Memoirs of a Pilgrim


Camping in Snow at Summit Lake

October 15th 2020

This lake typically draws large crowds, but going on a chilly fall weekday gave me the entire lake to myself as I slept through a fresh snowfall and woke up to a spectacular view of Mt. Rainier from my tent.


This trail is a high reward for relatively low-effort. The 3 miles it takes to get to the summit are all at a very gradual incline and they pass by quickly. On overcast days, you’ll get an alpine lake with plenty of space to spread out on the shore. With a clear day, you get the lake with Rainier overlooking it and a slew of other mountain ranges in the distance to marvel at. This is a prime backpacking trail for those reasons. With winter conditions hitting the mountains this week, I knew I was going to have to carry more gear with me. So this trail was the perfect choice to handle a heavy pack and to have the option to bail, should the conditions get more severe than I was anticipating.


The two hour drive takes you south of Seattle, where you’ll wind through adorable small towns, gorgeous forests and some very… historic looking bridges. The last leg of the drive is a forest road that is actively being logged. That means it’s very rocky and has a lot of debris. I’m talking full-on fallen trees that have been cleared just enough to still pass through to the trailhead. I suggest sticking with a high clearance vehicle. A Northwest Forest Pass or America the Beautiful Pass are accepted here. There are ranger stations nearby to get day passes.

05 summit lake trail


The trailhead is pretty bare, there’s a board with a few rules and warnings. And that’s it. There isn’t a toilet or any garbage cans. So if you’re staying overnight, have something to keep your trash in to drive it out. Most of the trail is a very do-able incline up through a forest. There are a couple of water crossings that have logs to balance on to cross. But again, manageable. Before you know it, you’ll be approaching the lake, where your first sights will be a meadow and a shoreline. If you’re camping overnight, this is the best spot to grab water as you continue further up the trail to the established campsites. As you continue up the trail, it winds around and climbs up over the lake. There are several viewpoints you can stop at along the way to get increasingly more gorgeous and dramatic views.

As you approach the summit, the trail gets more steep, but it’s a short push to reach the top. Once there, Rainier will dominate the view on a clear day. If you’re not as lucky, you’ll see a lot of fog and trees.


Since I was totally alone, I had every established campsite available to me. I chose a spot not far from the summit that looked promising for a view of Rainier. It was totally overcast when I hiked in and set up camp, so if the sky cleared, the view was going to be a total surprise for me. Another perk of this spot was that I didn’t feel any wind at it, which was nice with temperatures forecasted to dip below freezing overnight. Not long after I set upt the tent, I cozied up in my sleeping bag and made myself some gourmet trail cuisine of Mountain House lasagna in meat sauce, or as I endearingly call it, lasagna soup! It is actually pretty dang good for being a freeze-dried meal. I packed just about every puffy item I owned and layered up. I also heated water to fill-up a nalgene with, and then wrapped that in a puffy vest to put at the bottom of my sleeping bag. It kept my feet from freezing and was still warm in the morning! After I finished my dinner, I treated myself to an ice cold (literally) IPA. Nothing like a warm nalgene, cold beer, puppy cuddles, and a kindle full of books to keep you company throughout the night. Even with the nalgene, I was never really warm. I wasn’t freezing, but still definitely chilly. The sleeping bag I brough did have 30 degrees as being the lowest, so it’s limit was being pushed. I have a different bag that can handle colder, but it doesn’t have nice arm holes like this one. Looks like I’m going to have to swap them if I’m going to do any more overnights.

09 summit lake camp


I slept in a little past the start of sunrise, but opened my tent just in time to catch the most incredible golden light cascading over Mt Rainier. There was a fresh layer of snow on the ground, which made the view even dreamier. Sleeping in freezing temps instantly became worth it. I started gathering everything I needed for making breakfast and setup on the rocky corner of the campsite that gave the most incredible view of Mt Rainier, Summit Lake, and the surrounding mountains. I boiled water for my Mountain House blueberry granola (best of their breakfasts I’ve had) and some fresh, pour-over coffee (Kuju brand is a backpacker’s dream for trail coffee). I remained at this corner, drinking my coffee, for another hour or so, until the sunrise turned into daylight. I was so enamoured by this view, that I completely forgot to revisit the summit of this trail to checkout the view I had missed out on the day before, when it was too overcast to see anything.


It was so hard to pack everything up and head back down. The urge to spend the rest of the day there was strong, but I was anticipating people would be starting to come up. And they were. On the way down there were already at least 10 separate groups going up. Which confirmed how lucky I was to get the entire stay at the lake to myself



00 forest 03 no campfires


04 summit lake beach 06 summit lake view fog

Morning Sunrise

07 summit lake golden 08 summit lake ash 10 rainier 11 summit lake mountains


12 breakfast 13 coffee


14 mountains 15 mountain ranges 16 forest fog