David inspired me to finally sit down and write up my own Wonderland Trail experience earlier this year.
We decided to do the trail last year. A guy I know wanted to do it and asked me to accompany him - I was kinda suprised as I didn't see him as the backpacking type. Luckily he had done a few marathons that year so I knew I wouldnt have to worry about him doing it. I mentioned that I'd be doing it UL style with less than 10 lbs. He greeted that with jokes, but when he came over and I demo'ed the gear, he got interested. He borrowed "Lighten Up" and got religion.
The second guy was a good friend and he and I have spent alot of time pushing scouts around the wilderness. Nobody else took us up on the offer, even though we had a permit for 5 guys.
The lead up to the hike was the typical experience and one that I enjoy – plan, plan and more planning. I made a gear spreadsheet with the attendant oz counting rituals to get it just right.
The weather was interesting - the temperatures were unseasonably high that week as it was during this summer's heat waves and we were thankful to be getting up to higher elevations. We had nothing but sun and heat the entire trip.
Sadly, I wasn’t really ready for long distance hiking – I had just sprained my ankle 2 weeks before on a training hike, so I was pretty much hiking with no prior training on those muscles. I’ve been tearing up the road/trails on my bikes so my overall fitness was spectacular, but biking muscles and hiking are different and I felt it. The ankle was fine, but I was pretty careful those first few days and had it wrapped.
My two companions were newbies to UL stuff. One tackled it with gusto and was quite proud to point out his 20 lb pack. The other was a alpinist/rock climber and felt his 30 lb pack was a nice step down from carrying all those ropes and stuff. He, of course, had way to much stuff.
We started July 24 at daybreak from the Ipsut Creek campground. We walked either up or down all the way to the white river campground. This is where we ran into David and his Gatewood cape setup. One of my companions had just gotten into UL hiking and was tickled pink someone besides us had one. This section of the trail was beautiful, with wildflowers galore as we approached Mystic Lake. It was heaven.
The next day we got up and David was gone. We shambled up to Summerland, over to Indian bar (where we got harassed by some woman that we were not to steal her campsite – odd because we were headed to Nickel Creek). This day was my absolute favorite – climbing up to Summerland was gorgeous. From there, it only got better as we climbed up and over Panhandle Gap and down to Indian bar. This section of the trail is spectacular – lots of above the tree line walking, great views of the mountain and wildflowers everywhere. It was about here that my friend Matt and I vowed to come back with our boys (8 and 9 years respectively) later in the fall. I’m happy to say we did, but I’ll get to that.
On our way down from Summerland, about 3 miles from Indian Bar, we ran into an old guy and his daughter sitting in the shade on one of the switchbacks. He looked horrible. He was sitting on a camp chair had a pack the size of my minivan and - get this - two canisters of bear spray. He was pretty much hacked – done- probably heat exhausted and on the verge of complete collapse physically and mentally. His daughter was quite panicked, and rightly so. I guess this woman and her 65-70 year old father decided they’d enjoy the wilderness together one last time, went to REI and were victimized mercilessly by the outdoor industry. I swear, he must’ve been carrying 50-60 lbs. He was a wreck. Reminded me of Bryson’s book on the AT.
We gave him some electrolyte mix, and they told us that some young guys were coming back up after dropping their packs and getting his so they could help him out. We told them we’d hang out at Indian Bar and see if they needed help, but he was a good ways from anywhere. We even saw the guys going up and they assured us they had it covered. I hope so as we never did see them again. I still wonder if he was ok as they didn’t show up during our hour break at IB and we reluctantly left as we were running out of time. It was a sad statement on the way most people think they need to tackle the wilderness.
My feet were starting to give me problems by the end of day 2. I’d purchased some Superfeet insoles for a newer pair of Montrail Masai shoes. The former was to stop my cubal bone (I think it is called) from popping out as it tends to do when I push the mileage – it hurst like a low grade sprain so I wanted to avoid it. They worked perfect for that, but I found them way too hard in combination with the Masi shoes – it just wasn’t as cushy as my previous hikers (Solomon XA’s). I missed them. My feet hurt quite a bit thru the trip. I even got blisters, something I’ve never had before and had to resort to taping the feet extensively – something I’ve also never had to do. Next time it will be XA’s and a size bigger to accommodate swelling better.
Day three was from Nickel Creek to what we were hoping was Longmire. At Nickel Creek we met a family from back east (everyone we met was from the east oddly enough) and they were hiking together, parents and boys. It was really cool to see families hiking together and enjoying it.
As we got to the southern part of the trial, it was more forested and lush, and not as enjoyable in my mind as the previous two days. When we reached Longmire for our cache it was late and we were hammered. We had a nice meal in the restaurant and then ditched a fair amount of our cached food (wow, we really did over pack) before heading out for Pyramid Creek as Longmire does not have camping anymore – despite what our Map implied. The trail, like everywhere else, just went up or down and we were ready to be done when we got to camp. Ran into a guy with a UL hammock and two military guys with their heavy, brand-new GI issue gear. Here, on those flimsy bear hanging devices we saw 2 huge white 3 gallon paint-style pails hanging there (taking up most of the room btw) it was odd someone carried that all the way there?
A note on those polls – Rainier bears must be dumb as a sack of hammers - it wouldn’t take much to defeat these flimsy poles. Just push it over or reach up as some of them seemed barely 8 feet off the ground. But hey, I didn’t have to carry my canister and we had no issues, so I guess I can’t complain.
From camp the next morning we walked thru Devils Dream and for at least the next 10 miles we walked in a thick cloud of mosquitoes. So bad it forced me to use 100% deet in order to survive. I never use repellant – they normally leave me mostly alone, but it was a nightmare. We hiked like madmen and didn’t stop once until we got away from them. It was just amazing and the meadows on this side are beautiful, full of flowers and lots of good places to sit and chill, but not with that cloud of annoyance.
We reached Klapatche with just enough time to enjoy the view, the lake and limp around like madmen before bed. We saw a big group of women who were obviously "Running with the wolves" (and more power to them) arrive just after we did. They also had about 4 cans of bear spray. Sheesh. People really are paranoid about bears. And that is from someone who does not like to hike in Grizzly country. Again, they were all from the east somewhere.
The mosquitoes were out, but not like earlier in the day, but I did use my Montane wind-shirt and pant legs for the first and only time on the trip. This was my third favorite place on the mountain and I gotta get back to visit this section again, and throw in Spray Park as well, as we were going to bypass it.
The final day was a haul. We were all hurting, but excited that we were cruising fast. It was enjoyable to log those 20-25 mile days – which may not seem like much for you flatlanders, but this was a lot of climbing/descending. We did 22,000 vertical feet of up and at least that much down on the route – its quite a walk.
We were down to little food, light packs and all that stood in our way was Ipsut Pass, which was a formidable descent on tight switchbacks, overgrown trails and lots of loose rocks. I became a believer in two trek poles on this trip, having never used more than one before.
That last 10 miles was by sheer force of will, but we loved every minute. We were hitting the stages where everything was increasingly surreal and one of us broke out into James Taylor songs periodically, continuing far longer than one would expect a sane person to do in such circumstances. But it helped pass the time as we careened down that gorge.
We walked back to the car in the late afternoon and were glad to be done – time to get home and see the wife/kids – who were not expecting us till the next day. As we looked at it, we just walked as far as we could and did it in one day less – nothing lost, and it was a great experience. I can’t imagine doing it in 7 days, or even 10 or 14. No need in my book, but I could be wrong.
We did see a bear that last day - one was running in a meadow about 50 yards to our left side as we hiked. One of us even missed it, but it was cool. We heard of 2 others near Summerland, but didn't see them.
Here is my gear list:
Shelter & Sleeping
Gatewood Cape w/ 5 stakes 12.5
Mantis Bug Net 4
Gossamer Gear Mariposa Plus 21
MLD Devotion Sleeping Bag (+45) 11
Insulmat MaxThermo Pad 16
Gossamer ThinLight Pad 1.6
Polycro Groundsheet 1.1
Titanium Cup/Foil Lid 2.1
Mini Bull Elite Stove 0.3
Ziplock Bag Cozy 0.6
Packtowel Ultralite 0.4
Green Cup 0.7
Platypus 2L 1.2
1L Soda Bottle 0.9
Platypus Hose 2.5
TP (4x4 Shop Towels - 12)/Trowel in Ziplock 3
First Aid Kit w/ Tikka XP 19.3
Optio WPI in Case 5.4
Wallet & Money/Card 0.5
Gossamer Gear Liner 1.7
Zen Nano w/ ear phones 1.6
Patagonia SW Capeline LS T 5.8
Montane Featherlight Windshirt 3.3
Smartwool RBX Socks (3 pr) 4.9
Montbell UL Down Jacket 7.2
Extra Underwear 3.9
Base Pack Weight 133.7 oz – 8.36 lbs.
I took 2x more fuel than I used. I took probably a pound of extra food that I ditched in Longmire. I ended up sleeping with my friend in his OR Nighthaven as he forgot his pegs and used mine for his shelter. I decided I don’t like the Micropur tablets as it was hot and we drank water faster than the 4 hour window necessary. I’ll use Aqua Mira next time. The pack was way to big. The essence would’ve been better and saved me 7 ounces. I should’ve taken my sterno pot – lighter and big enough. Listened to “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” when I hurt. The Devotion Bag was perfect. The Bug Net was useless with the Nighthaven. The Optio WPI is ok, but I need more camera. didn't use the Tikka to justify the weight - coudl have gotten by with a Photon Micro light! Finally, I took a Spiderco Ladybug knife, but I'm going to chagne to a Swiss Army Classic for the scissors for stuff like trimming fingernails.
Photon Light - save 3 oz.
Sterno Pot - Save 2 oz.
Half the fuel - Save 3 oz.
Better Food planning - Save 16 oz.
Essence Pak - Save 7 oz
Head-net instead of Equinox Mantis - Save 3 oz.
Total I could have taken off: 34 oz. Ouch. Oh well. Live and learn.
We had a wonderful time. Here are some picts:
Wonderland Trail - July
We made good on our pledge to show our son’s the best parts. We went back a few weeks ago with the boys and did White River to Box Canyon.
Wonderland Trail - October
It was a completely different experience. The fall foliage was beautiful, the snow mostly gone, it was perfect hiking weather and not near as crowded. Loved it loved it.
I carried about a pound less on the second trip. Took the Essence. Used a GG nightlight pad. Had to carry more insulation/warmth gear too. Could have gotten it to 5 lbs if it was still summer.