|Mt. Rainier from below Panhandle Gap in Mount Rainier National Park.|
The highest and most desolate section of the Wonderland Trail resides on the east side of Mount Rainier National Park
, above Summerland. Panhandle Gap is the official high point at 6,750', separating Summerland from remote Ohanapecosh Park.
The trail begins at Fryingpan Creek, where parking can be challenging by mid-day. This popular trail is gradual for the first two miles before climbing up to a crossing of the creek at 3 miles. Then is a mile of mostly short, steep switchbacks to Summerland. There are campsites here and a stone shelter cabin with views of the mountain.
For Panhandle Gap, continue on by descending to the creek crossing and then climbing up, first thru alpine meadows, then thru rough moraine often marked by cairns to a couple high tarns, then a further climb to Panhandle Gap. The views are glorious all the way.
From the gap, the trail can be followed south as it gently descends into and traverses Ohanapecosh Park. This area offers wide open wandering for the curious.
For photographers, this trail can be challenging as much of Rainier is obscured from this side, and the desolate nature of the area doesn't necessarily offer a lot of interesting foreground material to put in front of the mountain. The image above was taken just below Panhandle Gap, and is probably the first interesting view of the mountain in my opinion. My recommendation? From Panhandle Gap a path can be followed east as it traverses east along a ridge and descends into parkland, where one can wander open slopes up to a high point with unobstructed views of the mountain.
Bears are commonly seen in the Summerland area in early season, and mountain goats can be encountered throughout the hiking season. Marmots are also present in Summerland as well as Ohanapecosh Park. The big glass could come in handy if you so choose.
For landscape photography, my preference is the 24-70mm.
To view more images from Mount Rainier National Park, please visit my Mount Rainier Gallery
As always, thanks for looking! Hope to see you on the trail!