10 Days on the Wonderland Trail – Part 2: The Itinerary and Trail Report

Our last post explained the logistics and preparation of our Wonderland journey, so now on to the good stuff, the actual trip and daily notes we took along the way.

Day 0
From Bremerton to White River Entrance
Ranger Jonathan at the White River Backcountry Information Center got us a permit on the 1st try at 2pm. Matthew motorcycled to Longmire to drop off our food cache and got there just before closing time at 4:59 pm. We overnighted at White River Campground which was super convienient because we start the trail tomorrow at the White River trailhead a few hundred feet away.

Day 1
White River Campground Trailhead to Granite Creek Camp (8 mi)
It was a short day and we arrived in camp at about 12:30 pm. It was a good way to start out, an uphill climb most of the day so a good way to break in and get our legs used to climbing. We were assigned to the group site and had a pit toilet and bear pole all to ourselves. We heard from another group that tonight was accidentally overbooked (apparently the permit admission system had been glitchy) so we might end up having to share sites. We took a nap and woke up to some neighbors in our camp site, which was fine with us, there was plenty of space and we were just happy to be on the trail. Clear skies today gave us some views of Rainier from the Sunset area of the Park.2016-08-09 09.51.01

Day 2
Granite Creek to Cataract Valley on Spray Park Trail (10.5 mi)
Passed Mystic Lake today around our mid-way point and soaked our feet in the cool water for a while. Passed trail crews working along the way. Also picked and snacked on cloudberries growing alongside the trail, what a delicious treat! We are taking the Spray Park trail as an alternative to the official Wonderland trail for this section as it is supposed to be more scenic. Cataract Valley camp was overbooked and pretty crowded (there were like 3 groups that had to share the group site) but we arrived early enough that we had a spot all to ourselves. It was very damp in the evening, I think we hiked into and camped right in the middle of a fog layer.2016-08-10 12.13.352016-08-10 13.44.472016-08-10 14.35.05

Day 3
Cataract Valley to South Mowich River Camp (10.2 mi + 0.6 mi detour to Mowich Lake = 10.8 mi)
The meadows of Spray Park were amazing and filled with tons of mulitcolored wildflowers! Rainier was towering above us, overlooking the beautiful meadows. We crossed some snowfields here and climbed along talus slopes but nothing troublesome. The flies and mosquitoes were out with a vengeance today though! We made a detour up to Mowich Lake for water and extra toilet paper (the one thing I should have packed more of for this leg! – we have a roll waiting in our resupply cache). Made our way down to South Mowich River and got a great sandy camp site right on the river with lots of sunshine. We were able to dry out all of our damp stuff from camping in the cloud at Cataract Valley. South Mowich River camp has a neat little shelter, but the weather was so incredible no one had to use it. We scooped up some river water in a gallon ziplock and took our first ziplock bath of the trip, washed our sweaty socks, dried out in the sun, and enjoyed the rushing sounds of the river 🙂2016-08-11 10.31.03 2016-08-11 10.13.222016-08-11 19.13.402016-08-11 15.40.12

Day 4
South Mowich River Camp to North Puyallup River Camp (11 mi)
It was a long but gradual uphill hike to Golden Lakes where we stopped for water and lunch. Got to camp around 2 pm and headed 0.1 miles down the trail to the bridge overlook on the North Puyallup River. What an amazing view! Stunning ridges and cascading waterfalls. We ate dinner on the rocks, admiring the view, and chatted with a group of 4 from Seattle we had been leap-frogging with the last few days. We also found more cloudberries and wild mountain strawberries to snack on! Our favorite camp area thus far!2016-08-12 12.50.592016-08-12 15.34.29

Day 5
North Puyallup River to Devils Dream Camp (13.5 mi)
Killer day but some of the most outstanding views! After our morning climb to Klapatche Park (where we snacked on berries the whole way up) we took a pit stop and much needed swim at St. Andrews Lake. We didn’t bring swim suits, but trail traffic was pretty slow so we took turns being the lookout while the other went for a quick skinny-dip. We felt like whole new, fresh people afterward. The amount of sweat that has poured out of our bodies each day is baffling. It was a roller coaster of ups and downs today, and I was out of energy by the end of the day, but it was so worth it. Our favorite view was at the top of Emerald Ridge, where we finally got a sense of just how spectacularly massive and imposing Mt Rainier is. We could also really see the stunning blue tinge of color in the crevasses of the glaciers. Indian Henry’s was also really beautiful with meadows full of flowers – only wish we had admired it a bit longer, but it was nearing the end of our day and I was itching to be done. We arrived to camp pretty late for us, around 6 pm, and ate our much earned Chili Mac while swatting away at the mosquitoes. Devils Dream was a very buggy area.2016-08-13 11.25.122016-08-13 14.55.572016-08-13 16.04.42

Day 6
Devils Dream to Pyramid Creek Camp (2 mi)
Now this day almost broke us 🙂 Just kidding. To make our permit work, we had to do a short 2 mile day to Pyramid Creek. This actually worked out really well since we had a strenuous day yesterday, thus a short day proved to be a welcome break. It gave us a chance to rest and just enjoy our time admiring the view of Rainier from Pyramid Creek. Considering it was a whopping 2 mile day downhill, it would have been easy to do the Wonderland in 9 days instead of 10, but because of campsite availability, this is what we ended up with. We arrived in camp at 9:30 am (and that was after a leisurely breakfast at Devils Dream), hung our stinky clothes to air out (they needed it badly after 6 days of sweat accumulation), took another ziplock bath, ate lunch on the creek bank enjoying the view of Rainier, ate some wild black raspberries for dessert, took a nap, and played a few rounds of cards. It was a great, relaxing day!2016-08-15 07.48.22

Day 7
Pyramid Creek to Paradise River Camp (6.5 mi)
We were well rested and got an early start. Arrived at Longmire to pick up our food cache around 10 am – just in time that the Longmire National Park Inn Restaurant was still serving breakfast and we were craving some eggs! So we treated ourselves to omelette breakfasts (technically it was 2nd breakfast, but we were still starving), which were delightful, and headed on our way. Hiked past Carter Falls which we visited on on our last trip to Rainier except this time we could actually see the mountain from the trail! We were the first to camp again, so we nabbed our spot and then went to play in the river. We had a celebratory “food cache day” dinner of pesto tortellini topped with tilapia in a marinara sauce. It was amazing! Some of the other hikers put cans of beer in their caches as celebratory treats 🙂2016-08-15 12.05.47 2016-08-15 13.48.10

Day 8
Paradise River to Olallie Creek Camp (14.7 mi)
Olallie Creek Camp is actually located 1.3 miles off the Wonderland Trail on the Cowlitz Divide Trail, but all the campsites on the Wonderland near this area were filled up when we got our permit, so this was a great alternative. The scenery today was not that spectacular, mostly just hiking along river beds and forests, but the trail-side berries were abundant and we finally felt confident in our identification of huckleberries after talking to other hikers yesterday, so we started enjoying them too! We hiked past Reflection Lakes in the early morning and got some great pictures of Rainier mirrored in the still water. Olallie Creek camp was fabulous. It was literally right on the creek with a deep swimming hole just below our camp site. There were no other campers in the campground that night and we were surrounded by huckleberry bushes!2016-08-16 08.11.102016-08-16 09.30.55

Day 9
Olallie Creek to Summerland (10.4 mi)
The surrounding huckleberries made a great addition to our morning oatmeal. We saw a black bear in a tree across the creek as we left camp in the early morning. He was enjoying some huckleberries too! 🙂 It was a day of continual climbing, but the views were so spectacular we hardly noticed the climb (well, that might not be entirely true, but this is my rosey retrospect). It was definitely some of the best scenery of the entire route. Working our way along a ridge for most of the day, we saw incredible views of Mt Adams and Mt Hood in the distance. We took a break at Indian Bar, which is the camp located in a huge bowl shaped basin with the Ohanapecosh River running through it. Some of the most stunning wildflower displays of the trip were here as well. I used the pit toilet at Indian Bar which had the best view of any backcountry pit toilet yet! It had views of the wildflower meadows, the cascades tumbling down the cliffs at the head of the basin, and the crown of Mount Rainier above it all. A “throne” indeed! From Indian Bar and working toward Summerland we rested atop the Panhandle Gap (the highest point on the trail at 6,901′). Summerland camp was stunning and we had views of Rainier out our tent as well as a marmot and ptarmegan for neighbors. A spectacular place to spend our last night and an amazing finale to the trip!2016-08-17 10.08.29 2016-08-17 10.56.50 2016-08-17 13.04.56 2016-08-17 12.02.22 2016-08-17 13.21.29

Day 10
Summerland to White River Campground (6.7 mi)
And incredibly easy day of working our way down. We were back to the RV by 10:30 am. The trail was amazing and definitely full of wonders! Drove down to Longmire to pick up our empty cache bucket before heading out of the park.2016-08-18 06.10.26 2016-08-18 10.37.30 2016-08-18 10.41.07

So there you have it! The trail was amazing and definitely recommended. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe what you see and pictures fail miserably at capturing just how captivating and mesmerizing this landscape is, so you’ll just have to go see for yourself :).  If you do have plans to hike the Wonderland yourself here are some of our top recommendations:

Most Scenic Camp Sites:

  • South Mowich River
  • North Puyallup
  • Klapatche
  • Indian Bar
  • Summerland

Favorite Views:

  • Skyscraper Pass
  • Spray Park
  • Klapatche Park
  • St Andrews Park
  • Emerald Ridge
  • Indian Henrys
  • Indian Bar Area
  • Panhandle Gap
  • Summerland Area

10 Days on the Wonderland Trail – Part 1: The Logistics

I was immediately intrigued by the idea of backpacking the Wonderland Trail when I started researching trails to hike in Mount Rainier National Park back in April. It sounded like an amazing undertaking, but I figured, what with having to get an advanced permit and all, that this would be another trail added to our future to-do list (which only seems to grow after visiting places). Then, after spending 4 captivating days in Mount Rainier at the beginning of July, my desire only grew and I began looking in to the venture further. There is just something about Mt Rainier and its massive, majestic beauty, that pulls you in and calls to your spirit of adventure.

For those of you who don’t know anything about the Wonderland Trail, here’s a little background. The Wonderland is a giant 93 mile loop trail that goes all the way around Mt Rainier. The many glaciers coming off the mountain have carved deep valleys and ridges, making the trail notorious for its tremendous elevation gains and losses. Due to these huge elevation changes, by the end of the journey you have cumulatively climbed 22,786 feet (and descended another 22,786′) and hiked the equivalent of 126 flat miles. That means that Wonderland Trail hikers do enough climbing to have climbed Mt Rainier 2-1/2 times (which stands at 14,410′ at it’s summit and climbers start at 5,359′). Now that’s a lot of climbing…Challenge accepted!

Normally, you have to apply for an advanced reservation to hike the Wonderland Trail, and these are getting increasingly harder to come by as the number of people who want to hike the trail grows each year. This year, however, the reservation system crashed and all permits are being given on a first-come-first-serve basis. This was perfect for us. We had the time and the flexibility to try and make it work! I had spent a good amount of time researching and planning, and most of my sources recommended doing the trip anywhere in 8-14 days, though 8 is pretty tough with long days and 14 is super leisurely with rest days included. We decided on a 10 day itinerary and it worked out great.

We were incredibly lucky, walking in to the White River Wilderness Information Center at 2pm on a Monday and getting a permit right off the bat. The trail was super busy (lots of locals are taking advantage of this first-come-first-serve opportunity as well) but it had been relentlessly raining the last 2 days and a lot of people were bailing. So there were enough openings at the backcountry camp sites to make an itinerary work! We ended up with a 10 day itinerary, starting at White River Campground and going counter-clockwise, which according to some sources is harder, but Matthew and I have concluded that either way you go is pretty hard and it’s the same amount of up and down either way. Some sections may be easier going clockwise, but then again some sections were easier going counter-clockwise. We were ecstatic with how well our direction worked for us. We had a good warm-up first day but not too strenuous. Our last night on the trail was filled with some of the most magnificent scenery, and our last day was a very easy day of down for a good way to finish. So in our opinion, starting at the White River Campground trailhead and going counter-clockwise is the best way to go. 🙂

One of the the really cool things about the Wonderland Trail is that you can cache food at certain locations around the trail. With a 10 day itinerary, we decided to take advantage of only one cache location, and that was at Longmire. We arrived at Longmire during our 7th day on the trail, so we carried 6-1/2 days of food with us for the first leg, and then picked up our cache full of the remaining 3-1/2 days worth of food supplies. You can take advantage of more cache locations (Mowich Lake, White River, Sunset) and carry less food which means less pack weight, but it would have taken us forever to drive around to the multiple locations to drop off the caches, so we decided carrying more in our packs was a better option for us.

A few quick additional thoughts about the trail:
If you’re looking for complete solitude and seclusion, this isn’t the trail for you. It’s relatively busy and you’re not likely to have a campground to yourself. While caching food is readily available about the trail, this does mean you’ll be sharing the path with many day-hikers during these sections in addition to other backpackers.
However, since you have to stay in designated backcountry campsites, you don’t have to worry about trying to find somewhere to pitch your tent or hang your hammock each night. Additionally, each campground provides the convenience of a pit or composting toilet and a bear pole for nightly food storage. Quite nice for planning purposes!

Planning and preparation completed, check out the details of the hike itself here….

Journal entry – 29 August 2015, Sat – Red Lodge, Montana – Hiking down Lake Fork Trail

Journal entries are just that – the digital copy of my hand-written entries in my journal. If you aren’t interested in the daily details of our adventure, feel free to skip on to the next “regular” post.

Indeed, there was little sleeping done last night. We rose about 7 – the late-risers of the group. By the time we’re packed and refilling our waters everyone else is gone.

No bears, apparently. Our food was undisturbed, we heard nothing, and even the nearby dogs were quiet throughout the night.

We head out, down the trail (literally, downhill) and detour after a couple of miles to take the 0.6 mile side trail to see Keyser Brown Lake. We find a rock for a snack break and enjoy the view. As beautiful as it is we like Lost Lake better.

   
 

We had tentatively planned on staying a second night, here at Keyser or beyond it at another lake. It’s still early in the day, however, and we decide to continue on back home.

Somehow we miss the side trail to Lost Lake (so that’s how it got its name) and have no real sense of how far we’ve come without that marker. As we near the trailhead, though, we encounter a lot of traffic coming in the other way. Few backpackers – many are carrying nothing at all, or only fishing tackle!

We do meet a couple from Cincinatti who are curious about our trip and suggest some other trails to hike. They have a cabin in Red Lodge and love the area.

Back at the trailhead Ashley sits to wait as I ride down to drop off my pack at the RV and come back to shuttle her down. We mostly leave our bags packed for a trip on Tuesday and head in the RV for lunch.

Alas. When we returned we found signs of a disturbance in the RV. 2 days we’re gone and there is evidence of mouse mischief.  While the owners are away the mice will play. So our spray foam didn’t do the trick. Not sure where else to try using it. Ashley cleans everything.

I make tea and coffee for us. With sore shoulders and the beginnings of headaches, we nap shortly after getting showers.

Gary comes up on his 4-wheeler and we chat for a bit. I tell him we’re heading out on Monday and he debates about how to move into our spot. It is a good one!

Awake now, Ashley and I look at options for our next stops. With next weekend being Labor Day we want to be settled in well before the crowds arrive. And we have more trails to hike!

With a tentative plan in place, complete with a backup, tomorrow we can go scout and confirm options on the motorcycle. Lots of gravel roads ahead and we don’t want to over-commit the RV just yet.

Looking at maps we come up with a general plan for after the Grand Tetons as well. South. South gets us into Utah and Nevada for good fall visits to some of the parks there. It’s definitely a start.

After fixing supper Ashley relaxes and reads while I journal – finally catching up. Plans for tomorrow and the next day made, we head to bed.

Journal entry – 28 August 2015, Fri – Red Lodge, Montana – Hiking up Lake Fork Trail

Journal entries are just that – the digital copy of my hand-written entries in my journal. If you aren’t interested in the daily details of our adventure, feel free to skip on to the next “regular” post.

We wake up and I fix more omlettes. Try as I might, there is still food in the fridge and freezer. Oh well – it’ll be a nice treat tomorrow when we get back.

Ashley and I hop on the motorcycle with her bag sandwiched between us. I drop her off at the trailhead and ride the 2 miles back to the RV and pick up my bag. She’s ready to go when I return so we head out on Lake Fork Trail. It’s our first overnight in Grizzly country so we’re a bit apprehensive. This is, according to the ranger, one of the most traveled trails. So that will help us out, as at least we have a good chance of company throughout the day.

  

The trail runs along Rock Creek for a few miles so we get to see and hear a lot of white water. The views are gorgeous!

  

5 miles along we come to a 0.3 mile side trail that goes to Lost Lake (Lost? There’s a trail that leads right to it!) It’s a beautiful mountain lake, surrounded by mountains with sunlight glistening off the surface. We have it all to ourselves and enjoy lunch on its shore.

 

Lost?

  

It’s right there!

   

After a delightful break we continue along the trail as the incline becomes more pronounced. We pass over a bridge (without a troll), cross a waterfall/stream that bisects the path and stop to enjoy views of Keyser Brown Lake. Along the way we make human noises to announce our presence to bears (and elk) so as to not come upon them unaware. We whistle and talk – discussing our finances, the new books we’re reading, and whatever else comes to mind. Our discussions sometimes lag, though – due to a lack of fresh topics or air. We’re definitely climbing!

   
   

8 miles in we reach September Morn Lake and join a dozen others as we pitch our tent. With camp set up and food safely stashed (the requisite 100 yards away) we reshoulder our nearly empty bags and follow the trail for 2 more miles, up to Sundance Pass.

  

Though we walked 2 miles, in a straight line it couldn’t have been more than 1/4 of a mile. So many switchbacks going up the pass, it looked like a zipper going up the side of the mountain. But oh was it worth it! There’s nothing like coming up over a pass, the other side revealing itself as you crest the ridge.

   
 

The mountains on the other side are much more rugged – topped with sharp, jagged peaks. And the trail down looks even steeper than what we just climbed. Though we passed 100′ from an ice sheet, we can see dozens on the other side of the valley. Even if you could get this kind of a view from a car trip, it wouldn’t be the same. And, unfortunately, you hve to be there to really see it – pictures just won’t do it justice.

   
 

Though we know the zig-zags on the map will be hard, we also know they’ll be worth it.

  

After a few minutes of enjoing the view (and listening fruitlessly for a radio signal) we head back down. It’s cold at 11,045 feet and windy. We’ve climbed roughly 4,000 feet today and have 2 miles to go to get back for supper.

  

We eat supper and enjoy a view of the lake before heading in to our tent. I try to journal a bit and we lie down to pass the night – expecting little sleep as we listen for bears, spray near at hand.

Journal entry – 26 August 2015, Wed – Red Lodge, Montana – Beartooth Loop Trail

Journal entries are just that – the digital copy of my hand-written entries in my journal. If you aren’t interested in the daily details of our adventure, feel free to skip on to the next “regular” post.

While we are eating breakfast, Dale pulls out. So definitely no guests over for supper. After breakfast we strap our day packs to the motorcycle and gear up for the ride up to the trail head. It’s only a few miles short of the pass on the Beartooth Highway so extra layers are needed for the bike ride.

  

The Beartooth Loop trail is 10.8 miles and it’s actually in Wyoming. We start off overlooking Gardner Lake, mosey down Littlerock Creek and generally circle around Tibbs Butte. The trail meanders through a variety of environments – grassy fields, lush pine forests, and rock-strewn avalanche paths.

   
    
   

Somewhere in the woods we stop for lunch (Cliff bars and peanuts/raisin mix – our standard) and Ashley mentions how dusty these peanuts are. That reminds me of her fond memories of eating peanuts and drinking (root) beer in the garage with Don. I suggest that we should have an “In Memory Of” day. Peanuts and beer for Don, BBQ for Unky Doo, Licorice for Dad, pancakes for GDad and jalapeno poppers for GMom.

We had previously suggested having separate days for Finland and Ireland celebrations to commemorate our visits there. So another personal holiday fits right in.

  
 

On we go – past Stockade Lake (which was definitely worth the hike!) and then to Losekamp Lake. Losekamp has a rocky island out in the middle. We sit and snack before I refill my water bag.

   
    
   

Clouds seem to be following behind us so we hurry along back to the trailhead. Tibbs Butte pass is just over 10,060 feet. We make it back to the bike and no rain has caught us yet. We hiked down and back up at least 2,000 feet of elevation over these last 10.8 miles. Not a bad change for about 6 hours.

   
 

We made it!

  

Back down home we scoot. We eat supper by the campfire, only our second on the whole trip! Certainly enjoyed it – only missing s’mores ingredients as the sun set and the temperature dropped.

While fire-gazing we chatted more about our “In Memory Of” day. Though the action is eating or drinking something that we associate with the person, the point is to consciously remember them and to share the memory. Food and drink is just a shortcut to that. More than one item comes to mind for most, so we can create a list and do something different every year.

Ultimtely we settle on two dates – June 2 for Ashley’s “In Memory Of” day and August 2 for Matthew’s “Gone But Not Forgotten”day. 

Along the way we also set May 1 as Finish Day and Mar 17 as Irish Day in honor of our visits to those countries.

As the darkness creeps in we douse the fire and head inside to read and for bed.

Wooden Rock Bridge – Photo

Follow the Rock Bridge Trail, and you arrive at this… wooden bridge? If the trees are full of leaves, it can be hard to spot the rock bridge before you see this more obvious wooden one. As you walk between the stone “walls” you are actually walking “through” the bridge; to your right (as seen in the photo) is the actual bridge’s foot. It can be hard to see until you cross this wooden bridge, where its location becomes obvious.

As mentioned before, I proposed in the Red River Gorge and my wife and I returned for part of our honeymoon. My soon-to-be wife walked across this bridge in her wedding dress on the day of our wedding. The (real) Rock Bridge was our backdrop and the first time I saw her in her dress was as she emerged from that path between the stones.

It’s definitely not “just a wooden bridge” to us!

Wooden Rock Bridge

Caching in the Gorge – Photo

Nothing like finding a treasure while you’re out hiking! A beautiful fall day provided a perfect setting for finding this geocache. My wife and I followed our GPSr down the trail to the GeoCache. We detoured many times, admiring the views and exploring side-trails. This was one of those adventures that provided the openings for many more in the future.

I found the cache and am checking out its contents.

Click to see full-sized.

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The Geocache itself, along with the GPSr and a geocoin.

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Some Sort of Altar – Photo

A short distance from the caves is a natural “altar” that my wife and I stumbled upon. When you’re walking along the trail below the cliff and look up, it can be a bit of a shock to see this formation and wonder who built it (too many viewings of The Blair Witch, I suppose). After a few moments, you realize that it is just how the trees fell onto one another.

Click to see full-sized.

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