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williswall
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williswall
seeking tailwind
PostThu Jul 11, 2013 1:44 pm 
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Eastern Loop Trail
Eastern Loop Trail

EDIT: I renamed the thread for future searches....
This is not so much a trip report as a trail description, which goes together with my recent post on the Wonderland Trail through Indian Bar and Summerland. In order to return to my vehicle, I decided to do a loop trip, and although the "Eastern Loop Trail" is not an official description like the Northern Loop Trail, I consider it a gem in it's own right and hikers should consider this trek for a number of reasons. Foremost is the ability to travel some of the most awesome alpine areas of the park (Indian Bar, Panhandle Gap and Summerland) and then experiencing classic Pacific Northwest old growth forest on excellent trail. In the case of the Eastside Trail, the slightly mild and undulating elevation provides relief from the elevation gains of the first part of the trip and finishes the loop in cool forest for hours of casual walking.

I would recommend starting at the Cowlitz Divide trail head (2200') and proceeding to the trail junction with the Wonderland Trail (4800'/4.3 miles). This itinerary allows you to get the hard work of the loop done right away and hit the Gap later in the day when the snow is softer; however, nothing precludes one from going at a more casual pace and spending the night at Indian Bar (5000'/9 miles). The high point on this section is the appropriately named Point 5930. Depending on the time of year, the Cowlitz Divide is a spectacular place, especially after the snow melt and the plethora of flowers that line each mile. Bear, mountain chicken and elk abound in this area. Be aware that water is not to be found on the Cowlitz Divide so plan accordingly.
33. Flower field on the Cowlitz Divide
33. Flower field on the Cowlitz Divide

Indian Bar hosts one of the remaining stone shelters in the park and in my view, the best one. Check out the video in the aforementioned report for a tour of the shelter. Leaving Indian Bar you will encounter the "1000 steps" ascending to Ohanapecosh park, which takes you over 6000'. This is always an excellent area for spotting mountain goat and you get to spend almost 3 miles of high alpine hiking, perhaps in and out of snow, until the highest point of the Wonderland Trail: Panhandle Gap at 6800' (now 12 miles into it). The views here are sublime, and it's one of the few places in the park to check in with home as there is cell phone reception. The descent to Summerland (5900'/13.4 miles) is accompanied by fabulous views of Rainier and the green tarn below, also an excellent area for spotting mountain goat. Leaving Summerland this part of the loop ends at the Fryingpan creek trail head (3900'/17.7 miles) where you encounter the only time you have to walk on the road for .5 miles until reaching the Owyhigh Lakes Trail (3700'/18.2 miles).
30. Crossing Fryingpan Creek
30. Crossing Fryingpan Creek
31. Panhandle Gap
31. Panhandle Gap

The Owyhigh Lakes trail takes you up to 5300' where you can view the Cowlitz Chimneys again, now on your right. You have the option of camping at Tamanos Creek camp (5200'/22 miles). This trail is in excellent shape with nary a root or rock to trip over, a welcome relief for your feet after the rocky trail over Panhandle Gap. Pull out your sandals or walk in bare feet for a respite. After passing the lakes the gentle switchbacks will take you to the junction with the Eastside trail (3300'/27.5 miles) and, within .1 miles, the Deer Creek camp (3300'/26.6 miles) if you choose to stay here.

"Just a boring forest walk" I've seen this quote before and it leaves me scratching my head. The Pacific Northwest old growth forests are a splendor and there are many subtleties to be enjoyed here. It's easy to love the wide open views of alpine areas but equal delights await the deep forests. This trail offers up a splendid walk amongst dozens of creeks intersecting with Chinook Creek and then the Ohanapecosh River, giant spruce, cedar and doug fir, shady relief from hot days with cool breezes and the constant thrum of water, easy well maintained trail, bird song and buzzing. Before you know it you will arrive at the junction of Grove of the Patriarchs (2200'/33.9 miles) and the attendant hoards of people, but how can one complain after cleansing your lungs for hours in the freshly manufactured air? Now it's just a matter of avoiding the road by hiking the .4 miles to the road and continuing on the Silver Falls Loop trail (2200'/34.8 miles) and a brief respite from people on the seldom used Cowlitz Divide trail (east of the road) which will deposit you within .3 miles back at your vehicle (2200'/35.1 miles).

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I can think of no other loop in the park which will engross you in such disparate eco zones for lengthy periods, essentially one half of the hike in alpine splendor and the other in old growth heaven. Give it a try, whether it's a one day dash or a four day cruise, you won't be disappointed.

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"Nothing f##ks you harder than time"  (Sir Davos)

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beargap
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beargap
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PostSat Jul 13, 2013 8:19 am 
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Nice! Any hassle with walkup permitting or is this not considered WT?
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reststep
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reststep
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PostSat Jul 13, 2013 12:40 pm 
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That is an interesting idea.

A good side trip if you have time would be Cowlitz Park.  I think it would be a great place to camp but you would need a crosscountry permit.  Maybe they are actually called backcountry permits.

To get there look for a boot beaten path on the left shortly before you start dropping down to Indian Bar.

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"The mountains are calling and I must go." - John Muir
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drm
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drm
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PostSun Jul 14, 2013 6:37 pm 
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I did this very loop last year at the end of September, in the opposite direction. I camped at Tamanos and Indian Bar. I think that my direction was determined by a desire to camp one night at Indian Bar, and getting that permit on the second night (a Sunday night) was going to work and Saturday night was not (site #2 at Indian Bar has amazing views right from the tent pad).

When I got the permit, the ranger kind of stared and commented like he had never thought of that loop before. Maybe some people grimace at the idea of even a half mile's road walk, but it is a small price to pay.

Lots of photos at my trip report: trip report
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williswall
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Joined: 30 Sep 2007
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williswall
seeking tailwind
PostMon Jul 15, 2013 10:07 am 
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beargap wrote:
Nice! Any hassle with walkup permitting or is this not considered WT?

Well, you still need a permit for any back country camp in the park, not just the WT. I stayed at Tamanos creek, only person there. Slept 9 hours. No problems. Planning a WT hike with my daughter next month and it will be walk up permits. Hopefully no hassles there either, based on past experience.

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"Nothing f##ks you harder than time"  (Sir Davos)

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jhudson
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PostMon Jul 15, 2013 11:51 am 
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Do you happen to know the distance from the Wonderland to the Ohanapecosh area? You may have mentioned it, 4 miles?
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williswall
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Joined: 30 Sep 2007
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Location: Bellevue, WA
williswall
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PostMon Jul 15, 2013 1:16 pm 
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jhudson wrote:
Do you happen to know the distance from the Wonderland to the Ohanapecosh area? You may have mentioned it, 4 miles?

Not sure from where u r asking. It's 17 miles to the fryingpan creek trailhead on the wonderland going ccw. From there it is 18 miles back to the cowlitz divide trailhead parking, which is not far from the ohanapecosh entrance.

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"Nothing f##ks you harder than time"  (Sir Davos)

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jhudson
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jhudson
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PostMon Jul 15, 2013 6:46 pm 
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Ah sorry. smile.gif

We will be heading south on the wonderland through the Summerland and Indian Bar sections in a couple weeks. I was looking at the map and past Indian Bar is a trail that runs from the wonderland trail towards Ohanapecosh. It appears looking at your map you may have taken this route, but in the opposite direction? Sorry, I was not as clear, I'm not as familiar with the Rainier area as I am the Olympics. This will be my first time hiking in the park.

The reason I ask is our ride home can get to Ohanapecosh quicker and easier than heading up to Box Canyon.
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williswall
seeking tailwind



Joined: 30 Sep 2007
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williswall
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PostMon Jul 15, 2013 7:47 pm 
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Ah, I see what u mean now. In fact it is shorter and an easier hike to continue on the wonderland to box canyon heading south. The trail u r looking at that heads towards the ohanapecosh area is the cowlitz divide trail, which is longer than continuing on to box canyon ( and is in fact the trail I used for the loop).  It is, however, a bit shorter drive for pickup. So for driver convenience this is better, but for hiker convenience it is better to go to box canyon.

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jhudson
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PostMon Jul 15, 2013 8:08 pm 
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Thanks for the information. I don't mind a longer trail, if it means a shorter drive for our driver. Thanks for letting me know which trail to look into.
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