Carbon River Via Spray Park
The other route choice between Mowich Lake and Carbon River is via the Spray Park trail. This delightful area is best explored later in the summer when the snowline recedes to high elevations and wildflowers explode into their brief moment in the sun. When the weather cooperates, the scenery is exquisite offering expansive views of Mount Rainier as the hiker reaches nearly 6,400 feet in elevation.
Early season warning
Spray Park can be under snow-pack until late summer, making route-finding difficult and footing treacherous. Always check with a ranger for the latest trail conditions before hiking this section. Carry and map and compass, and know how to use them. Consider bringing a GPS receiver as well. Avoid hiking solo, and be prepared in case you can’t make your destination by nightfall.
Bad weather warning:
You might opt for taking the route down Ipsut Pass on overcast days. Bearing the brunt of the frontal systems that frequently come wandering in off the Pacific Ocean, this face of the mountain is often socked-in with dense fog. In addition to the rough and rocky trail, this could make for a disappointing day.
Mowich Lake to Spray Falls
From the Mowich Lake Campground, backtrack a short distance down the Wonderland Trail to reach the junction with the Spray Park trail. From here the path flanks Fay Peak and crosses Lee Creek before rounding the base of Hessong Peak.
Your first stop of the day will probably be at Eagle Cliff, a fenced viewpoint a thousand feet above Spray Creek and the north fork of the Mowich River. The trail then passes Eagle’s Roost Camp (4,885 feet, no group site) followed soon after by a short way-trail to Spray Falls. This impressive waterfall delicately veils the face of an andesite cliff and is bordered by fir trees and thick mosses.
After intersecting the Spray Falls way-trail, the main route switchbacks steeply up the hill crossing Grant Creek before reaching the gentler slopes of Spray Park. From here the trail rises steadily and it is a pleasant walk through remarkable scenery. The mountain looms beyond Ptarmigan Ridge, and this offers a great view Spray Park, Liberty Ridge and the Willis Wall.
The Willis Wall
The Willis Wall was the last rugged face of the mountain to ever be climbed. Covered in overhanging ice cliffs, the Willis Wall is considered the most dangerous route up the mountain. It is continually pummeled by avalanches, some including massive ice chunks the size of train cars. Still this has not deterred a handful of wild souls from successfully making the ascent.
Spray and Seattle Parks
One can take in these splendid views of the mountain reflected in small lakes on the way to the high point in the Spray Park route at 6,400 feet. Turn off the autopilot here and don’t lose sight of the small flags marking the way through the boulder-strewn snowfields. The path begins its descent and crosses alongside the edge of Seattle Park, several hundred feet above the flats of Mist Park. See if you can spot black bears in the valley below. Views of Western Washington may be glimpsed through the jagged ridge line of Mother Mountain on the far side of Mist Park.
From here the trail continues a knee-wobbling descent to Carbon River, about 3,000 feet below. Be sure to look back to catch the last few glimpses of the mountain above the rugged slopes leading to Russell Glacier.
At 4,620 feet one passes Cataract Valley Camp, located in a stand of forest. If you want to enjoy the magic hour of light in Spray Park, consider booking a campsite here. Just be careful to make your way back down before darkness has completely fallen.
Descending below the Echo Cliffs, the Spray Park trail connects back to the Wonderland Trail near Carbon River camp (3,195 feet), 2.5 miles east of Ipsut Creek.