Burroughs Mountains Trail, Mount Rainier

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The Burroughs Mountains Trail has the potential to be one of the best trails in the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier National Park.  It begins at Frozen Lake, and quickly rises up to the top of a ridge.  Behind it, Mount Rainier is partially hidden, until you get to the top.  Once you’ve reached the summit of the first, second, and third Burroughs Mountain (yep, there are three of them, strung out along this trail), you should have a remarkable view of Rainier.

So what’s all this “should” stuff, you might ask?  Well, I quickly learned that Burroughs Mountain is one place where you can’t ignore the warning signs.

I had only taken a few steps up the Burroughs Mountain Trail when I came upon this sign.  In case you can’t read it, it says “Steep, icy slope ahead.  Ice Axe recommended.”

Sure, I figured.  In June maybe.  This was late September.  The ice had all summer to melt, and it was too soon for the trail to have re-frozen.  And even if it was a little slippery, so what?  I might be a Floridian, but I know how to walk on snow.

The first half-mile of the Burroughs Mountain trail is a fairly steep uphill climb.  The trail was dusted with the snow that had fallen the night before — certainly not enough to cause me any concern.  As I huffed and puffed on the ascent…

… a beautiful panorama was opening up below me.  Looking back, I had a great view of Frozen Lake, and beyond it, Mount Fremont and the trail to the fire lookout.

One hiker, headed downhill, told me there was ice ahead.  His friend had made it across, but he decided not to chance it.  I was certain that if his friend could make it, so could I.  So, I continued on.

Then, I rounded a corner…

… and discovered this.  How could this be?  It was September!  Everything else, everywhere else, had melted.  And this wasn’t just snow, this was one big chunk of ice.

But there were footprints molded into the ice.  Okay, I thought.  That should be enough to make it passable.  I took a few steps, keeping a tight hold on the rocks just above the trail.  In fact, I made it as far as that last rock on the left.  Then, I had a realization.  There were no more rocks to hold onto.  If I was to continue, I’d be balancing myself on a slippery sheet of ice, at a 45-degree angle, with nothing to stop me from plunging hundreds of feet if I fell.  This was not a good idea.  It definitely wasn’t worth it.  Still grasping that last rock, I made a very slow U-turn, then backtracked.

Later on, from viewpoints down below, I could see that there were numerous ice patches, just like this one, along the Burroughs Mountains trail.  Even if I had made it past the first one, there would have been others.  And then, I would have had to go back the way I came, and do it all over again.  No thanks.  I definitely made the right decision — but it sure would have been nice to see the view from the top.

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