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To the North
Unicorn Peak - a bit of mountaineering

The next stage of our adventure involves getting acquainted with the more alpine aspects of the Cascades. Third Beach and Mount Saint Helens were basically all about hiking. Now we were going to get a bit more "technical", for lack of a better word.
Wis-Wis campground
Rainier and wildflowers
Mount Rainier and Little Tahoma Peak.
Peter and Markus had not had much experience mountaineering, and so I thought we could try a fairly modest peak of short length that had a bit of steep snow, a bit of scrambing, and a bit of route finding. The location: Unicorn peak, a rugged peak with a tiny summit immediately to the south of Mount Rainier (in fact, the peak is within Mount Rainier National Park).

According to my guidebook, this peak would not take very long and would cover the range of terrain that I was interested in introducing to Markus and Peter... however I had not yet calibrated the book with my and my companions' expectations.
Unicorn Peak
Unicorn Peak
On the trail to snow lake
Under another perfectly beautiful cloudless day, we set out on the snow lake trail. Scenery is of course beautiful, with massive Mount Rainier looming 10,000 feet above behind us.

Soon we reach a small snow slope above Snow Lake and proceed to do some practice: kicking steps on snow, proper movement on snow, proper usage of an ice ax, and self-arrest. The idea is to introduce these concepts here on a fairly easy slope so that later on (during the day and during the upcoming week) Markus and Peter will have some experience and skill upon which to draw when the terrain gets more technical. Markus and Peter both do well, although we burn up an hour or two practising.
Snow practice
Snow practice
Snow practice
courtesy MWandel
Snow practice
Peter on Snow
The route up Unicorn peak involves some 3rd class scrambling to get from Snow Lake up to the high alpine bench above. Unfortunately, I incorrectly choose a slightly more difficult route, which again causes us some time delay.

Tricky scrambling behind us, Unicorn peak looms above us, an impossibly high and tiny looking spire from this angle.
courtesy MWandel
Steep snow near summit
Markus and Rainier
Markus and Rainier
After a very steep snowslope, we gain access to the backside of the peak via a very pretty alpine pass. At this point, though, it is getting late, and as we get closer to the summit block itself, I wonder about the passage which states that the final few moves are very exposed and maybe 5th class.
Alpine-style pass
Markus and alpine-style pass
Unicorn Peak Summit block
We get there, and, indeed, a rope is advisable. The problem is....Peter and Markus are still new to this, and time is getting on (well past 4pm, approaching 5pm). And so, being prudent, we decide to skip the actual summit block and scramble to the top of the nearby 10-foot lower secondary summit..... Markus is understandably disappointed but still strikes a happy pose on the sub-summit (See picture). All around is a fantastic panorama: the Tatoosh range, Mount Rainier, and the Cascade volcanos in the distance.
courtesy MWandel
Another summit block shot.
Markus on sub-summit
Hiking back....
back down the steep snowfields...
Mt Rainier mirrored
Tired but finished
We get back to the car with less than an hour of light to spare, so we may have been able to do the summit after all.... well, I guess that's a reason to return to this scenic area someday, right?
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Unicorn Peak - click map to view
Hike Data - Unicorn Peak
Start Time: 9:47a.m.
End Time: 7:34p.m.
Duration: 9h47m
Distance: 9.27 km (5.76 mi)
Average Speed: 0.9 km/hr (0.6 mph)
Start Elevation: 4425ft (1349m) *
Max Elevation: 6904ft (2104m) *
Min Elevation: 4425ft (1349m) *
End Elevation: 4582ft (1396m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 2635ft (803m) *
Total Elevation Loss: 2498ft (761m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Elevation Graph
Elevation over distance - Unicorn Peak
Elevation over time - Unicorn Peak
It was now time to head further north, to the North Cascades, where both an easy half-day hike and a bigger 3-day climbing adventure awaited us.
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