The Wonderland Trail in Mount Rainier National Park: a strenuous trail through a land that is truly full of wonder and magic. In one day, you can traverse through rock fields, past glaciers and over raging rivers; up into airy old-growth forests or soggy bushwhacks; past waterfalls and looming cliffs to pristine, expansive meadows with impressive mountain views; then, back down into mystical, forested canyons along bubbling streams--and on and on.
I recently headed to Rainier to spend 6 days on the trail. With everything I needed to stay healthy for a week and a camera in hand as well, it was quite the adventure, albeit a challenging and physically demanding one.
Day 1: Sunrise Park to Mystic Camp (~10 miles)
"Every great journey begins with a single step."
So said my uncle when he dropped me and my dad off at Sunrise Park. I had no idea then what kind of "great journey" I was in for!
When my dad said he needed to turn back only a couple of miles in, I felt a strange sense of calm and comfort about continuing alone. It just felt like "what I had to do." For me, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.
My dad tried to talk me out of it, so I hit him on the head with a rock and ran away...
...just kidding. Ha ha. But eventually, after he gave up on reasoning with me, we fist bumped, hugged, and then I was walking up the trail alone.
There would've been great views of the mountain all throughout this stretch of the hike, but the air was filled with wildfire smoke on this day and the mountain was practically invisible even when it was actually dominating the scenery before your eyes. I saw a lot of mountain goats though!
Day 2: Mystic Camp to Ipsut Creek Camp (~8 miles with a detour)
[[Awakens in a small camp nestled in the hillside beneath huge, old trees]]
Thoughts: "Holy sh*t, I'm really here. I'm really doing this. Only... *gulp*... 50 miles to go!"
By day 2, I had quickly learned the importance of two things: 1) staying organized at all times, and 2) keeping track of my water levels and where the next source of drinkable water would be (i.e. any creek or river with clear, moving water)--especially where the closest water source was from camp, since extra water was needed for dinner and breakfast.
Everybody I pass wants to know, "Where are you headed?"
Day 3: Ipsut Creek Camp to South Mowich River Camp -- via Spray Park (15 miles)
Spray Park... WOW. If I had just kept following the Wonderland trail, the route to my next campsite would've been only 9 miles long with a bit less elevation gain, but instead I opted for a 15 mile diversion hike (with a few miles of backtracking) that gained about 3,000' elevation and then descended back down again, just to hike through Spray Park.
What they call "parks" along the Wonderland trail are actually pristine high alpine meadows with picturesque views of Mount Rainer. Spray Park is definitely superior: miles and miles of pristine, lush, colorful meadows filled with adorable trees, babbling brooks and serene waterfalls, surrounded by sky-high cliffs--and Rainier is so close, it feels like you can throw a rock at it.
It took so dang long to get through this day in the hot sun with a heavy pack (and a lot of stops for pictures), I ended up hiking in the dark for a few miles and almost couldn't find my campsite. After quickly eating dinner in the dark below the "bear hanger" (every site had one), I hung my bag of food, set up camp as fast as ever, and plopped down for sleep.
Day 4: South Mowich River Camp to North Puyallup River Camp (11.5 miles)
Following the previous day through Spray Park, this day was "easy." However, my muscles were finally starting to feel the burn after several long days of pushing my limits. It was a good idea to bring packets of Emergen-C and sea salt for replenishing electrolytes, or else I really would've been struggling.
While gazing at Mount Rainier, I noticed how it looks, sounds and feels especially... alive, and full of... "character." Its many facets (like cliffs, canyons and glaciers) come in or out of view for an entirely different scenery from every slightly different viewing angle. Clouds dance around the mountain in especially peculiar ways. The sound of wind moving around it and whipping through its canyons is almost eerie.
Sometimes you can hear the deep rumble of massive glaciers cracking and breaking up above, or other times its rushing glacial rivers dominate the background noise from below.
Then, there's all of the surrounding land that is so wild, diverse, and full of neverending treasures to be discovered. Truly a special place.
Day 5: North Puyallup River Camp to Devil's Dream (13.5 miles)
...The last full day, and also the most grueling day. It started early in the morning by passing a rather enchanting waterfall along a glacial river, which was a sweet n' lovely treat right before beginning the brutal climb over more peaks than I had done in any other stretch yet.
By this time my legs finally felt like noodles and I had just barely rationed enough snacks for this day. You may not be able to tell in the photo above, but I was exhausted (a photo opportunity was also an excuse to take my backpack off for a few minutes, ha ha).
Cravings: potato chips and chocolate peanut butter cups. Lasagna. Chicken fried steak n' country gravy. The Himalayan food I was looking at the night before I started this trip.
Many rest breaks were had, which often just meant stopping to stretch and look around for 20 seconds. I broke out the trekking pole I had attached to my bag because I just needed something to lean on sometimes, dang it. Hah! I stopped near a creek for an early dinner and coffee a few miles before camp because water was scarce for a handful of miles in both directions, and I was hungry!
That evening as I hiked downhill through the Indian Henry's hunting grounds and away from my last views of Rainier, the mountain was suddenly veiled in clouds... an interesting farewell.
Day 6: Devil's Dream into Longmire, WA (5 miles)
I awoke to rain on my tent early in the morning.
Although the thought of leaving was sad, I was excited to shower and eat something other than "trail food" so I packed up and left early. As I hiked the last few miles downward into town, it really felt like I was leaving behind a magical wonderland and coming back down to the real world.
Passersby who were just starting up the trail were asking, "How was it back there? Pretty awesome?" All I could do was do was nod, give a dumbfounded look and say, "It's worth it." It was perhaps the most challenging hiking experience I've had yet, but oh, so worth it.
If you have the opportunity to backpack any of this trail (camping requires permits) and you're fit for the challenge, I encourage you to see it for yourself! Scroll down if you'd like to see a few more pictures from the trip!
Until next time, happy adventures!