Sep 5, 2011 at 3:41 pm #1278952
About a week ago, I got back from a long-planned trip on the Wonderland Trail and thought I’d post a little trip report. While I’m not a stranger to long-ish treks, this was the longest one I’ve done in about 15 years, and the longest I’ve done by myself. I started on August 15th and finished on the 26th, with one rest day built in.
The mountain from Packtrain Ridge
I fell into a lot of luck on the trail, primarily in the weather department. It rained one night for about 4 hours, and the rest of the time it was clear, mostly sunny, and never too hot. There were excellent views of the mountain every day. I encountered many locals who said this was the first stretch of good weather they’d had in 2011.
When I left Longmire on the 15th, I was told that only 15 parties had completed the trail – significantly below average. Several rangers told me that snow conditions had been really bad up until about 2 weeks earlier, and that many had cancelled for this reason. They also said that the recent warmer weather had caused snow to melt up to 2-3 feet per day in some locations. I was warned that the only areas of concern were around Panhandle Gap and Klapatche Park, and this proved to be true. There was no real danger anywhere, and the trail (or boot pack, in the snowy areas) was very easy to follow.
In fact I found the Wonderland Trail to be the most well-maintained and easy to follow trail I’ve ever been on – in most places, it was easier to follow than some of the rinky-dink trails I day hike on in the local parks near my home in San Francisco. It gave you the slightly contradictory sense of being in a not-very-remote place when in fact you were maybe 25 miles from the nearest “civilization.”
Having never been to Mt. Rainier, I was nothing short of blown away by the scenery in general. There came a certain point where the extreme beautifulness of it all became almost funny, i.e. oh here’s another perfect view of the mountain, framed by a field of beautiful flowers, ho-hum.
The wildflowers were out in force on all parts of the mountain, but especially on the north and east sides. Given how recent the snowmelt was, you could see their desperation to reproduce. In my experience, the section from Carbon River to Sunrise was the best area for flowers, but honestly that is being nit-picky. Even the most sparse areas blew away most of what I’ve seen before. Of everything there is to see on that mountain, the wildflowers stood up and demanded the most attention. It looked like someone went to the garden store yesterday, bought 100 million perfect plants, and planted them the night before while you were sleeping.
I asked a local what flower this was. The response: "Oh just a Tiger Lily."
Spreading Stonecrop – the only succulent I saw on the mountain.
I met many wonderful people on the trail, including the engaging Diana Vann, who recently posted her own trip report. I was fortunate to share a lovely lunch at Mystic Lake with her and with Josh from Tennessee, another solo traveler – three solo travelers randomly coming together for lunch at one of the most beautiful spots on the trail. I also met many locals, day hikers and folks who were out doing shorter sections of the trail. There were hours of solitude every day, but I also enjoyed meeting people and the occasional company.
The trail was very hard, with over 40,000 feet in elevation change over the 93 miles. I was probably not in the ideal shape to start but felt better after a few days. In retrospect I would trade the rest day (though it was quite enjoyable) for a couple of shorter days. There is plenty to enjoy on the trail every day, especially if, like me, you enjoy stopping, smelling and photographing flowers, watching the weather over the mountain, soaking in the cool wind coming down the valley in a riverbed, or any number of other ways to pass the time.
Sunset at Mystic Lake
The only negative was the mosquitos, which are just part of the game; and anyway I never minded being forced into my tent for an afternoon nap. Also, I involuntarily slaughtered so many bugs with my car on the I-5 on the way to Mt. Rainier that I figured they deserved some payback.
From a gear perspective, everything was fine for the most part. This was my first long trip with the Tarptent Double Rainbow and I loved it. It was a splurge to use it for just me but I really enjoyed all the extra space. There was some condensation a few times but nothing significant. Very easy to pitch and break down.
I also used a 20-degree bag and a light down jacket from Feathered Friends in Seattle and couldn’t have been happier. Their products are top quality.
I wore Capilene 1 t-shirts by Patagonia and wouldn't do so again – the shoulder seams were not structured well for wearing a heavy pack.
Though it may be considered sacrilege on this forum, I wore the ironically named Mountain Light leather boots by Danner (didn't even bother to weigh them – really didn't want to know!). They were only lightly broken in, but got me through 93+ miles without a single blister or callous. Absolutely bombproof and my feet felt great.
I also used a couple of cuben dry bags made by Joe at ZPacks, one as a pack liner and one as a food bag. They were both brilliant, and I figure the weight savings compensated for my heavy boots and SLR camera (haha).
My final take: the Wonderland Trail is highly recommended, and I plan on going back!
I took about a million other pictures, videos and did my first experiments in time lapse photography, all of which can be seen here if you’re interested.
-Tony CrossSep 5, 2011 at 3:50 pm #1776258
@dondoLocale: Colorado Rockies
Milton, loved your trip report and your photography. IMO, the weight of your SLR was well worth it. Sounds like it was a great trip.Sep 5, 2011 at 3:51 pm #1776259
@retiredjerryLocale: Oregon and Washington
Nice report and pics
I've always sort of written this off because the times I've been to Rainier it's been so crowded and you have to get a permit each night for a specific campsite.
Did you resupply half way through?Sep 5, 2011 at 4:18 pm #1776268
@ewolinLocale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
Brings back great memories from 2006 when our whole family did the trail, about two weeks earlier. We saw few mosquitoes. Took some of the exact same pictures from the same spots! We took 14 days and it was a great choice, allowed for some serious lounging at many beautiful areas, not to mention blueberry picking.
I recall it was more like 25,000 feet elevation gain/loss, not 40,000, not sure…Sep 5, 2011 at 4:48 pm #1776276
What is supposed to be the best time to go an miss the mossies? I realize that this probably won't coincide with the best time for wildflowers.Sep 5, 2011 at 11:21 pm #1776399
Thank you all for reading, and for your comments!
Dondo: Thank you! I'm still debating the merits of carrying the SLR, but I'm leaning towards being glad I did.
Jerry: I resupplied twice, at Mowich Lake and White River. I agree, the permit system is constrictive, but I met many people who either adjusted along the way, or who just camped at sites not on their permit for various reasons. You do run the risk of getting a ticket for doing that, but I don't think it's common. As for the crowds, well it wasn't crowded at all, but I think the numbers were way down due to snow conditions. Of course those snow conditions had mostly cleared up, but the rangers were still giving stern warnings and I think that kept some people away.
Elliott: Glad it brought back good memories! It must've been so much fun doing it with your whole family. I calculated total elevation change, including descents because with my knees the descending is just as hard if not harder than the ascending. I used the stats from Bette Filley's book, and it came out to around 44,000 total elevation change. A 14 day itinerary must've been really nice!
George: I think avoiding the bugs is probably impossible; that said, earlier or later in the season would be better. Of course, if you go later you trade bugs for a much higher chance of inclement weather; and earlier you might trade bugs for snow.Sep 6, 2011 at 8:25 am #1776449
"Dondo: Thank you! I'm still debating the merits of carrying the SLR, but I'm leaning towards being glad I did."
You might be debating it, but I for one am glad you lugged it along. I very much enjoyed the pictures you included here and on flickr. thanks for taking the time and it looks great!Sep 6, 2011 at 11:13 am #1776523
Dondo and Michael are right. Your photos are spectacular! With the aid of your SLR you were able to capture the delicate beauty of the wildflowers we encountered at every turn.
I also agree with the following comment you made in your trip report: "Of everything there is to see on that mountain, the wildflowers stood up and demanded the most attention. It looked like someone went to the garden store yesterday, bought 100 million perfect plants, and planted them the night before while you were sleeping."
It was great meeting you and sharing a few wonderful moments on the Wonderland.Sep 6, 2011 at 5:03 pm #1776662
@valsharLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
Thanks for taking the time to put up the stunning photos and sharing your trip with us.
I have been talking about getting out of State and hiking the Wonderland Trail….your photos is giving me more motivation to get out there sooner than later.
Great stuff and sounds like you had a great trip with stunning views.
-TonySep 6, 2011 at 6:08 pm #1776695
@xpatrickxadLocale: Upper East TN
" I'm still debating the merits of carrying the SLR…"
Silly debate, Milton, just go light as possible everywhere else so you can carry all the camera gear you want! Thanks for sharing this great TR with us. I love looking at wildflowers from other parts of the globe away from my usual places and those are some great photos you've brought us! Keep up the good work and the fun stuff.Sep 20, 2011 at 4:50 pm #1781343
@tomclarkLocale: East Coast
I wasn't really aware of this trail until a co-worker mentioned and the recent trip reports…WOW! It's on my short (actually, not so short) list now.Sep 20, 2011 at 6:40 pm #1781394
@eugeneiusLocale: Nuevo Mexico
These are excellent photographs, I thoroughly enjoyed viewing them and reading your brief words. Thanks for sharing this here at BPL.Sep 20, 2011 at 7:35 pm #1781416
@elf773Locale: Vancouver, BC
Wicked photos. Thanks for sharing, great trip report.
I sometimes wonder if I should take the DR for my solo treks. I do when car camping and it's quite a luxury. I can't bring myself to lug an SLR though, but I'm glad others do it. Especially if they've got a good eye.
Definitely inspired me to put the Wonderland on my list seeing as it's not that far from home.Sep 21, 2011 at 12:25 pm #1781700
@hknewmanLocale: Western US
Dream trip of many, so thanks for sharing. Question: read where you wore regular hiking boots and not lighter footwear, do you think Goretex trailrunners or hightops/mid-cut boots would work on this trail instead of all-leather boots?Sep 21, 2011 at 11:22 pm #1781977
Thanks for your comments everyone! Glad you enjoyed the photos.
HK: Goretex trail runners or high tops/mid-top boots would absolutely be fine, without a doubt. I have a weird preference for the heavy leather boots, but I was in the extreme minority in this regard. Most people I saw were wearing light hiking shoes, trail runners, or mid-cut boots. The other BPL member I met on the trail wore Merrell Trail Gloves and said it was great. I think the key is to check conditions and weather before you go. If there's a lot of snow on the ground, or if rain is in the forecast, then you might want to adjust based on your preference. But if you're going during the "season" there's no need for anything heavy.
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