Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Comet Falls - Rampart Ridge

"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On Comet! on, Cupid! on Dunder and Blixem!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now, dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

From "A Visit By Saint Nicholas"
By Anonymous

Mushrooms were rampant in the lush and damp forest

Hah, I've stumped you all, haven't I? What on earth does an iconic Christmas poem have to do with a late summer hike in Mount Rainier National Park? Well, the answer to that question is the phrase "On Comet!" because we hiked to the top of Comet Falls. But wait, there's more! Like, " the top of the wall!" Or maybe "..on Dunder" applies here as well because more than once in my lifetime, I've been referred to as a dunderhead. By my mother too, I might add! But enough of my random babbling, let's talk about the hike.

Photography was rampant next to Van Trump Creek

This was the third day of the Friends of the Umpqua annual campout and it was obvious we were going to lose our run of spectacular weather. Clouds blotted out the blue sky and warm sun, and the air had that "rain cometh" feel to it. But we are from Oregon, where it rains 14 out of 12 months of the year, and we should be accustomed to rain and gray days. So with a cheery "On Comet!" we set out on the Comet Falls Trail.

And this was the level portion of the hike!

Sheesh, is every trail in Mount Rainier National Park steep? In a word, yes! Initially, the trail switchbacked and stair-stepped up through a green forest before arriving at a stout footbridge crossing over Van Trump Creek. The creek seethed and roiled in a narrow slot canyon, bounding from pool to pool in a photogenic series of white-watered cascades. After a brief rest and photo shoot, it was time to resume hiking up the Comet Falls Torture Trail.

Salmonberry made this a sweet hike
The route didn't mess around, gaining elevation in big chunks as the trail alternated between switchbacks and stairs. Van Trump Creek was mostly always visible well below the trail, and intermittent breaks in the forest cover provided equally intermittent views of the forested and rocky ramparts of aptly named Rampart Ridge looming well above. The trail was flanked by huckleberry and salmonberry bushes whose branches were bedecked with berries burgeoning with juicy goodness. Much berry grazing ensued.

Jennifer, a bridge, and Van Trump Creek
After a couple of miles of this, Van Trump Creek braided and the footpath crossed the boisterous stream on a picturesque log bridge with one rail. About 50 yards upstream, a noisy cascade made me think we had arrived at Comet Falls. Not so, but at least our spectacular destination was only a short uphill walk away.

Comet Falls
Comet Falls made all the leg-burning and stair-stepping hiking worth it. The falls plunged 320 misty feet over the edge of Rampart Ridge with a couple of lesser waterfalls downstream of the main cascade. The trail worked its way up a grassy slope for a better look and once again, much photography ensued.

This pretty much sums up the
Comet Falls Trail experience
After a protracted photo shoot, Lane and I (bringing up the rear, our customary place in the hiking queue) trudged up the trail. If anything, the trail was steeper than before as it worked its way up and out of the Comet Falls basin. The slope was densely forested but the hike was sweet, thanks to plenty of ripe berries there for the picking.

Meadow gentian
Fortunately, all "good" things (like incredibly steep trails) come to an end sometime and as such, the trail crested right above an unnamed fork of Van Trump Creek, 1,900 feet higher and 2.5 miles away from our original starting point along Paradise Road. If you do the math, that's a 13% grade which would explain all the huffing and puffing.

Katsuaki surveys Van Trump Creek, above Comet Falls
Van Trump Creek is born of the Van Trump Glaciers, a collection of small glaciers right on the slopes of Mount Rainier. However, we had hiked fairly close to the cloud cover and the massive mountain was hidden from sight, lost in the gray clouds. No Rainier views for us today! The silted creek tumbled through a rocky draw, coming to an abrupt end at the top of Comet Falls. After crossing the milky creek on a log bridge, we entered the meadows of Van Trump Park. Katsuaki had caught up to us at this point and he made a brief exploration of the park while Lane and I sat down and gave our leg muscles a well-deserved break.

Trail on Rampart Ridge
When we resumed walking, we discovered low growing blueberry bushes with the sweetest tasting berries ever. The delicious fruits were in short supply and there was plenty of hair pulling, cheek slapping, ear tugging, and eye gouging in a brutal competition for the berries. We bid adieu to Katsuaki who went on to join Jennifer and John on top of nearby Mildred Point, probably to get away from me and Lane!

It would be all downhill on Rampart Ridge from here on in, and we rapidly lost elevation in a lush forest that reminded us of our own Umpqua National Forest, minus the ferns. Mushrooms were sprouting everywhere in yet another reminder summer is coming to a close. There were several bright yellow specimens of slime mold, looking all the world like some kind of bilious bear urp.

The Wonderland, Trail
I was really having to crank up the ISO setting on my camera, empirical proof the day was darkening. After we grabbed the Wonderland Trail, the rain started. Coming up the very steep trail were plenty of backpackers commencing the epic Wonderland Trail loop trek. The Wonderland Trail circumnavigates Mount Rainier in 93 miles with "only" 22,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain. They were starting out from Longmire and they were bent over, laden with heavy packs, straining and grunting from the labor of toting their burdens up a steep trail in the rain. I took one look at their misery and decided I want to do the Wonderland next summer. We'll see.

"...on Dunder!"

The rain was pouring steadily so I stowed the camera in my pack and just concentrated on getting back to Longmire as soon as possible. While wet, it wasn't particularly cold so I hiked in my shirt sleeves, getting thoroughly soaked in the process. Longmire is a combination resort and visitor center and there was hot chocolate available. I raised my mug in the direction of hidden Mount Rainier and shouted out a salutary toast "On Comet!" Everybody looked at me funny and moved away.

On Comet!
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. Yup, another hike on my radar for that future trip to Mt Ranier NP. Looks like some great views and since the trail was steep, the clouds were probably a welcomed sight...maybe not the rain.

  2. Enjoyed your latest hike recap. Makes me want to plan a return trip to Mt Rainer NP! Maybe for the fall colors....(if I'm not too late already)

  3. Lovely photos. Thank you so much for sharing.