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Carbon Glacier–a hiking classic

Posted by joeabbott on June 25, 2017

Today I feel drained. Well, that’s not the right word … there’s not less of me; perhaps sated is closer. It’s true I’m fatigued and my feet are tender, but we could have a conversation and I’d fill it with words: I would paint pictures of graphite-colored ice, of soaring blades of stone, of trails piercing the greenery of a new summer, and the massive bulk of Mt. Rainier over-watching it all.

P6240002But, I’ll try fewer words and a few more pictures than usual. if you find yourself around Mt. Rainer and have a strong trekking gait (or, better yet, a mountain bike), I recommend you retrace my steps. Yesterday’s was a beautiful outing.

P6240007Tim and I headed into the Mt. Rainier National Park via the Carbon River entrance. The road in has been washed out and allowed to remain closed to motor vehicle traffic, but that appears to increase the allure of those on foot and bike. We chose to bike in the first 5 miles to the end of the road; the Ipsut Creek Campground and Trailhead. From there we locked up the bikes and headed out on foot.P6240004

The road in is solid but one section was greatly reduced and eroded; we even had to walk our bikes over that section. And while the trail seemed reasonably flat, we were huffing and puffing to get in and up. I chalked it up to our eagerness to start the hike proper, but would later learn (as we coasted back to the cars at high speed) that the way in was deceptively steep.

At Ipsut Creek Campground we locked out bikes and helmets, grabbed a little something to eat, marveled at the number of people we’d already seen around, and headed out at a modestly respectable 8AM departure from the trailhead.

Ipsut Falls    P6240014

P6240016In less than a quarter mile you hit Ipsut Falls. A lovely cascade that I’d never spent much time appreciating. As we had nothing but time and an itinerary of our choosing, we paused for some snaps before heading on. After a short bit of uphill through some heavy forest, you break out into a washout area that is a spillway for the Carbon River when waters crest and flood a low valley section. We traversed this, stopping for a snack and pics.

After a few foot bridges, we crossed to the far forest and headed upslope toward the Carbon Glacier and points beyond!

The streams were high but nearly all bridges were easily passable. One bridge was under water but the park service had created another, identical bridge just upstream from it. Not sure why it didn’t make sense to salvage this one, but they hadn’t consulted me!


Just before the Carbon Glacier there’s a turn-off that crosses a suspension bridge. Our initial plans hadn’t included trails on the far side, but Tim couldn’t pass up a chance to cross it and investigate. As we had all afternoon, I was game.


We crossed, headed up the trail to the Carbon Creek Campground, and then sat by a small tributary and enjoyed a small break; the cool air coming off the glacial waters was heavenly on this hot day. Soon enough, it was time to get to the titular Carbon Glacier itself.


I’d been by this glacier several times in the past and find it more than a little sad to see it so degraded. As with nearly all glaciers, it’s in decline with its icy snoot receding toward the mountain. But, since I’d last seen it, the terminus had collapsed and water no longer issued from the ice caves at the forefront, now they skirt the old glacier itself and stream from the sides. But, it was a very fine day and enjoyable to see one of the wonders of the Pacific Northwest: might Mt. Rainier lording benevolently over the Park on a simply gorgeous day.

With encouragement from Tim, we continued up the trail some 1500’ in elevation gain to near the saddle. While we weren’t able to get the singular views of Mt. Rainier that were constantly promised (but never delivered) after “just the next turn in the trail”, we got some needed training and enjoyed a final snack next to a stream coming off the higher basin.P6240050

And with that …foot sore and soaked in sweat, we tramped down the trail seeing every passerby on their way up looking far fresher than we had felt on the way in. Past the suspension bridge, past the valley of foot bridges and cairns, down past Ipsut Falls and into the campground. We paused momentarily before hopping aboard our bikes and nearly flying to the car. So ended a phenomenal day, a simple walk in the Park.

Thanks for looking in and I hope your weekends are as rewards.


One Response to “Carbon Glacier–a hiking classic”

  1. Jay said

    Way to get out there Joe. I walked the trails of Lebanon Hills this weekend… 😉 Nothing like the hikes you are on. Looking forward to seeing you soon!

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