From below, the summit area with it's crusty looking rocks certainly give the look of it being a desolate area. But from up on top looking around at the lush green mountains and the white bulk of Mt. Rainier in your face and you'll be thinking the name Desolate belongs on a desert peak somewhere far from here. This isn't a difficult climb but the distance and elevation gain required to reach the summit makes it a challenging objective. The reward is the amazing vantage point of the north face of Rainier and it's often thundering avalanches during the warm afternoons.
To reach the Carbon River Trail, head south on state Route 410 from Sumner, taking a right on state Route 165 near Buckley, driving south through the towns of Wilkeson and Carbonado to a junction 10 miles south. Take the left fork on the Carbon River Road (the right is the Mowich Lake Road), and drive eight miles to the entrance of Mount Rainier National Park. This is the current starting point. The Carbon River road was washed out by the 2006 flood. The Carbon River Road inside the National Park is a massive money pit. It has been repaired so many times and flooded out the following winters. Sections up to a quarter mile have become a river carving out beneath the road up to 10 feet deep, requiring hundreds of dump truck loads of fill to re-establish the road...only to have it do the same thing the following year. Nobody likes the idea of cutting a new road in a better location through the ancient old growth so the road remains! It is currently closed (in 2016) but you can hike or bike the roadway the 5 miles to the Ipsut Creek Campground and trailhead. Theirs a good chance the road will never be repaired if land is purchased just outside the park for a new campground.
Distance: 6 miles + 5 more on road
Elevation Gain: 4,800 feet
Summit Elevation: 7,137 feet
Access: Paved or Good Gravel
WillhiteWeb.com: Mount Rainier Hikes
From Ipsut Creek trailhead, hike 3.6-miles to the Carbon Glacier, one of the largest and lowest-elevation glaciers in the lower 48 states. There is a trail on both sides of the river just before the glacier...see map, both trails work. Continue climbing past the glacier terminus...and the majority of tourists at the swinging bridge, as the trail climbs forests east of the glacier. In a few more miles, the meadows come out and so does Rainier towering above. To start climbing Old Desolate, there are many ways to scramble up. A good scenic route would be through Moraine Park. At around the 5,400 foot level of the Wonderland Trail, leave the trail and climb up into Moraine Park. This will be the only brush you encounter. Once in Moraine Park, you are in a paradise with meandering streams, alpine flowers and campsite possibilities all around. Hike SE as far as you can until you are forced to start climbing talus and boulders to the summit. Class 2 with some class 3 options. You could also continue up the Wonderland Trail to near the 6100 foot pass that drops down to Mystic Lake. This route is all boulder hopping and was my ascent route but the lure of the meadows in Moraine Park made the decent much nicer.
On the summit
Mount Rainier from Old Desolate
Russell Glacier of Mt. Rainier
Wonderland Trail views
Meadows along the Wonderland Trail
Old Desolate from the Wonderland Trail
Climbing above Moraine Park
The Lookout Inventory shows a 1930s camp here that was abandoned. I have not found anything supporting this yet, more to come if found. I do have an interesting map below that might show it.
This old park map shows fire lookouts as a black triangle with a circle around it. Lookouts shown are Mt. Fremont, Tolmie Peak, Gobblers Knob and Anvil Rock. It looks like there is a lookout icon to the east of Mystic Lake. If so, this is the only place I've ever seen the lookout shown.