Blue's Boots

Andrea's adventures on the trail…

Wonderland Trail 2012

The Wonderland Trail is a 93-mile circumnavigation loop around Mt. Rainier.  There is approximately 22,000 feet of elevation gain and loss in the course of the whole trail. I never dreamed that some day I’d be able to do the whole thing, after having 2 foot surgeries and 6 knee surgeries. But… never say never, because Frani, Deb, Dayna and I got a permit for August 2012 and WE DID IT!

This is by far one of the most gorgeous backpack trips in the USA, and after having done the whole thing (with not a single drop of rain, I might add), I am beyond spoiled now. Virtually every other hike I do gets compared to the Wonderland Trail, and even though I’ve been to some amazing places around the world, nothing else can quite compare to what it’s like to hike entirely around the base of such a gorgeous PNW volcano, seeing it from a 360 degree view.

13 days of sweaty, dirty clothes, dehydrated food, blisters, losing toenails, sleeping in teeny tents on the ground, filtering water from streams, using trees and boulders as bathroom doors, donating pints of blood to the local vampire-blood-sucking-‘skeeters = HEAVEN!

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DAY 1 – MOWICH LAKE TO CARBON RIVER CAMP… and we’re off!!! Deb, Dayna, Frani, and I started out at Mowich Lake (thanks to Kara for driving us) with fully-loaded backpacks.

We headed to Ipsut Pass, deciding to not take the higher Spray Park route due to a heavy winter snowpack. Hiking down from Ipsut Pass toward the Carbon River is enough to make even the most seasoned backpacker lose a few toenails.

It’s a long way downhill into the Carbon River rainforest area, and once we got down into the valley we caught our first look at the Mountain herself. There’s a detour at the Carbon River, looping around to cover a mile or so on the Northern Loop Trail. The highlight of our first day was getting to cross the Carbon River suspension bridge just before Carbon River camp…  fun!!!

After a long almost-10-mile first day, we literally fell into the first campsite we found, pitched our tents, scrounged up some quick dinner, hung our food bags, and crashed. I didn’t sleep all night, plotting the many ways I could bail out at this point because of extreme hip bursitis and IT band tendinitis that had flared up in a bad way the last few miles of today’s hike.

When I woke up the next morning and realized that a chipmunk had gotten into my food bag (hanging from a bear pole!) and chewed through, stealing my highly-prized cheddar cheese, I decided that I wasn’t going to let the trail stop me that easily, so onward we went toward Mystic Lake on Day 2.

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DAY 2 – CARBON RIVER TO MYSTIC LAKE I was really hesitant about starting toward Mystic Lake this morning, worried about my bursitis and tendinitis flaring up again, knowing it would get me even further away from an evacuation point if I couldn’t go on. But the Mountain was calling me, and I just couldn’t quit. Thank goodness I was fine the rest of the trip.

We headed back over the Carbon River suspension bridge first thing in the morning. Love this thing!

It’s a rocky, uphill hike almost the whole way between Carbon River and Mystic Lake. Carbon Glacier is up close and personal, makes you feel small with that huge thing looming so tall next to us.

Now on more rocky uphill to Moraine Park, a gorgeous area before one of the steepest sections of the WLT.

We found a most excellent lunch spot, gorgeous stream, wonderful huge warm rocks to sprawl on, and time to doctor the feet up a bit.

Heading up toward Moraine Park, we were tired but in awe of the beauty everywhere. After Moraine Park, we headed up one of the steeper parts of the WLT, just under a mile long. The views looking back down into Moraine Park and the top of Carbon Glacier are stunning.

Finally to Mystic Lake… we survived our second day!

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DAY 3 – MYSTIC LAKE TO GRANITE CREEK Starting to get into the swing of things on Day 3, very much looking forward to hitting the trail this morning and seeing more of the northern side of Rainier.

One very nice thing about all the campsites on the WLT is that there are bear poles at every campground, so no need to lug heavy bear canisters along for the ride. There are also pit toilets/outhouses at each campground. It’s definitely luxury backpacking!

We started out this morning by heading toward Winthrop Creek and Winthrop Glacier. Crossing Winthrop Creek was a bit slow, very rocky washed-out riverbed, but all went well. Not quite sure why it’s called a “creek” when it’s obvious that at certain times of the year it can be a raging river.

Crossing through a wonderful rocky, subalpine area, we ran into a troop of boy scouts who took one of the best group shots of the 4 of us from the entire trip. It was a sunny, glorious day with some incredible views of our Mountain.

Winthrop Glacier – the trail takes you right up the side of the glacier. This thing is LOUD, even though the trail is a safe distance, every time rocks would fall it would echo for a long time.

At Granite Creek Campground, we all like this area and recommend it as a good spot to stay, it’s a nice hike from the Sunrise area for a quick overnight backpack trip.

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DAY 4 – GRANITE CREEK TO WHITE RIVER CAMPGROUND This was our first re-supply, and where Dayna had to leave the trail to get back to work. It was a beautiful hike up from Granite Creek, across Skyscraper Pass, through Berkeley Park, to Frozen Lake, and then not-so-beautiful on the long downhill slog to White River Campground. If I ever do the Wonderland again, I’ll bypass that 3-mile section.

Skyscraper Pass is magical to me. I’ve been back several times as a dayhike after first passing through on my Wonderland hike. Hands-down best view around, and made even better with a good book and a JetBoil to brew up a cuppa tea!

Berkeley Park in full bloom is hard to describe, another magical place. It’s so green and full of life, compared to the barren Burroughs Mountain above it.

Frozen Lake between Berkeley Park and the Sunrise area is like a major city intersection, with a 5-way trail junction and a lot of tourists. This is where Deb’s backpack was chewed through by an assault-commando-chipmunk who stole her trail mix, then quite proudly showed off his winnings.

The final few miles from Sunrise Walk-In Camp down to White River Campground I’ll never do again. It’s not very pretty, it was hot and muggy without a drop of breeze, and my toes are still working on forgiving me. The only thing that got me through it was knowing my kids were down there waiting with a car full of fresh supplies.

Camping at the backpacker section of White River Campground wasn’t my favorite thing, with all the smoke from fires from the car campers and noise that we weren’t used to. But it was worth it for the fresh avocados that we were able to trade for homemade chocolate granola with the people camping next to us.

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DAY 5 – WHITE RIVER CAMPGROUND TO SUMMERLAND –  This was one of my favorite days, and I’m still giddy about Summerland Campground. The first 2 miles out of White River campground are about the most level part of the Wonderland Trail. Once you get to Fryingpan Creek (along with at least a million day-hikers), the trail is up up up to Summerland.

The lower part of the trail near Fryingpan Creek is pretty, but things really begin to get beautiful above that, where the WLT veers away from the creek.

Summerland is inundated with day-hikers , but as soon as afternoon rolls around most people leave. This is one of the hardest campsites to get reservations at, with good reason, it’s one of the most beautiful areas in Mt. Rainier National Park.

Waking up in the morning at Summerland (campsite #5 – you can’t have it, it’s MINE!!!) was magical. Sunrise was spectacular, and the almost-full moon was showing off against crystal blue skies.

This is one of those “must do every year” spots for me, even though it’s one of the larger and more crowded campsites in MRNP.

Last but not least… one of the ritziest bathroom facilities on the WLT… the Summerland outhouse.

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DAY 6 – SUMMERLAND TO INDIAN BAR… A hard but incredibly beautiful day, and also our shortest distance day on the WLT. There was a heavy snow pack and a late spring season in 2012, so on this day we ended up covering about 3 miles of solid snow, right out of Summerland, up across Panhandle Gap, and all the way until we started the descent into Indian Bar. It was 90 degrees out, and by the time we crossed Panhandle Gap we were stuffing snow into our hats and bandanas trying to keep cool, and hoping we weren’t getting sunburned up our noses and in our ears from the glare off the snow.

This is the highest point on the WLT, almost 7000 feet. The traverse across snow at Panhandle Gap was slow but steady, with a huge cornice off to our right which was a bit intimidating. The view up at the top, though, was worth the effort, our first sighting of Mt. Adams to the south 🙂

Across a lot more snow, and then we got confused since the trail wasn’t marked, just foot prints every which direction in the snow. Just as we were about to head down the wrong way (stay high after Panhandle!!!) we heard a loud whistle and a Rangel’s (Ranger-Angel) head popped over a steep snow-covered hillside, miraculously waving us in the right direction at exactly the moment we needed guidance. Miracles do happen on the trail 🙂

The descent down into Indian Bar is toe-jamming for sure, down hundreds of tall steps built by 7-foot-tall men, not 5-foot-4 inch women, no doubt. The the scenery and the view is incomparable heading down into the valley, making you forget that you WISH you couldn’t feel your toes at this point.

And last but not least, by far the best “potty” view on the WLT is from the toilet at Indian Bar camp.

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DAY 7 – INDIAN BAR TO BOX CANYON This was a hard day for us, since at the end of the day we decided for various health reasons to come off the trail. This was also the only day that it threatened to rain on us in the morning, heading out of Indian Bar, but it never amounted to a single raindrop.

We hit snow again immediately climbing out of Indian Bar up toward Cowlitz, and in a few spots it was tricky keeping on trail. Once we got to the top, the trail opened up along the Cowlitz Divide and becomes a nice, slow, steady, and long way down toward Box Canyon.

We also had some incredible views of Mt. Adams today, especially wonderful because of the dark weather, but there was a sunny spot right over Adams that made it look lit up like a Christmas tree 🙂

We had another angel today, in the form of Sharon who was meeting us at Box Canyon with a car full of fresh food. Little did she know that 3 women would be hitchhiking back home with her that day!

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DAY 8 – BOX CANYON TO LONGMIRE… Frani and I did this section of the WLT as a day-hike, since we had come off the trail at Box Canyon and were going to be doing the last leg from Longmire to Mowich Lake in one shot. Sure felt strange to have on a small daypack instead of my Gregory Deva pack, affectionately named “The Beast”.

There aren’t any amazing views or much sensory overload on this 12-mile stretch of trail, but it’s pleasant and must be beautiful in fall when all the vine maples are turning color in the lower parts of Stevens Canyon. It’s a long steady climb up through Stevens Canyon with beautiful views of Martha Falls, Sylvia Falls, Louise and Reflection Lakes, Narada Falls, etc. I ended up bailing out at Narada Falls because my ITB tendinitis was kicking in fiercely, but Frani did the last 2 miles between Narada and Longmire and came back to pick me up 🙂

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DAY 9 – LONGMIRE TO DEVIL’S DREAM… Frani and I back on the trail for the last stretch to finish the Wonderland Trail 🙂  We got a walk-in permit the day before starting out.

From Longmire it’s a climb up Rampart Ridge to Devil’s Dream camp, almost totally forested and no grand views along this stretch except for the crossing at Kautz Creek with some nice views. The west side of Rainier tends to be wetter, more rain, and a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. I’d be fine if I never stayed at Devil’s Dream camp again, it was pretty much “pitch-your-tent-as-fast-as-you-can-and-get-in-before-you-get-sucked-dry-by-mosquitoes” camp. At this point we were praying that the next 4 days would be a little less of a nuisance…. Thank goodness our prayers worked 🙂

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DAY 10 – DEVIL’S DREAM TO SOUTH PUYALLUP CAMP… What a gorgeous day and a gorgeous section of the WLT! Leaving Devil’s Dream we passed directly into Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground, which is nothing short of sensory overload when all the wildflowers are blooming. This is a large area of rolling, meandering meadows and the cutest little ranger patrol cabin I’ve ever seen. Some pretty nice views of the big Tahoma from here too.

Now for the roller-coaster part of the WLT, the Tahoma Creek Suspension Bridge. This thing is absolutely a blast to cross over (definitely not recommended if you’re acrophobic!) Narrow, one person at a time, and it does a nice little bounce with every step. Too much fun 🙂

Next we headed up Emerald Ridge, which is an absolutely beautiful area (more sensory overload) where you can look down onto the beautiful orang-y color of Tahoma Glacier. Now on to the South Puyallup River camp, which was a nice campground with a lot less mosquitoes. Just 0.1 mile from camp, near the camp toilet is the Devil’s Pipe Organ, a huge collection of andesite columns that are well worth visiting.

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DAY 11 – SOUTH PUYALLUP TO NORTH PUYALLUP CAMP Another fantastic day along the WLT, It was a long climb through some crazy overgrown trail up toward St. Andrews Park, another area of wildflower overload and beautiful vistas (and a fresh batch of mosquitoes waiting for human blood). St. Andrews Lake is beautiful, and made even better by Rainier as a perfect backdrop for photos (did I mention the mosquitoes?)

From there we had a long lunch break at Klapatche Campground and Aurora Lake. We wanted to make this one of our campgrounds, but it was fully reserved, so we made do with a great lunch break here, and Frani and I invented “The Klapatche Tango”.

From Klapatche it’s a steeeeeep descent down to North Puyallup River campground. Once upon a time the West Side Road was planned, but thank goodness that never went through, keeping this area wild. The North Puyallup campground is nothing to write home about, it’s basically a couple of overgrown campsites on what used to be part of an old road bed that never actually happened. All in all, not our favorite campsite, but not our least favorite either. The North Puyallup River nearby is beautiful and well worth hanging out to watch the sunset or sunrise.

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DAY 12– NORTH PUYALLUP TO GOLDEN LAKES Well, we had heard that Golden Lakes campground could be pretty bad mosquit0-wise, and it ended up being gorgeous and bug-free and a fantastic final night out on the Wonderland Trail. We weren’t in much of a hurry to leave North Puyallup, Frani slept in while I had a nice little Dave Matthews Band iPod concert and toodled around for a while, watching the sun rise over the river, before heading out to Golden Lakes.

The trail to Golden Lakes passes through an old burn area from the 1920s or 1930s, and here there are more wild blueberries/huckleberries than I’ve ever seen before. I gorged to the point where Frani cut me off!  There were so many berries you could literally stay on the trail and swipe your hands through the bushes, and never even break stride. Yum!

Golden Lakes campground was wonderful, with expansive views from our campsite looking West across all of Puget Sound and the Olympic Peninsula. We went for a nice swim in Golden Lake, later to find out that there were swarms of salamanders we were sharing the lake with 🙂 Neither one of us minded sharing.

Sunset was magical, with oranges and purples that photos just can’t quite contain. Watching the sun sink bit by bit, looking out across the Sound region and the Olympics, was a perfect way to end our final night on the trail. I was tired and went to bed, but Frani stayed up and watched Tacoma, SeaTac, and Seattle light up, and watched tiny little planes take off and land at SeaTac airport. Great campground, and I would definitely love to go back here sometime.

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DAY 13– GOLDEN LAKES TO MOWICH LAKE AND HOME… Our final day on the trail… It was bittersweet knowing that we could go home to homemade food and showers, but that we would be leaving such an incredible experience behind.

We started out hiking down a ways from Golden Lakes and going through another area ripe with blueberries… fresh fruit for breakfast on the trail?  You bet! A LOT of fresh fruit 🙂

It’s a long way down into the South Mowich River basin, and we counted 35 switchbacks from top to bottom, which we were very thankful for because without them it would have been ridiculously steep. Since we’ve spent several nights camping at South Mowich before, we knew we were getting close to home. A few weeks earlier some of the bridges here had been washed out, but they were all replaced by the time we came through (thank you park rangers!!!!)

The last 3 miles from South Mowich river up to Mowich Lake makes for a long, steep ascent that seems never-ending. We picked up a stray hiker along the way and the 3 of us stuck together on this last little stretch up up up. Weather was threatening, clouds and wind were increasing by the minute, and we were glad to be heading home at this point. A turkey/veg/avocado sandwich and a cold beer never tasted soooooo good in my life, thanks Fran for bringing us fresh food when you picked us up!

After getting home I was satisfied that I’d completed the whole trail and could check it off my bucket list. It only took about a week before I was wanting to do the whole thing again!


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