Second Mt. Rainier Hike, Pinnacle Peak

Remember when I was talking about the Tatoosh Range? That highest peak, in the center in the photo,  is Pinnacle Peak. Going down to the right, to the low point, you see a notch, called the saddle. So taking the trail to Pinnacle Peak means first taking the trail to the saddle, then going off behind those rocks to the left of it and up that steep ridge…it’s a couple of miles up from Reflection Lakes.

IMG_3817I’ve heard about people in my family going up to Pinnacle Peak my whole life, but I’d never climbed it. My aunt and uncle climbed it every single time they came to the mountain, even when they were in their nineties. Heck, they even climbed it at night, just to watch the sun rise on the mountain. I figured if two old people could climb up there, there wasn’t any reason why I couldn’t do it. I’ve thought about it for years, but there has either been too much snow or not enough time.
January 15, 2004 (24).2Here’s a photo of my grandfather and my aunt at the top. I so much wanted to see this particular view of the mountain.February 4, 2014 (34)Here’s my dad. To the right of his feet are the buildings at Paradise. I’m guessing these photos are from the 1930’s.  February 4, 2014 (33)I’ve heard that this was a hard climb, and my cousin Bruce, who has actually summited Mt. Rainier, has never been very encouraging when I asked about it in the past. IMG_4043However, this time I emphasized the fact that everyone else had done it, and I never had, so he promised to think it over. I didn’t want to go by myself, because I wasn’t sure I’d know the way. Cheryl, his sister, said that they had done this hike many times when they were kids. (That’s their mom in the photo with my grandpa.) Bruce calculated at least a dozen times for himself, most recently a few years ago. He said that the last time he found it wasn’t fun anymore, and that he had decided that he didn’t need to do that one again.  Cheryl said she would NEVER do it again, as she had memories of climbing down backwards and not being able to see where she put her feet. Bruce’s wife, Andrea, said she would never do it again either, although she was willing to hike to the saddle. There was talk about a “chimney” where you have to climb straight up a rock configuration that is closed in on three sides.

Anyhow, the next morning, Bruce said he was up for it and Andrea joined us (as far as the saddle). We agreed that we would just go as far as we felt like, no pressure on anyone.
IMG_4056It didn’t take long to get some stupendous views. I hope you’ll click each photo to enlarge them, to get a better idea of just how massive this mountain is.
IMG_4060 The trail up to the saddle wasn’t terrible. It was a strenuous climb, but part of it was in woods with shade. In spite of the scree and a couple of short snowfields, it was not nearly as treacherous as going to Panorama Point had been the previous day.

IMG_4062White heather.

IMG_4070Avalanche lilies.

There were some switchbacks (“switchbacks” … I hate that word!) but there were hardly any other hikers at all, even on the weekend. They were probably all over at Paradise.

IMG_4083“Scree” is another dirty word.

IMG_4089I haven’t identified these yet, but I admire anything growing out of a rock.

IMG_4106I”m sure I’ve seen postcards with this view. Now I know where the photographer was.


IMG_4048  This was not a fun trail, but as you can see, mostly it wasn’t dangerous. There was one patch of snow that was tricky.


IMG_4060 What a great view! I’ve been so lucky to be at the mountain on clear days, I forget that it’s not just breathtakingly gorgeous all the time.

IMG_4080Looking ahead to the last snowfield to cross, Plummer Peak to the right.

IMG_4086The switchbacks were tedious, but the views made them less annoying. I had to rest a lot, but generally, Bruce, Andrea, and I were well-matched hiking.
The trail here is clearly visible from Paradise. If you go back to that very first photo, this is the area of snow directly under the saddle.

And…. here we are at the saddle!


Looking over the notch, here’s Mt. Adams!

IMG_4094  Mt. Hood was also visible from here.

And looking back, Mt. Rainier!


IMG_4097And looking left… the trail to Pinnacle Peak. Actually, that trail only lasts about five minutes, but I didn’t know that at the time.
So we took a break, ate some granola bars, and had a drink. We’d been on the trail about two hours.
Here’s a 20 second video that I took of the view:

Bruce and I decided to proceed.  He chose not to take his backpack or a water bottle, saying they would be in the way. This should have been a heads-up for me, but instead I was  quietly mystified, and wore my backpack and took my water bottle. And wore my hat, and my (by then broken) sunglasses. Shortly after we started out, we were able to see  Mt. St. Helens.

Then, to quote my journal, “It got really bad.”

IMG_4108Before long, the trail disappeared and we headed straight up. Very shortly after that, I realized that my entire family was insane. Some extremely colorful language started coming out of my mouth, to Bruce’s surprise.  This was real rock climbing, using both legs and arms. Bruce stopped every so often to look around and analyze the rocks for the best way to proceed. My short stature  sometimes forced me to go on my knees before I could get up to the next ledge for a foothold. I needed strength in my legs to lift my entire body up to the next edge.

IMG_4109A couple of people were scrambling down, like it was easy. Note their narrow backpacks. My regular-sized pack was definitely in my way, even on my back, and I never was able to get a drink of water because the bottle was in the pack and I couldn’t let go of anything to get it out.

IMG_4110Looking up from where Bruce was resting (see his hand on the left?) That rock is brittle and sharp.  I tried to document where I was, because at that point, I knew I could never get down again. Bruce offered me the option to quit, but I figured I might as well continue up for a while, since I couldn’t get down anyway. It was all about finding a place to put each hand and foot, and pulling myself up to get a bit higher. All that biking around Olathe, Kansas could never have prepared me for this. Keep in mind I also have a weaker left wrist from that surgery last year when I broke my arm. Since it’s functional for most purposes,  it had never occurred to me that I should have been weight lifting with that arm or trying to strengthen my grip so I could hold on to the side of a mountain.

IMG_4113Looking back towards the saddle and Plummer Peak.

Fortunately, I didn’t freeze up in fear of the height and the steep drop. The only thing that seriously bothered me was that I knew, without a doubt, that I would never get back down again. There was just no way! I didn’t think I could hold on going backwards and down at the same time!

IMG_4116Hmm…someone coming down with a rope. This person, whose picture I didn’t take because I was hanging on to some rock for dear life, was in a harness, and had climbed up  the other side with a group, and she was leading the way down, backwards, like a professional. I was jealous of her harness and rope.  Not only was she going backwards at a good pace, but she made it look easy-peasy.

IMG_4121Just up there, not that far. (Um…right).

IMG_4119I think that person in red is close to where we were trying to go.

At one point I saw a ledge, and decided I’d better get my picture taken because, of course, I would never get down, so I might as well show everyone how far I got. That expression is what you call a “forced smile.” I was not in any mood to smile.


IMG_4114We went a bit higher, and then I looked at my  options for where to put my hands and feet and didn’t find any. It was too straight up.  I looked at Bruce, and he said, “It’s only another 50 feet or so. But just because they all did it doesn’t mean you have to do it.” And for some reason, all of a sudden I thought about my kids and my granddaughter, mostly my granddaughter, and decided I didn’t want to die. Up until that point, I hadn’t thought about it much. But I couldn’t find a way to get any higher, and my legs were exhausted, and that was the end of it. I knew I was in the middle of the most dangerous thing I’d ever done in my life, without being afraid of it, but I didn’t have enough energy to do any more. I said, “That’s it, I’m done.” I took pictures all around and looked back. Then I realized I could get down…. on my butt!

IMG_4116So I scooted down on my butt almost the entire way, and it was all of a sudden easy. Sharp rocks,  dangerous, exhausting,  but not at all impossible. Tore a good sized hole in my jeans, which was totally worth it. I was completely worn out, but it went well. When we got back to the saddle I found out we’d been rock climbing for two hours.

IMG_4120We never did see the “chimney”, only a rock face. Maybe it’s gone, or maybe we weren’t high enough to see where it was.

So I didn’t make it, but I lived, and I don’t think I could have made it even if my legs were stronger because I had run out of places to put my feet. Bruce asked afterwards if I had known how easy it would be to get down, would I have gone ahead and tried for the top, or would I try it again? And I said, “No way in hell will I try that again.” I wrote in my journal that it was insanely dangerous and that I will never go up there again, although the saddle is certainly a doable hike.

The only other time I’ve ever been in a situation that dangerous was also on Mt. Rainier, climbing up to Panorama Point years ago, when I was unprepared and didn’t have a good walking stick or the right boots to cross a snowfield that had a sharp drop on one side. I had to turn back. The mountain is an unforgiving place.

IMG_4124So we went down. Here I am in the very center of the picture at the first curve down from the saddle. I don’t know how long it took to get down, but it took a couple of hours to the saddle, two more rock climbing, and probably more than another hour to get down again. The elevation at the top of Pinnacle Peak is 7200 feet and the elevation gain from the trail head is 1150 feet.

After I recovered (yes, with blackberry pie and ice cream again) I started feeling pretty uppity about what I’d accomplished. Bruce was impressed with how far I got and started talking about “next time” bringing rope and harnesses, which still sounded insane, but really, that is the only way to do it. I just don’t know if I will do it.

I may have done something completely crazy, but my self-esteem absolutely sky-rocketed, and that uppity feeling lasted about three weeks. I wish I still had it. I was obnoxiously proud of myself for doing something extremely tough. Maybe that’s what rock-climbers feel like all the time. If that’s how it makes you feel, I can understand those kinds of risks. I felt like I could have kicked anybody’s butt and nobody better try messing with ME.

After I got home, I found this photo, which I’d seen before, but didn’t know where it was. And all of a sudden it looked familiar.

June 23 2014 (21)AThe Park Service says “From the saddle to the top of Pinnacle Peak is a precipitous scramble on loose, unstable rock. Hikers wishing to get to the top should use extreme caution and have proper equipment.”

Now I know they weren’t kidding, in spite of how my family’s done it.

Here are two links, the first one has a gorgeous photo, and the second has a couple photos that show the range from Mt. Rainier and a topo map. Both pages are worth a look:



14 responses to “Second Mt. Rainier Hike, Pinnacle Peak

  1. Holy Moley. Vertigo and nosebleed. No way Jose.You are one brave woman. I wouldn’t even watch from here. Still, quite an accomplishment for YOU. You’re made of wonderful stuff, Jeanne. Good for you. 🙂

  2. BTW, love all the pictures. I can almost smell that mountain air.

  3. That harness and rope decent sounds like a good idea after such a big climb 🙂 you got lots of fab pictures.

  4. Hi Jeanne. That was an adventure and a half. I enjoyed every sentence of that post – even the bits where your language became colourful. In fact, especially those bits.
    The old photographs and family recollections add a personal touch to an exciting mountaineering adventure. I’m sure you’ll return for another attempt so you can add a picture of yourself standing on the summit.
    All the best, Alen

    • Alen, thank you for your kind remarks. I’m glad you enjoyed reading it.
      My body still says that was a crazy thing to have done. But in the meantime, I’m actually starting to strengthen my arms and legs by working out at a gym. If I can keep that up, who knows?

  5. Hi Jeanne. One of the best mountain walking posts I’ve seen in a long time. I love write ups where I can really get a strong sense of how the writer really felt, their emotional response. That looked a really serious and exposed route and some amazing photos

    • Thank you, surfnslide. I can still feel that “exposed” sensation even after two months of being on solid ground. But then, that’s why I took so many photos…to remind myself, in case I get another attack of the crazies, just what I was up against!

  6. A gripping tale in more ways than one. Must make another visit to Washington State and have enough time to get into the mountains. On our last and only visit Mt Rainier was shrouded in mist.

  7. This is fabulous. I am SO impressed with your guts, Jeanne! You totally *earned* that kickass attitude. I, for one, will never master *that* hike; too chicken *and* too wimpy at this point, I’m quite sure. So I’m all the happier that you shared your adventure, and the accompanying fantastic photos. By the way, those family shots are a treasure as well!!! Love the vintage “climbing gear,” aka “I’m still in my church clothes but dang it, I feel like hiking today, so I just WILL!”

    • Yeah, those photos are something else, aren’t they? Surely if you can just head up there in your church clothes, it can’t be THAT bad… ha!
      You should definitely consider hiking up to the saddle, though. It’s not a bad hike, it just takes two hours of slogging. But the views are terrific.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s