Back in the (Running) Saddle Again … aka Sunrise to Mystic Lake and Beyond and Back

For the first time since WR50(28), I ventured back out on the “big girl” trails this weekend for an out-and-back of about 20 miles on the Wonderland Trail at Mt. Rainier. I loved running with no purpose beyond the joy of moving in a majestic landscape, and I spent much of the day oooohing and ahhhhing at the views.

We were on the trail by 7:30 and with few others on the trail we quickly gained some altitude as we ascended the ridge north of Sunrise. This takes you to an intersection with about 50 million different trail and destination options.


With Mystic Lake our destination, we continued on toward the Wonderland Trail. This first section of trail reminded me a bit of the trails in the Sierras: a bit dusty, a bit rocky, a bit large-gravel-sized sand, and featuring mind-blowing, expansive views.


After a mile or so traverse, we topped out on a ridge at 6700 feet, where we saw a marmot sunning on a rock. The hoary marmots found in the Cascades are among my favorite animals. In the Sierras, marmots kind of look like guinea pigs with rust-colored fur, but the hoary marmot is bigger and much hairier! (No pics though—he was one well-camouflaged marmot.) We also saw the elusive pika on this stretch, but he darted into his burrow before the cameras could come out.

With Skyscraper Mountain looming above our ridge-top rest, Ana had me going for a bit when she said we were going that way. But instead we started a fun, sometimes rooty switchback descent to Granite Creek at 5800 feet.

Once beyond Granite Creek we traversed generally up but sometimes down for several miles, encountering widely diverse terrain: glacial moraines, boulder fields, meadows, and classic northwest ferns and forest. About halfway between Granite Creek and Mystic Lake, we came to the toe of the Winthrop Glacier and crossed its roaring, milky runoff via a bridge made from a downed tree.

Rock-covered Winthrop Glacier with Rainier above

Most of the year’s wildflowers are gone now, but we still got to enjoy a few remaining red and magenta paintbrush, purple daisies, what I called “old man flowers,” and a new (to us) one we later learned is the mountain bog gentian flower (the blue and white ones, center below).

Mystic Lake looked like a great place to hang out, but there were a ton of ANTS everywhere. I shook some gravel out of my shoes, and quickly we were off again as the trail noodled its way through the meadows around Mystic Lake.

Mystic Lake reflecting Old Desolate (I think)

We then ascended the ridge that separates the Winthrop and Carbon glaciers. There were so many blueberry bushes and ripe blueberries here! We stopped for just a couple of berries, and then some more, and then some more. YUMMY!


From the top of the ridge, the trail headed straight downhill and we decided that at 10 miles we were at a good turnaround point.

Can you see the trail? Idyllic running!
Ana crossing Winthrop Creek

Since the way back featured the same glorious views, rather than taking more pictures we focused on making progress—mostly downhill until we hit Granite Creek, then solid ascents back up to the base of Skyscraper, and then down and back up to the ridge above Sunrise.

With the afternoon had come the crowds, and in the last couple of miles we saw more people than we had seen the entire day. Early starts are the best!

Oh, and we did see a mountain goat. Can you find it in the image below?


We had earned a treat, and ended the day with a stop at Wapiti Woolies in Greenwater. The huckeleberry sorbet was the best!

20.17 mi.
7,411 gross gain
6 hr 30 min

–I need more diversity in my food: I had too much sweet, and too little salt and solid food.
–Get the gaiters on the new shoes: I had to dump gravel out of my shoes twice.

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