Some trail statistics (we might add to theses later):
Day 1 (Friday, 7/12): Sunrise Park to Mystic Lake – 10.7 miles – 4 hours
Day 2 (Saturday, 7/13): Mystic Lake to Eagles Roost – 11.3 miles – 8 hours
Day 3 (Sunday, 7/14): Eagles Roost to Golden Lakes – 11.5 miles – 4 hours 40 minutes
Day 4 (Monday, 7/15): Golden Lakes to South Puyallup – 11.8 miles – 6 hours
Day 5 (Tuesday, 7/16): South Puyallup to Paradise River – 17.2 miles – 7 hours 15 minutes
Day 6 (Wednesday, 7/17): Paradise River to Nickle Creek – 11 miles – 4 hours 45 minutes
Day 7 (Thursday, 7/18): Nickle Creek to Indian Bar – 6.7 miles – 3 hours 45 minutes
Day 8 (Friday, 7/19): Indian Bar to Sunrise – 14.2 miles – 6 hours 30 minutes
As you can see, there is a lot of variance in distances/times. Day 2 for example was a little shorter in distance than Day 3, but took us over 3 hours longer! Route finding was a major reason for this. On Day 2, we had elevation gains over large snowfields with zero view of the trail or footprints to follow. This meant a lot of scanning, scouting, and map and compass use.
Day 0 (Thursday, 7/11): Preparations
Backpackers on the Wonderland Trail are required to have permits that assign them to designated camp areas along the trail. As we ran into others hiking the trail, we realized we really lucked out in getting ours (Dave’s birthday present??). It seemed that everyone else requested their permits in March! After obtaining our permits, we drove to Morton, a nearby town, to purchase some trip supplies… aka food… from a local grocery store and have a “real meal.” We feasted on burgers and fries at the Cody Cafe, a small restaurant with great service and friendly faces. We then drove back into Mt. Rainier National Park, and headed up to Sunrise parking lot to organize our packs and sleep in the car for the night.
Day 3 (Sunday, July 14): Eagles Roost to Golden Lakes
A 7:20 am start began with an easy hike towards the trail split to Mowich Campground followed by downhill to South Mowich Camp. After crossing the river via several bridges, the five miles of continuous uphill began. Alex had quite the turnaround from yesterday’s struggles and cranked out the mileage. Eventually, the trail flattened out and we arrived at our camp.
We quickly settled into camp site #2, abandoning the #5 trend we had thus far, ate the last of our cheese wraps, filtered water and crawled into our tent for our typical afternoon nap. We heard some voices, and realized other hikers made it to camp and where picking out a site. A short while later we connected the voices to faces of two older gentlemen. In the short time we spoke, we decided we they were the type of people we would like to spend some time with and decided to meet up at their camp, #5, for dinner.
After an enjoyable evening spent sharing stories with the backpacking partners of 40+ years, we determined that if we had taken camp #5 (which turned out to have amazing views of the lake), we probably would not have gotten to meet and spend the evening in the company of Dick and John, and that would have been a loss.
We settled into our tent that night feeling we had an amazing day of hiking and sharing conversations with our campmates.
Day 4 (Monday, July 15): Golden Lakes to South Puyallup
We hit the trail at 7:15 am and hiked an easy 5 miles to North Puyallup Camp before beginning nearly 3 miles of uphill. Dick and John had told us of their treacherous ice/snow crossings along this section, so we were quite relieved to find that in the mid-day sun we met much better conditions. Slow, but steady progress along the snowfields took us up the mountain to Klapatche Lake and Camp. The lake and its surroundings were beautiful, perhaps our favorite sight thus far. We decided to soak in the beauty and enjoy some snacks from the edge of the trail.
We followed the trail uphill through more snowfields, but found them quite enjoyable and beautiful in this area. We even found ourselves doing both intentional and unintentional butt slides down them.
After all the great terrain since the lake, the trail turned less than stellar for the last mile and a half to our camp. After arriving at our camp, we had a lunchtime feast to fill our growling stomachs, took hobo showers, and washed our clothes in the stream next to our site to try to lower the level of stench we knew was growing. We could tell that our bodies were acclimating to the routine of backpacking. As we laid down for our regular afternoon naps, we did not find ourselves needing the extra sleep. This was a welcome sign, since tomorrow was the long day we had been somewhat dreading, 15ish miles on the trail.
Day 5 (Tuesday, July 16): South Puyallup to Paradise River
Either the coffee in the mocha moose pie we had for desert, or the anticipation of our long day, made us rammy that night, so we decided to sleep until our normal time, rather than our planned early start. We figured the extra sleep would be more important than the extra time. Despite the long mileage; over two miles longer than we had originally calculated, the day was going well. We both had minor breakdowns within the last few miles. Alex’s occurred when she was starving and realized more mileage remained than we had calculated in her head. Dave’s occurred when he has being bitten by mosquitoes and decided to don his fleece and head-net despite the warm weather. Alex later found remnants of mosquito smashed on his face.
We arrived in Longmire by 1:00 pm. This was an area we were told would be a welcome break from the trail, where we could find “real food.” We had grandiose dreams of the food we would consume. We had been told we could get a mediocre burger at the Mt. Rainier Inn, but we would think it was amazing. And that we did. After dropping our packs, taking off our boots, checking with the ranger station for updated weather and trail conditions, we headed to the inn. We feasted on bacon and bleu cheese burgers, fries, and homemade chips, washed down with Mt. Dew for Dave and iced tea for Alex. After cleaning our plates, we walked to the general store and bought ice cream from the cooler and a bag of Doritos we would save for later. We allowed ourselves to rest our feet while relaxing on the porch of the Inn until 3:00 pm.
Rejuvenated by the break and food, we hit the trail again. Before long we stopped to put on jackets and pack covers due to the rain that was beginning to fall. Despite the long day we already had, we cranked out the remaining 3.5 (easy) miles in about an hour and a half. The rain slowed to a stop when we arrived at camp, allowing us the opportunity to set-up the tent, pump, and splash (Alex) and submerge (Dave) in the river, before it began again. After calculating the day’s mileage again, we realized we actually had over 17 miles of hiking… not 15!
After settling into our tent that night, Alex was shaken from her sleep by Dave making a loud barking noise. It turns out he heard an elk stomping its hooves around camp and was concerned it would poke its big elk head under the vestibule of our tent and chew up his pack, thinking it was a saltlick because of all the sweat it had absorbed.
Note: At some point while we were in Longmire, Dave came out of the bathroom, asking “Do you see me??? Do you see me??? *lifts shirt* Look at me! I look like ‘Into the Wild’!!!” Having seen himself in the mirror for the first time in days he realized he had lost weight since our trip began. Even though we were eating and eating, it wasn’t enough to keep up with our activity level.
Day 6 (Wednesday, July 17): Paradise River to Nickel Creek
Tired from the long day, and waiting out the rain (the only rain we had the entire time on the trail!), we slept until 8:00 am. We putzed around camp, waiting for things to dry out a bit and did not leave until 9:45 am. It turned out this was our least favorite section of trail. If we could repeat, we would cut this section out. It was miserable bushwhacking through tall brush covering a rocky trail. We found it ironic that the section of trail we disliked, and seemed to have the worst terrain was nearest the most tourist accessible area of the park. We stopped at the Box Canyon area to cook up a lunch of potatoes and veggies before continuing on to our camp.
Once at camp we hung our still wet items to dry, and began to eat and eat and eat. Our bodies needed all the food we could supply them. We ate desert, then two dinners, followed by trail mix before heading to bed for the evening.
Day 7 (Thursday, July 18): Nickel Creek to Indian Bar
We began the day knowing we had less than 7 miles to cover and had a group shelter site for the night. This meant, no matter what the terrain, it wouldn’t be THAT bad. Plus, since we had a shelter, we wouldn’t need to set-up the tent, which meant preparing for our last (and long) day on the trail would be quicker.
The terrain today was picturesque, and quite enjoyable even though it involved quite a bit of snow and pretty much all uphill. We arrived at camp to realize we had an AMAZING stone shelter, away from all the other camps, with beautiful views everywhere we looked.
Because of the short mileage, we had plenty of time to enjoy our camp, eat, and relax. Knowing tomorrow was our last day on the trail, we ate almost all of the extra day worth food we brought along, just in case we would need it.
We spent some time checking out the area around our camp, which included a really awesome waterfall and box canyon. The waterfall, though shallow, was very powerful and intense… definitely not something we wanted to fall into!
We settled into our sleeping bags that night, knowing we would wake up early to begin the 14.2 miles to the car. We had mixed feelings about this, it would be great to have real food and showers, but we would miss the beauty and simplicity of life on the trail.
Day 8 (Friday, July 19): Indian Bar to Sunrise
We were up early and on the trail by 5:45 am. The day greeted us with a beautiful morning of hiking. This section may have been the most scenic of the trail. It also provided us with sightings of some fat marmots, and the trail markings of the passing of a large heard of elk.
Despite the scary section of traversing an ice field that sloped down to a bowl, spirits were high. Maybe our bodies were fully acclimated to this life of walking, or perhaps it was the knowledge that today would bring us back to the car, and to glorious food that the was not cooked via rehydration. The mileage to our first landmark, Summerland Camp, went quickly, and also signaled the end of snowfields. From this point we knew we would be hiking downhill and then onto fairly flat terrain for all but the last 2.5 miles. We knew those last 2.5 miles were all uphill to Sunrise, where we began our trek a week ago.
After descending from Summerland, the terrain was even easier than expected. It meandered through a pine forest below Goat Mountain, and was wide and flat. While in this section, we saw a hiker that looked familiar, but wait… that couldn’t really be the guy we saw starting the trail on our day 5. He’d be almost done the whole loop…
But it was! Turns out he was on his second to last day on the trail after cranking out 20ish miles per day. After stopping to talk to him for a few minutes, we continued our own crushing of mileage.
Before long, we started to hear cars and see day-hikers, signaling we were getting close to White Birch Campground. Tents, cars, rv’s and lots of people appeared… this meant 2.5 more miles to Sunrise! After a quick snack break we began the last uphill push. After 13+ miles, Alex started to slow down, and Dave was still crushing, motivated by the approximately one mile distance from the car. With lots of “motivation” from Dave, Alex started cruising again within the last quarter mile… And there was the parking lot…. and car! Off with packs, off with boots!
With a great feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment, we headed down the road to grab iced teas and a bag of Doritos from the first store we could find. For the record, we downed that bag in under 7 minutes.