CENTRALIA — Even on the lower reaches of the Pinnacle Peak Trail, where trees prevent expansive views of the mountains and runoff occasionally turns the tread to mud, the path provides plenty of payoff. Indian paintbrush lines the trail in swaths of red. Avalanche lilies add a bright splash of white and yellow, and the small pink flowers of heather bring their own dots of color to the scene.
One day last month, as clouds obscured the upper slopes of Mount Rainier to the north, I headed south toward the spires of the Tatoosh Range, accompanied by my friend Meghan and her kids, Sebastian and Frey. Marking the southern boundary of the national park, the range makes up the jagged series of summits visitors see when they look out from Paradise — that is, when the horizon-dominating outline of Rainier isn’t commanding their gaze in the other direction.
Most of the summits in the Tatoosh Range are inaccessible for the average day-hiker, demanding off-trail route-finding and climbing up steep, loose rock. But Plummer Peak, right in the middle of the range, is in striking distance from a short trail leading up from Reflection Lakes — with only a brief scramble to the top from where the maintained trail ends.
As we made our way up the mile and a half to the saddle, we walked by small streams that crossed — and at times commandeered — the trail. The path climbs steadily, but the incline is not overly severe. Sebastian and Frey went tearing up the slope at a run, pausing occasionally to skirt muddy sections or sit down for a breather.
Eventually, the trail climbs into rockier and more open terrain. Pinnacle Peak looms overhead as the path switchbacks up, crossing sporadic snow patches still lingering into the summer. The trail rises to meet the saddle, a point between Pinnacle and Plummer. The official maintained trail ends here, and each summit is accessible only through a climbers’ trail. While Pinnacle requires some technical climbing to reach the top, Plummer is a more attainable peak for those who want to stand on a mountain and survey the world below.
For those who aren’t up for the summit adventure, the saddle offers plenty to take in as well, with views of the range’s southern slopes, as well as Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens. In the other direction, Rainier still looms large, with Paradise visible far below. On this day, though, with clouds blocking our view to the north and south, we decided to continue up into the range we could at least see in the foreground.
Heading east, the faint trail toward Plummer Peak traces a steep ridgeline along the mountainside, before dipping down into a small basin. Here, plenty of snow still lingered, giving Frey a mid-July winter playground as Sebastian found my back with a few on-target snowball throws. I may or may not have returned fire.
From here, Meghan and I kept the group close together as we turned up toward the summit climb. I kicked steps in a small patch of snow, and we made our way across — not without a few slips — to the dry rock above.
A few more switchbacks and we emerged on a jagged spine of rock rising up toward the top. We slowly meandered our way up. Near the peak, Sebastian made claim to a well-positioned lookout perch as the rest of us continued to the top.
The final stretch made for a bit of an obstacle course, with roots and rocks to climb over, tree trunks to squeeze between and branches to duck under. With one more push, we reached the peak and flopped down to enjoy a well-deserved rest. Frey proclaimed that the mountaintop was a perfect spot to relax.
From the very top of Plummer Peak, the rest of the Tatoosh Range comes into full view, with its jagged peaks rising up one after another, lakes and meadows stretching out below. The summit offers a full panorama, an outcropping that feels like a small island amid a never-ending spread of forests and peaks.
Frey, ever curious and energetic, wanted to run around and see all he could, necessitating a watchful eye to keep him away from the ledges. Admirably, Meghan was able to keep him safe while giving him the sort of high-adventure experience most 5-year-olds can’t even dream of.
After soaking in the majestic scene, we decided to head down. Frey had climbed up under his own power, but we gave him a helping hand in a few spots on the descent to ensure he could climb down safely. Rejoined by Sebastian, we made our way back to the trail, despite my ill-fated attempt to guide us back on the wrong path.
Coming down from the saddle, a marmot scampered away below us, then another crossed the trail just a few feet ahead. A little further down, Frey leaped a puddle and took a long slide through the mud, somehow managing to stay on his feet.
We made our way back to the car, where an overfed gray jay watched suspiciously as we ate lunch. At the urging of the boys (and with little resistance from the adults), we drove to Paradise, where we procured ice cream and took in the full spread of the Tatoosh Range, looking back up at the summit from which we’d just descended.
Finally, we headed home, with the kids quickly falling fast asleep in the backseat. The mountains may be calling, but sometimes naptime calls too.