Of all the options at the Frozen Lake trail junction (about 1.5 miles away from the Sunrise parking lot at Mount Rainier), I decided that the trail to the Mount Fremont Lookout seemed most promising, so I made it my first destination of the day. Not only does this trail take you up and out to a nearly-360-degree viewpoint, but it offers a historic fire lookout building as an extra reward.
The hike starts at Frozen Lake…
… and quickly gains some elevation, as it heads north, up the slope of 7,200-foot Mount Fremont. It doesn’t go all the way to the top of Mount Fremont, but rather, circles around it, then takes you along the west-facing side of the ridge that leads out to the fire lookout. For the first part of the hike, you’ll have a grand view of Mount Rainier, as well as the Burroughs Mountains (that shadowy ridge directly below and to the left of Rainier)…
… and the valley in between. Here, you can see Frozen Lake, just before rounding the corner.
Much of this trail is a shelf, formed out of a scree slope, where loose rocks have been pushed back enough to provide plenty of walking room. It’s a 1.3 mile (one way) hike out to the fire lookout, with much of the elevation gain taking place in the first half-mile or so. Eventually the trail turns north…
… and you get to see where you’re headed. It’s difficult to make out in this picture, but there’s a tiny dot at the end of this ridge — that’s the lookout building.
The trail stays below the top of the ridge, until you’re almost at the lookout. That’s good and bad — good, because it blocks a lot of the wind, but bad in the early morning, because the mountain blocks the sun. When the temperature is hovering around freezing, and there’s snow on the trail, a few rays of sunlight would be most welcome.
When you reach the lookout tower, there’s nothing to block your view, or that howling wind. I had been relatively comfortable until now (with three layers of clothing), but the breeze must have been a constant 20 miles per hour or more. It was brutal. I tried to find places to hide from the wind, in between taking pictures.
It’s too bad the lookout cabin isn’t open to visitors. It sure would have provided a welcome break from the weather, even with its Spartan accommodations. It’s quite remarkable that the building can withstand the brutal weather. I’m sure the previous night’s storm was nothing compared to what this ridge experiences in the dead of winter — yet, the windows were covered with ice…
… as was the door to the fire tower’s basement.
Just look at the way the ice formed, and you get some idea of the brutal conditions up here, even on a relatively mild fall day.
You might struggle to find a better view, anywhere in Mount Rainier National Park. This view likely looks north/northeast, towards the endless peaks in the Cascades.
I’m fairly certain that, in the distance, that clearing is part of Grand Park. Far, far beyond it might be the Seattle/Tacoma area. You might even be able to make out parts of the Olympic mountains from here.
But of course, the star of the show is always Mount Rainier, which looks beautiful from here.
Since this is an in-and-out trail, you’ll need to hike back the way you came, another 1.3 miles to Frozen Lake. At least on the return trip, Rainier is in front of you, not behind you.