Mother Mountain Loop Hike - Day 2: Ipsut Creek Campground to Mowich Lake Campground

Tolmie Lookout

On day 2 our route takes us from Ipsut Creek campground at 2,300 feet of elevation to Mowich Lake campground, which has an elevation of 4,929 feet.  This stretch of our trek follows the Wonderland trail, a 93-mile loop hike that circles Mt. Rainier. The distance between these 2 campgrounds is only 4.8 mile.  But to get there we have to cross over Ipsut Pass at 5115 feet, which is only 3.5 miles from Ipsut Creek campground.   That’s about 800 feet of elevation for every mile of trail.  

When I awoke, I felt fairly good.  The soreness from yesterday is gone. It was only 5:30 AM. Tried to sleep in a little but couldn’t. Probably due to being a little apprehensive about the steep climb up to Ipsut Pass.  I had two packages of oatmeal and a cup of hot chocolate for breakfast.   We broke camp, packed our gear and headed up the Carbon Glacier Trail, toward our ascent up to Ipsut Pass, on the Wonderland trail.  It was 8:10 AM.

The trail got steeper the further we went up the Wonderland trail we went.  The trail paralleled Ipsut Creek for a while and then crossed back and forth across Ipsut Creek, as we climbed higher toward the pass. 

Ipsut Creek through the trees

There were a number of log bridges to help us cross the different small creeks that cascaded down the valley.   We stopped periodically to rest and replenish our water supply as we slowly climbed toward to pass.

Taking a rest stop and filtering water by one of the log bridges

All this snow run off fed into the larger Ipsut Creek below.  Not all log bridges that crossed these small little, trickling creeks were created equal, some were more elaborate and spanned great distances, making easy to transit these wet sections of the trail.

Biggest, and best log bridge on this section of trail

As we traveled up the first part of the trail to the pass we were trekking through dense moss-covered forest, which provided shade from the bright sun that was out.  It was nice to be in the shade, but even so the sweat was rolling off my face.  Eventually we broke out into the sun, with a stunning view of the sheer rock cliffs that ran along the top of the ridge between Gove Peak towards Ipsut Pass. 

Rock cliff faces along the trail to Ipsut Pass

As we walked out into the lush vegetation, the bright sunlight was beating down on us, making us even warmer.  Shortly after traversing along the trail in the dense brush, we crossed Ipsut Creek for the last time.  By this point there were no more tributaries feeding Ipsut creek, so there was just a trickle of water flowing down the hill side.  The trail at one time actually followed right up the creek bed for a short while.  I felt like an American ninja warrior trying to hop, skip, and jump from stone, to log to stone, trying to avoid the Ipsut Creek water challenge obstacle, without getting wet feet.  We both survived the water challenge, and continued on up toward the steepest part of the trail.  The vegetation along the trail was so thick you could barely make out the trail in front of you, let alone see any bears grazing or lazing about. I was glad I had my bear spray.

Dense brush along the sunny trail

We continued up the trail, as it got steeper, and steeper.  At times the trail ran right next to the cliff face, with large drop offs, so we had to trek carefully along those sections. It was now really steep going.  The hot sun was causing sweat to rolling off me in streams at this point. Making my already wet shirt a soggy, rag, that was clinging to my chest and stomach.  There we so much sweat coming off me, that my shorts were catching the perspiration that my t-shirt couldn’t absorb.  There was very little shade along this part of the trail.  The sun was now high in the sky.  We stopped by a few trees that clung to the cliff side, since they provided the only shady along this part of the trail.  It was now 11:52 AM.  We’d been at this climb for just over 3 hours.  That meant we were making a 1 mile an hour pace up the valley.

Josh resting in the shade

As we rested, we hydrated with what little filtered water we had left.  We surveyed the trail ahead of us while we relaxed.  We could see the four female hikers up on the trail above us.  They were nearing the pass, and moving very slowly.

Trail leading to Ipsut Pass

We were anxious to reach the pass, so we forged on with only a short rest stop.  We rounding the last major switchback and could see the top.   As we neared the top, I turned around and took in the awesome view of the valley we had climbed below.  

View of the valley below Ipsut Pass

The closer and closer I got to the pass the slower and slower I went.  Take 35 steps and stop for 10 seconds, take 30 steps and stop for 20 seconds, take 25 steps stop for 30 seconds, etc..  My pace was slowing and my resting was getting longer the closer I got to the top. 

I was breathing very heavy.  My heart was pounding.  I wasn’t sure I was going to make it the top.  I thought I might blow a gasket.

I stopped just short of the top, for a really long-standing rest. I was trying to get my breathing and heart rate back to non-threatening level.   I leaned over my hiking poles to make sure I didn’t fall over.  Josh yelled back at me “I can see the top, it’s only another 20 feet in front of me.  You can do it! Come on you are almost there”.  He was being the cheerleader trying to provide me some encouragement to make the final push to the top.  I didn’t budge.  Instead, I huffed and puffed, and tried to relax to slow down my breathing and bring down my heart rate for the last few steps to the top.  Not sure how long I stood there, but I finally started inched toward the top, using my “take a few steps and then rest” approach.  Eventually I made it to the top.  What a relief!

No rest for the weary, we continued on down the trail toward the Eunice Lake/Tolmie Lookout junction.  We had been talking all day about taking a side trip to the lookout.  Provided we felt good that is.  I followed Josh down the trail toward Eunice Lake, against my better judgement, because I didn’t want to let Josh down.  This was his adventure and I was doing my damnedest to keep up with my 31 year-old son.    

We stopped for a short break and dropped our packs in the woods for the trek up to the lake and lookout.  We started down the trail pack free, but within a few minutes I realized I had to go back for some needed supplies I had forgotten in my pack.   Josh continued on, while I went back and rummaged through my pack for my supplies.   With my stuff collected, I continuing on to Eunice Lake.  It was about then I realized that I was feeling really weak.  I was getting very exhausted.  Because Josh was already up the trail, I had no choice but to continue climbing.  The joint up to Eunice Lake was very, very hard going.  Not really but in my exhausted state I had to stopping over and over again.  Didn’t think I would ever get to the lake and catch up to Josh.   

Josh was starting to worry that something had happened to me.  He was asking all the day hikers if they had seen me.  He was starting back down the trail to look for me, just as I was reaching the lake.    

Once we both reaching the lake, I laid down in the shade totally spent.  I started to get cold, had goosebumps on my arms, and was starting to shake.  I moved over into the sun to warm up, hydrate and tried to chew down some beef jerky. It was hard to get down. I was feeling sick to my stomach.  I thought about trying to throw up, but I held off the urge. 

Eunice Lake

After resting a while at the lake, we headed back down. I still wasn’t feeling well.  When we got to our packs, Josh offered to carry my pack up the last two switch backs to the Wonderland trail.  I’d been thinking about asking him to shuttle my pack up the trail, but I wasn’t going to do that.  I’m glad he offered, and I readily accepted.

After reaching the Wonderland trail, we only had 1.5 miles of mostly downhill to Mowich Lake Campground. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it.  The side trek to Eunice Lake really drained my energy tank.  I rested for a long time before heading on down the trail. Josh’s encouragement, finally snapped me out of my funk.  I put my pack on for the final decent to the campground. 

I walked very, very, very slowly as we moved down the trail.    Anytime the trail started to climb I almost couldn’t do it.  I had hit the wall! I was totally spent.     

We finally arrived at Mowich Lake campground.  It was 4:30 PM.  That was a long, exhausting day to only go a total milage of 6.4 miles. We were not setting any speed records today, unless it was the slowest climbing award.

After resting at camp for a while, I started to feel a little better.  Josh and I headed down to the lake.  He wanted to take a dip.  The water was a little too cold for swimming, so instead he just did a little wading and threw some water on him to wash off the dried on sweat from our days climb.

Josh considering a swim in Mowich Lake

My problems today were probably caused by not staying hydrated.  I drank lots of water in camp, munched on sweet peanut butter M&M’s, while Josh made dinner.  We had freeze-dried beef stroganoff with some salami thrown in.  We finished off dinner with a dessert of freeze-dried apple crisp.  The meal was delicious.  That was just what I needed.  I was starting to feel better and my energy level had charged up a little. 

As the sun slowly set in the west, I walked around the lake and took a few sunset pictures.  I then retired to my tent, dreading tomorrow, and another big climbing day, which would take us to the highest elevation of our loop hike.

Sunset over Mowich Lake