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Mina Loomis
(elmvine) - MLife

Locale: Central Texas
Wonderland Trail on 03/13/2009 21:07:55 MDT Print View

We are planning for a Wonderland Trail trip in July 2009. I think there are probably a number of forum members who are familiar with that area, and there was that article a while back about the Northern Loop, so I am taking the liberty of posting a couple of questions. I've talked with the park people a couple of times, but sometimes they don't know, or they have standard answers that don't tell me enough.

The published guides suggest a minimum of 10 days for the full circuit, and recommend 2 weeks. We'll have about 10.5 days to do this. This is the longest trip we've ever planned--previous trips have been up to 4 backcountry nights. We are in our 50's, reasonably fit, but not athletes. My base pack weight runs about 10 lbs. with cold weather gear; my husband's is more like 15 lbs. b/c he thinks he needs a bunch of stuff he doesn't, but that's up to him. So my first question is, does 10 days sound realistic? Or are we dreaming?

Second question the park person couldn't answer was, what would be a realistic drive time from White River Camp around north and back in to Mowich Lake? Our actual plan involves bringing the 28, 25, and 18 y.o. kids, who will have to go back to work after ~4 days out, so we need to leave car #1 at White River or Frying Pan Creek, drive car #2 (with everyone mashed in to the gills) around to begin at Mowich, and then the kids emerge after 4 days to take car #1 out. (All pending permit availability, of course.) The two of us finish the circuit.

And one more thing--any advice I might not think of asking about?

As our trip plan evolves, maybe I'll post additional questions and discussion, if there is interest.


Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Wonderland Trail on 03/13/2009 23:47:57 MDT Print View

If you need a shuttle, let me know! I live halfway between Mowich and Sunrise.

Frying Pan Creek is on White River Rd, it has limited parking - White River just a bit farther down, near the campground has much more.

Yes, you can do it in 10 days - it can be done in 6 to 7 very hard days, so 10 is much easier. Two weeks is perfect if you walk only 5 to 7 miles a day and like to start at 11 am end end at say 4 pm ;-) And have lay over days.

It isn't the miles that get you - it is the elevation ;-) So get on that Stair Master :-D Start now!

No matter what though - carry rain gear and a warm insulating layer for those chilly nights in alpine - even in summer...brrr! ;-)

Jared Cook
(rooinater) - F

Locale: Northwet
Re: Wonderland Trail on 03/14/2009 00:07:01 MDT Print View

Just realize that in July the last couple years the snow pack has still been deep especially on the eastern side of rainier. From panhandle gap past Indian bar was a boot pack through the snow mid to late July. Panhandle gap wasn't snow free till about august. The persisting snow is what kept me off the northern loop trail till august last year. Don't leave out your warming layers or your rain gear!

I plan on a late august trip around the wonderland in 7 to 9 days and as said above it's not the mileage that kills you, it's the 26,000 feet of elevation gain over a short 93 miles (don't forget about the elevation loss)... there isn't a lot of long flat areas along the trail, you are essentially climbing out of a valley to a crest then dropping into another valley then repeating the process all the way around the mountain. The views are worth it though!

Do you have the "Discovering the Wonders of the Wonderland Trail" book? very detailed on the elevation gain, loss, water sources, resupplying to save weight... It's what I've been using to plan my mileages and section lengths. I've done parts of the trail, but not the whole thing in one shot.

Edited by rooinater on 03/14/2009 00:09:53 MDT.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Yes, get the book! on 03/14/2009 09:01:56 MDT Print View

Betty's book is worth every cent you will pay!

As for maps, Greentrails is what you need - just get the two main Rainier sections (you don't need the Paradise one, it is a blow up of the area). The maps will be about $10 or so total.
The Nat Geo waterproof big Rainier map is good, but not quite as detailed.

The secret to Panhandle Gap is go in the afternoon, when it has softened up. Same with the snow field outside of Sunrise, up to Frozen Lake - though if you want to avoid it, you can take the high trail instead to Frozen Lake, avoiding the whole area.

Mina Loomis
(elmvine) - MLife

Locale: Central Texas
Wonderland Trail on 03/14/2009 13:29:08 MDT Print View

Sarah: Wow, I didn't realize you live so close to that area! I may want to get in touch about that shuttle idea, and it would be fun to meet up with you anyway. My older son's girlfriend's family (who are not at all outdoorsy) live in Kelso and, supposedly, have a lot of spare cars, so he says we can plan on using a couple of those cars for the plan as outlined above. But I am worried about getting the whole crew plus packs into car #2 for the drive around to Mowich.

My ulterior motive for choosing Frying Pan instead of White River is to keep those kids on the trail with us for as long as possible and still get them out on their schedule. But if Frying Pan is parked up, White River should do. In either case we figure on having a resupply cache in car #1, that we can pick up when we send the kids off.

All: I have the Filley book, and also the Falcon Hiking Mt Rainier book; maps so far are Trails Illustrated and also the Earthwalk Press from the bookstore link the park web site. I haven't run across Greentrails--will do a search.

We are definitely (at least, my husband and I--can't influence grown kids much) working on fitness, for the ups and downs. No stairmaster at our house but we are taking stairs at home and at work two at a time. We also bike and walk a lot, and I am taking pilates lessons/practice everyday, and am learning jogging and light weights.

The snow has been a big concern for me. Older son asked if we could push it to start hiking July 12. I have already told him that will be a bad idea, and might very well lead to an aborted trip. Hard to push it much later than July 19, because he and his girlfriend need to be out of their apartment at the end of July and get themselves moved across the country to NYC and ensconced in as-yet-unidentified living quarters there in time for graduate school to begin three weeks later. Modern world constraints vs. natural world constraints--makes it hard for us to get out on the trail as much as we'd like! We are working hard to make this one go.

I am glad to hear that a 10-day plan should be feasible. I find when I call national parks and ask rangers about hiking plans, they always take the most conservative tack, and tell me that pretty much everything I propose to do is strenuous to the point of impossible for ordinary humans.

We would arrive at the Panhandle Gap area after the kids leave, so we should have some flexibility. If we camp at Summerland, though, we'd need to take the morning off to get to Panhandle in the afternoon. That might mean Indian Bar instead of Nickel Creek that night, which might change the rest of the itinerary. I'll give some thought to that. Thanks for the tip!

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Snow on 03/14/2009 13:34:48 MDT Print View

Kathoola Microspikes would be your friend :-)

In most cases though the rangers cut out steps and wand the snow fields by mid-July. One thing to consider though is that Sunrise's road doesn't often open until mid-July. Though this is NOT looking to be a "heavy" snow year!

And if you can get it, a night at both Indian Bar and Summerland is heavenly. The camping at White River is is next to the car CG. Sunrise is nice once the tourists go home (dinner time!) then it is quiet and sweet up there.

Early August brings flowers and more flowers :-) (Though the avy lilies are more mid-July).

Feel free to email me if you have more indepth questions :-)

Jared Cook
(rooinater) - F

Locale: Northwet
Re: Wonderland Trail on 03/14/2009 14:03:28 MDT Print View

"I am glad to hear that a 10-day plan should be feasible. I find when I call national parks and ask rangers about hiking plans, they always take the most conservative tack, and tell me that pretty much everything I propose to do is strenuous to the point of impossible for ordinary humans."

The reason for their conservativeness is a lot of people carry really heavy loads around the trail, and the varied physical ability of different hikers. It's always better to err on the conservative side, than tell someone that a shorter trip is a good idea. It will be strenuous though... and the rainier park rangers are always great people to run into on the trail or ask questions.

Those greentrail maps are the go to maps for Washington. I have the national geographic maps. They are decent, but definately not as detailed for elevation profile and water sources like the small creeks. REI also sells the green trails. I don't have many of them, because i'm saving up to buy the sets of maps from them.

good luck on your trip.

Mark Jones
(hibisk55) - M

Locale: The Back of Beyond
Wonderland Trail on 03/28/2009 09:29:32 MDT Print View

I hiked the Wonderland Trail in 7 days after a Mt. Rainier summit climb. Our hike was in early September of '04. Snow was not an issue, but some of the bridges were out requiring some detours. We could have cut our trip easily by a day or two, but we were restricted by camp site permitting. On our short days, we did some exploring. 10 days will give you plenty of time to enjoy the scenery.

My recommendation would be to make your permit reservations as soon as possible and be flexible. You may not get your exact campsite choices. You may consider reversing your trip direction if you don't get your choice of campsites. Most people hike the trail clockwise. There is much debate about which direction is easiest. Personally, I don't thik it matters as your overall elevation gain/loss is the same. The only way we could get permits for our trip was to hike counter-clockwise. We started and ended at White River with a resupply at Longmire. Snow and bridges may slow your trip.

Be prepared for some very agressive campsite mice. They can climb the metal bear poles. I had them climb on my person while eating dinner in camp. I was using a tarp and they ran across the top of my sleeping bag throughout the night.

Although there is a lot of elevation change, the highest point is Panhandle gap at 6,800 feet. Be fit, travel light, and you won't have any problem. I was 49 at the time of our WT hike. We met hikers carrying monster loads and incapable of making 10 miles per day. Go light.

May I also suggest that you consider taking the Spray Park Trail from Mowich to Carbon River instead of the WT. We were "traditionalist" and stayed on the WT, but after talking to other hikers, we regretted doing so. I think we missed some superior scenery in Spray Park.

This is my $.02 worth of advice, I hope it helps.

The WT is in constant view of Mt. Rainier. The perspective and scenery is constantly changing, but always spectacular.


Edited by hibisk55 on 03/28/2009 10:00:32 MDT.

Mina Loomis
(elmvine) - MLife

Locale: Central Texas
Wonderland Trail on 03/28/2009 09:57:38 MDT Print View

Update: Our son and his girlfriend decided to fly instead of drive to NYC, so that opened us up to later dates (yay!). We faxed in a permit request for 10 days beginning August 2. Less snow (maybe) and more flowers...

Our requested route is Spray Park because there will be at least 6 of us on that part, so we would be limited to a group site, only available at Cataract Valley. I got the Greentrails maps, so now I think we have all the published maps of the park.

Yes, the fitness thing has me concerned, but I am biking to work 2-3 times a week, 14-mile round trip, practicing pilates every day, and learning to jog. And taking all stairs two at a time up and down (carefully) to help leg muscles. And my husband and I have a 3-mile "pack walk" we do many evenings.

Thanks for everyone's help!

Mina Loomis
(elmvine) - MLife

Locale: Central Texas
We have our permit! Tarp for Wonderland? on 07/10/2009 22:50:18 MDT Print View

Update on our Wonderland Trail hike--we got our permit! Yay! So we are busy with meal planning, gear planning, and all the details for our trip. So many details! Because we ended up with August dates (8/2-8/12) I am not quite as worried about snow. We are going through Spray Park and around clockwise. The kids will depart at Frying Pan Creek, and Robert and I will have 6 more days to finish the loop after that.

Normally we backpack with a tarp. We have an ID Silwing and an ID 8 x 10. But I am now concerned about what one of you all said above, about mice. I would hate to have trouble sleeping because of mice running over us during the night. Do lots of folks have this happen? I could borrow a tarptent from a friend. I think it's a Cloudburst. All the kids (the grownup kind of kids) will be in tents so it's just for Robert and me that I'm wondering about using one of our tarps.

We are really looking forward to this trip. Only 3 weeks away!

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
Re: We have our permit! Tarp for Wonderland? on 07/11/2009 15:04:15 MDT Print View

Each to their own, but my only concern about a tarp wouldn't be rodents walking on me, but insects. Perhaps by the time of your August dates bugs will be low enough that a tarp is a fine option. There certainly are various small critters around but I don't think they're all that interested in dancing on your face or anything like that.

One more serious issue with mice, squirrels etc is that the bear poles IMO serve to collect all their meal options in one place, too often with tree branches all too close to the bear poles. So I do advise you to pick some sort of bear bag that is tough enough that the little buggers opt to chew a hole in someone *else's* bag ...

An Ursack would certainly do it, or a Ratsack, or just try double bagging (?) and/or odor proof bag maybe. This might not be the trip to use one of those silnylon "ultra light" food bags. I didn't have a problem, but my wife had a hole chewed in her food bag one night.

Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Re: Re: We have our permit! Tarp for Wonderland? on 07/11/2009 21:52:26 MDT Print View

Agreed! mice will only be an issue in regards to your food. If you keep food away from your camp, mice should not be a problem.

I agree with Brian- mosquitoes should be your bigger worry. However, the mosquitoes have come early this year in Washington and I'd guess that they'll largely be gone by then. Still, I would be prepared for them- at least have headnets, although I typically use a Tarptent in WA when below the treeline, primarily due to mosquitoes. The rangers will have a good feel for how big the problem will be at your time, but you are below the treeline a bit...

It's going to be a great trip- have a blast!

Elliott Wolin
(ewolin) - MLife

Locale: Hampton Roads, Virginia
RE: Wonderland Trail and mice on 07/12/2009 12:08:26 MDT Print View

We took almost the same trip as you in Aug 2006.

The five of us used a two-person and a three-person tarp. We had bug tents but had no problem with bugs or mice, so we probably didn't need them. The only bugs we came across were at the lean-to at South Mowich River (I think)...we set up the bug tents in the lean-to. Not sure why they swarmed there...there were hardly any bugs at the other sites.

We were on the trail 13 nights and enjoyed every one of them...don't rush!

Mina Loomis
(elmvine) - MLife

Locale: Central Texas
Thanks for Wonderland advice! Road to Mowich? on 07/13/2009 20:18:10 MDT Print View

I really appreciate all the insights and advice.

I am leaning towards borrowing the tarptent just in case of mosquitoes. Not much of a problem for me, but my husband is a mosquito magnet.

Still working on transport, since one of the cars we were going to borrow is looking extremely iffy. Need to get 7 people from Frying Pan Creek to Mowich Lake at the start. No need to leave an exit car at Mowich--Jeremy can come get us at the end of our hike if we don't park a car there.

There was a post on a Mt. Rainier yahoogroup that said the road into Mowich Lake Camp is really treacherous. But if it wasn't reasonably passable they wouldn't be giving permits for entry there, right? The park staff didn't bring this up as a problem. Is anyone familiar with that road?

We've been exercising--bike commuting, workouts, stairs two at a time, pack walks in the evening. And a nice trip week before last, uphill and down in Pecos WIlderness in NM. But we were leading a youth trip so the pace was slow--5-6 mile days on that.

I am thinking we'll just chance it on the food hangs and mice. Maybe put fragrant stuff like cheese into OP bags.

Once again, thanks to all!

Edited by elmvine on 07/13/2009 20:18:50 MDT.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Thanks for Wonderland advice! Road to Mowich? on 07/13/2009 20:29:47 MDT Print View

The Mowich Road is fine once opened for the season.

Yes, it is technically a state highway. No it is not a highway - it is a 1 1/2 car width logging road once you leave the junction for Carbon River and head uphill. Does it have exposure? Yes. It is dusty and rutted.

It is fine for most cars. Just go slow and take corners carefully. The truly exposed sections in the NF land don't last long. Once you enter the park the road is quite nice.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Stashing food on 07/13/2009 20:31:05 MDT Print View

The mice are not to bad in most areas of the Wonderland. Do keep an eye on birds though. Every camp has a bear pole.

Mina Loomis
(elmvine) - MLife

Locale: Central Texas
Wonderland transportation on 07/21/2009 22:09:22 MDT Print View

Sarah, that is a relief to hear that the road to Mowich is usable. It didn't occur to me to question that, since the park treats it as a regular trailhead. So I was taken aback by that post on the yahoogroup. Also, last week I sent you a PM about your note above about letting you know if we have shuttle needs, but either it didn't go through or maybe you have been tied up with Trail Days and with hiking. I've enjoyed reading about your hiking adventures on your trailcooking blog, and especially the gorgeous pictures!

All: Since it looks like the extra shuttle car we were going to use is, in fact, broken, we are looking for another approach. We may be able to get a cheap rental sedan out of Centralia (Rent a Wreck) but that will mean a lot of chasing around and also mean leaving a rented car at a trailhead (Frying Pan Creek) for 5 days. Other ideas are welcome. Including, if you or someone you know from the area would like to make some money driving around Mt. Rainier on Sunday, August 2--someone with a large enough vehicle, 7 or 8 seats. Jeremy is checking with some friends in Olympia too.

David Neves
(davidneves) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Keep posting! on 07/22/2009 09:34:04 MDT Print View

Me and two buddies have a trip lined up or late August. This whole thread has been really helpful! Keep posting and make sure to give us a trip report when you get back!

Jim MacDiarmid
(jrmacd) - MLife
Re: Keep posting! on 07/22/2009 12:06:57 MDT Print View

I'm thinking about a Wonderland trip next summer, so I'm enjoying the details of your planning and look forward to a trip report.

Mina Loomis
(elmvine) - MLife

Locale: Central Texas
Transportation, continued... on 07/23/2009 20:15:33 MDT Print View

Well. I just spoke with an old friend in Portland, who is game for an excursion to Mt. Rainier on Sunday 8/2, and would be glad to smash us into her minivan for the trip around from Frying Pan Creek trailhead to Mowich Lake Camp. But she is asking a little more detail about the Mowich Lake Road conditions. Specifically, her van is an older Dodge Caravan, which doesn't have particularly high clearance. Still, apparently lots and lots of people go up to Mowich to day hike Spray Park during flower season (right about now), so it has to be reasonably accessible to ordinary vehicles, right? I plan to call the park again tomorrow about it. The last time I asked, the clerk I spoke with was not familiar with the north side of the park.

Anyway, opinions on this question from y'all on BPL would be helpful.