I started at 9 am from the Paul Peak trail off of the road to Mowich lake. It was cloudy, cool and moist in the beginning. This trail all the way to Golden lakes was really nice and not rocky or covered with blowdowns which is good since it was a long day hike. I saw nobody...but I did almost sneak up on a bull elk. I was following his droppings and hoof prints punching through the soft trail for a few miles. The cabin at Golden lakes was cool. Had a new shake roof too. Soon after Golden lakes, 10 miles in with no view of the mountain, I was beginning to wonder if Rainier was going to reveal itself. I took a left up a light way-trail about 1/4 mile past the cabin. This felt like the way to the views and I was correct. Within 15 minutes the big mountain had shown itself in dramatic fashion. I stopped at a point where I was just above a mini seasonal tarn with unobstructed views of the big one. I could see the need to return here as an overnight so I could linger on the higher wanderings.
A person could definitely and easily wander up that ridge for a long ways. I did not venture beyond the point from where the photo was taken but I am fairly certain I would pickup a way trail if I headed over that way. And like you saw in the photo, it looks pretty pronounced in places.
The trail continues up to around 7,000 ft to old lookout site, it was in the clouds too much so they had one lower around 5400 just above the cabin. You can wander almost to 8,000 if you're spry. Sunset park has great berry picking in the fall and great spring skiing.
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