Trip Report    

Winter Scramble - McClure Rocks and The Sugarloaf

A two-summit day in Mount Rainier National Park. Sunny and windy, with very stable snow.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • The road to Longmire was snow free with very minimal snow on the side of the roads. The gate to Paradise opened promptly at 9 AM. The road to Paradise was also snow free. The sign at the Longmire gate noted the downhill gate would close at 5 PM, whereas the NPS website had said it would be 4:30. This additional time allowed us to safely make our two summits without putting us in danger of missing the gate closure.

An experienced group of seven scramblers met at Longmire at 8:30 AM with hopes that we would have time to get our gear organized, consolidate cars, and do our pre-trip intros and planning at Longmire before the gate opened so that we could get to Paradise and start walking immediately. Not everyone was ready right at 8:30, so we were only able to do brief intros before the gate opened. We hustled up to Paradise and finished up the planning discussion once we reached Paradise.

We started walking at around 10 AM, following the Alta Vista trail rather than the Skyline trail. The snow was solid and did not require any foot traction. Because the avalanche danger was so low, instead of following the boot path to rejoin the Skyline trail, we opted to practice traversing steep slopes. I gave people the option to choose whether they put on crampons, snowshoes, or microspikes, or just continue with their boots because the runout was so safe. It took some time, but we were able to gain the ridge without any slips.


We rejoined the conga line and were soon at the base of Panorama Point. Everybody went at their own pace up the steep hill and met up at the top. Again, the traction selection was user's choice, and everyone seemed happy with their decision whether they chose snowshoes, microspikes, or boots (my selection). 


The wind really picked up at Panorama Point, blasting the top layer of snow into our faces. We breaked just long enough to regroup and continued on to McClure Rocks. The slow pace combined with our steep slope practice meant that we didn't reach McClure Rocks until between 12:45-1:05 PM, and our turnaround time was 1:30 PM.

The Sugarloaf (L) and McClure Rocks (R)

It was so windy that nobody was really willing to stay at the summit and wait for the slower party members, opting to hide just below the summit instead. With the bluebird day it was easy to stay in sight of each other and nobody ever got too far ahead despite the widely varying paces of the group. Unfortunately, because of the differing paces and the blustery wind, we didn't get a summit selfie with everyone.


I was ready to turn us all around as soon as the last party member summitted McClure Rocks, but I had also advertised this as a team-oriented trip with everyone having a say in decision making. Generally, the faster people wanted to go ahead and summit the Sugarloaf. We had clear sight of the summit from McClure Rocks, and it seemed like it would only take around 20 minutes. We discussed having the slower people wait behind rocks that would protect us from the wind while everyone who wanted to summit the Sugarloaf went quickly to the top, but in the end, even the slower people opted to continue walking slowly uphill rather than stay in one place, so as to not get cold. We also extended our turnaround time to 1:45 because I'd set the original 1:30 turnaround time based on a gate closure of 4:30 instead of the actual time of 5.


The Sugarloaf was indeed a quick walk. Everybody reached the summit before our turnaround time of 1:45 PM, and because we were all together we were able to descend from the summit toward the main bootpath on the Muir snowfield, making the rest of our trip very straightforward. We took a quick lunch break hidden behind some rocks before starting our descent. Once we reached Panorama Point, several of us took out our helmets, ice axes, and rain pants and got some very fast and slippery glissades in. The team rated them as anywhere from really fun to the scariest glissade they've ever done. I haven't checked, but I might have some bruises from the last long glissade down from Panorama Point. We reached Paradise at 3:30 PM, well before the gate closure and rain that the clouds in the distance were foreboding.


Overall, this was a great trip with good team dynamics and a lot of opportunity to practice winter snow skills and decision making. Because it was only around 6 miles and 2500' of elevation gain, it didn't feel like a death march the way that some trips up the Muir snowfield can be.