Carbon River update

Posted by Ken Campbell September 27, 2010 0 Comment 1785 views

I was up before the sun on Saturday morning, on the road to Mount Rainier early, and at the end of the Carbon River Road by 7:00.

First things first: it’s about 18 miles round-trip from the Carbon River Ranger Station to the glacier, more than half of which is the old river road, which was closed for good in 2006. There are several spots along the way where washouts have damaged the gravel road, and two major slides that have obliterated all traces that an avenue was ever there. Most of the road, however, is in pretty good shape, so I took the ten-speed.

Bikes are allowed on the roadway up till Ipsut Creek Campground (and highly recommended.) Using Orange Crush not only saved significant time overall, it allowed me to cover more miles with less effort – always a good thing. Because the elevation gain along the entire route is so gradual, the biking was fairly easy on the way in, and a pleasant downhill slide on the way out.

Ipsut Creek Campground is still there, with its parking lot and wide lanes between campsites. Fire grates and picnic tables still occupy most of the sites, even though fires are no longer permitted. It’s strange to see all those motor-home sized facilities and know that no fat-bottomed Winnebago will ever park here again. There are quite a few people – the ones who want the Park Service to rebuild the road – who think that it is a sad thing that vehicles will not be able to access the place. I’m reluctant to antagonize them but I’ll just say that, if you can drive your Winnie there, it ain’t wilderness. Now, at least, Ipsut Creek has a chance.

It’s a long way, but it’s not a difficult trail. Taking the bike got me to Ipsut Creek in about 90 minutes, with a lot of photo stops along the way. Once there, I stashed the bike in the brush and started out on foot. The trail is well marked and easy to follow. Almost every view of the river showed evidence of its power and fury. Giant trees are scattered like toothpicks all along the watercourse, huge logjams piled atop one another by the force of the water.

Views of the mountain start about halfway between Ipsut Creek and the glacier. The achingly white dome of Rainier, the foreboding 4000-foot face of the Willis Wall and the overhanging snow fields above it: it takes the breath away, no matter how many times you’ve seen it.

The glacier itself is a dirty face. Gravel, dirt and rocks cover the surface, making it look almost as if it were made of coal. The black surface swallows the light, like so much negative space. But it is big. I stand at one overlook and follow the glacier’s route with my eyes, upward and bending, until it joins the mass of the mountain itself.

Everyone should spend a little time contemplating a glacier. It’s good for perspective, helps keep your head straight.

About Ken Campbell

View all post by Ken Campbell

New Release


A story of sea kayaking and science on the rugged coast of Alaska. Coming – Spring 2014.

Follow Us On Instagram

Follow me on Instagram

Blog Archives