoon. We were treated to more great views as we passed through the meadows below the cliffs.
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As we neared the end of the meadows we noticed a doe and fawn staring down at us. A third deer briefly appeared further up the hillside before disappearing back into the trees.
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As we climbed higher Mt. Rainier began to peak out from behind Crescent Mountain. The summit of the mountain was a pristine white having been coated in a fresh layer of snow overnight.
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We had been climbing gradually toward Windy Gap where we planned on taking a .7 mile side trail to visit Natural Bridge, a rock arch high above Lakes Ethel & James. The scenery along this section of the trail was magnificent even without the flowers being in bloom.
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We took the trail toward Natural Bridge which wrapped around an unnamed butte before descending to a viewpoint of the arch. The view included both Lake James and Lake Ethel as well as the West Fork White River which we would be crossing later in the day.
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After returning to the junction at Windy Gap we began descending down the Northern Loop Trail to Van Horn Creek which feeds into Lake James. The alpine meadows gave way to a beautiful forest as we neared the lake.
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We headed for Lake James to cook our breakfast which had now become brunch.
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It was a little chilly at the lake but it was also very peaceful. The area is notorious for mosquitoes but we didn’t see any signs of them as we enjoyed our Mountain House Biscuits and Gravy.
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After breakfast we sallied forth dropping from the lake and passing beneath the fireweed covered Redstone Peak.
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We were in a lush forest with mushrooms and birds.
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We were heading for the crossing of the West Fork White River. The footbridge over the river had been washed out and we would be crossing on a log that was acting as the temporary bridge.
We had met a couple of ladies who were hiking the Northern Loop in the opposite direction and they told us they had chosen to scoot across the log instead of walking across it. That had been my plan as well having once done that to get across the Muddy Fork River on Mt. Hood. When we arrived at the log I briefly reconsidered and started to walk across but quickly reverted to the original plan as soon as I looked down at the muddy water.
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Heather scooted across after me and we were ready to continue. Looking back across the river we got a glimpse of the lowest portion of Van Horn Falls. Like Garda Falls on the first day the only decent view was from across the river. Looking at the falls on Google Earth it’s clear that there is much more to it than is visible from the trail but it was still a pretty waterfall.
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We met another pair of hikers shortly after crossing the river. They had come up the primitive West Fork Trail and asked us what animals we’d seen so far. We told them about the mountain goats and deer as well as the pikas, marmots, and chipmunks. The asked about any elk or bears and we said we hadn’t seen either of those yet. We took our leave and continued on passing the junction with the West Fork Trail.
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Not long after passing the West Fork Trail junction something off to my left caught my attention. I turned just in time to see a large black bear emerge from some huckleberry bushes and race off into the forest. He had only been about 20 yards away and when his paws hit the ground they made a loud thumping noise. He was only visible for a matter of seconds and Heather had missed seeing it. It was amazing how quickly something that big could disappear into the forest.

We had another big climb ahead of us to reach our next camp. Fire Creek Camp was located in a quiet valley part way along the trail up to Grand Park.
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We took the .4 mile trail down to the quiet camp which was the most private of all the camps we’d seen thus far. A small stream draining from Grand Park above supplied a water source. We chose site #2 partly because we had chosen site #2 at both of our previous camps as well but it was also the nicest of the spots here.
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We set up our tent and spread out anything that was still damp from the day before to dry.
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It was a chilly evening and we wound up using our rain gear as a windproof layer to keep us warm. It was certainly a more peaceful evening than the rain filled one the day before. It had been a great trip so far and we were eagerly anticipating what the final day would have in store for us as we turned in for the night. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157657420370715

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