Trails for everyone, forever

Home Go Hiking Trip Reports Pinnacle Saddle

Trip Report

Pinnacle Saddle

Mount Rainier Area

Trip Report By

Hiked Jul 4, 2019

Type of Hike


Trail Conditions

Trail in good condition


Road suitable for all vehicles


Bugs were an annoyance


Intermittent snow - not hard to cross

A Tahoma backcountry overnight.

With poor weather hitting everything north of the 90, we postponed our Alpine Lakes Wilderness objective in favor of some nicer weather forecasted at the mountain, and as always, she did not disappoint.

We saddled up and left Reflection Lakes parking lot at 1508, and enjoyed our slow and steady pace up the Pinnacle Saddle trail. Avalanche Lilies coated the meadows and side trail. I have never seen a spring bloom so dense like this before. Plenty of Beargrass and Indian Paintbrush to be seen as well. The park is quite awake!

Trail was in relatively good condition. There were a handful of muddy sections that tried to claim a boot or two, but we clipped on. Additionally, still en route to the saddle, there were four or five notable persistent snow patches that have not yet melted out. Unfortunately they all remain over some of the more variable, rocky terrain on this hike. The beaten path in the snow cuts high on the remaining snow, but with these patches thinning, they will give way to less stable footing. As best as you are able, try to stick to the evidently established trail and avoid the snow.

It should be noted that this trail is entirely north facing into Steven's Canyon. Thick clouds persisted all the way to the saddle, once there and around the corner headed towards Pinnacle, we could see the funnel effect that the saddle was having on the clouds and air current. The saddle between Pinnacle and Plumer funneled the air southward and up creating quite the swirling effect in the clouds. Bizarre to watch.

Now on the south side of the Tatoosh, we continued on to the Castle Saddle (between Castle and Foss), and the go-to winter afternoon objective. It should be noted that the winter route is entirely out at this point and all of the wildflowers and underbrush are out and exposed. The Snow Lakes, Pinnacle Saddle, and Eagle Peak trails are once again the primary access points for activities along the Tatoosh Range.

The evening was cool and calm, with thick, persistent cloud cover except for one cloud break during blue hour at supper time. The mountain peaked out to check up on us, which was quite the welcome sight after being stuck inside the pingpong ball all afternoon and evening. Cloud cover and low winds continued through the night.

0500, first light had come and gone, but sunrise hadn't quite just yet. We woke to clear skies, a few cirrus clouds, and an unobstructed view of Washington's crown jewel. That first unzip of the tent door in the morning with a clear view makes wading through the clouds all worth it. We scurried around taking photos, enjoying the morning view of the mountain and the light progressively making its way across Colombia Crest, down Nisqually and the Muir Snowfield, and eventually on to the low hanging clouds lumbering through Steven's Canyon below. As the early morning continued on, we were lucky enough to see a four tiered lenticular form over the summit. This was quite the sight to see in real life. Knowing we had friends (Laurel Yae and company) making a summit push, we hoped for the best for them with heavy clouds moving in and enjoyed the show from a safe distance. 

We had our campsite cleaned and saddled up by 1200 and had returned to Reflection Lakes by 1430. We passed quite a few folks on their way up to the saddle in their tennis shoes and with a single 12oz plastic water bottle. This trail really is beyond the best uses of normal tennis shoes. Ankle high hiking boots and a liter of water per person (in my estimation) would be the bare minimum for those hoping to gain the saddle. If you plan going beyond the saddle in either direction, you will need moderate climbing, navigation, and safety experience. The sign at the saddle indicates the end of the maintained trail, which becomes evident in a hurry as this terrain has rightfully been left to be wild and untamed. 

As always, some of the best views in the park from the Tatoosh range, endless scrambling, technical climbing, and mountain running to be had. Without doubt my favorite section of the park, and an area in which I plan to spend more time in the coming days.


charlieystella on Pinnacle Saddle

nice report! Where exactly did you camp? Did you need to get a permit for your site?

Posted by:

charlieystella on Jul 10, 2019 09:08 PM