Summerland > Panhandle Gap > Banshee Pk (Sep 12, 2014)

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banshee_pk_coverConditions: day hike
Gear: nothing special
Map: USGS Sunrise, USGS Mt Rainier East
Area: Sunrise, Mount Rainier NP
Reference: Day Hiking Mount Rainier
Stats: 14.7mi, 4041' gain (round trip)

Wow...what a great trip this turned out to be.

I've been up to Panhandle Gap a few times but I've never ventured higher. Always...I felt the draw to head down to Indian Bar. One of these days I'll get around to that...

I'd put the word out early in the week...I have a Friday off...anyone interested... Dani had the day off so she was on board. I'd first suggested Winchester LO but I decided to leave that short trip for later in the year. By mid week we'd settled on Banshee. Carol joined in...then Joe.

I figured this would be a long day with the drive and the number of miles we'd have to cover on foot. So, I suggested an early start. I picked up Dani, then a stop to pick up Carol, then finally Joe...and we were on our way. The drive went quick and before we knew it we were pulling into a parking slot at the trailhead (4041') just after the bridge over Fryingpan Creek. We were all surprised to see so many cars there early on a weekday. It is a popular trailhead. It was cold, about 45F, so we all packed warm clothes and as we started up the trail about 9am, it was long sleeves, long pants, and gloves for all of us.

The first few miles we moved at a quicker pace trying to warm up. The first .01mi is a short connector trail that joins up with the Wonderland Trail. It's tall trees and shaded nearly the whole way to the log crossing over Fryingpan Creek at 3.48mi (5215'). We dropped our packs and took a short snack break. From here the trail climbs steadily (check steps on the trail but no switchbacks to 3.91mi, 5520') where we reached the bottom of the switchbacks. In spring this gully/hillside is covered in white Avalanche Lilies. Today, the trail was cold enough that there was frost/ice oozing out of the trail. The trail climbs steeply up a series of switchbacks to about 4.39mi (5899') before it opens up at the lower end of Summerland. We hiked a bit up the trail, checked out the old stone shelter and then started up more check steps through the upper part of Summerland on our way to Panhandle Gap.

From the rock shelter it's a steady climb, first through meadows starting to show the signs of Fall and loaded with marmots, and then up through the rocky section below the gap. There are a couple of colorful tarns below the gap (5.23mi, 6356'). There were lots of stops along the way each of us snapping lots of photos. It's hard not to. This place is gorgeous! We then continued the rest of the way up to Panhandle Gap (completely snow free) which we reached about 12:35pm (5.86mi, 6769'). We stopped again for a snack and then continued east from the gap. There is a distinct boot patch that stays to the south of the bump just east of the gap. The path is in decent shape and was easy to follow. It took us to the saddle east of that bump (losing about 140' from the gap). From here it is all open country all the way up to the Banshee Pk high point. But from here the boot path disappears which is fine. We just followed the ridge up, up, up.

The high point of Banshee is unmarked on the USGS quad. It is the high point (about 7400') on the ridge above the Sarvant Glacier and is very near the Cowlitz Chimneys. It's also about 1.4mi from Panhandle Gap to it makes for quite a long day trip. I stopped just before the high point. Meredith, my niece, was celebrating her 5th birthday today. I'd promised to try to FaceTime with her if I could get a signal. I stayed close to the edge of the ridge most of the way up hoping to pick up a strong signal from Sunrise. No luck with FaceTime but I was able to place the call and with her a happy 5th birthday. All the kids reminded me it had been a while since I last visited and each of them asked when I was going to visit next. Looks like I need to plan a trip for around Christmas again :)

It was a perfectly clear day and not only could we see Rainier but scanning the horizon in all directions we could see Adams, Mt St Helens, Glacier Peak, and Jefferson. Pretty incredible :)

We reached the high point about 2:15pm (~7400' and 7.26mi from the car) about 2:15pm. Thankfully we had good weather and the daylight would still hang around for a while so we did lounge around a bit. But eventually all good things come to and end and we knew we had to start down (about 2:45pm). I don't think any of us were eager to race back down to the car...the second views of the area we had on the decent were spectacular. There was one quick stop back at the Fryingpan Creek crossing and then it was the long hike back in cool forest back to the car. We were back at the trail at just about 6:30pm.

Spectacular day visiting Rainier. We couldn't have asked for a better day. I couldn't have asked for better company.
Banshee Peak Slideshow


(click on map to view a larger version)

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