A couple of weeks ago I had an unplanned opening in my schedule. A trip I'd been anticipating (on part of the PCT) was canceled because of the unusually heavy snow pack.
But I'd been hoping to hike the Wonderland Trail this year, so I called a Mt. Rainier ranger station and was told by the ranger on duty that most of the parties who had reservations to hike the Wonderland had been canceling because of the overabundance of snow. The ranger told me that a few people had made it through the areas with the heaviest snow pack without an ice axe, and that people with some snow experience should be able to get through. He did suggest that I bring trekking poles and some Yaktrax (or something similar). So I started a BPL thread asking for information on current Wonderland Trail conditions. Based on the response I received from David Drake, I was convinced it was doable, so I decided to go for it.
I was easily able to get reservations on a walk-up basis for the campsites I preferred (because of the large number of cancellations). Before getting on the trail, I drove to the Longmire and Sunrise ranger stations to leave food and fuel caches. I started (and ended my trip) at Mowich Lake, and based on trip reports I'd read, I decided on the Spray Park Alternative for the first section of trail. In spite of the extra effort (because of the higher elevation gain), Spray Park turned out to be a great choice. The views up there were amazing, and the wildflowers were abundant.
The average number of days spent hiking the Wonderland appears to be about ten, though many choose to do it much faster. I ended up taking 11 days, and in retrospect that felt about right, given my personal hiking style. I like to be able to linger in areas of great beauty and to be able to spend time on pursuits such as learning the names of wildflowers that are unfamiliar to me. My shortest trekking day was 4.4 miles. I opted to slow down in some of the more spectacular areas (such as the areas around the Summerland and Indian Bar Campsites, which are a relatively short distance apart), and my longest hiking day was 15 miles.
I went for long periods without encountering any other hikers on the trail, and many of the campsites where I stayed were almost deserted. For the most part I experienced spectacular weather and great visibility. One afternoon I experienced light rain, but it had cleared by the following morning.
Before departing for the trip, I contemplated wearing my new Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves (model J35706). At 5.8 oz. per shoe, the trail gloves were the lightest weight shoes I'd ever considered using for an extended trip, and I was concerned that they might not hold up well on the rougher sections of trail. So I decided to take them along as a spare pair of trail shoes and as "in camp" shoes. But after wearing them about half the time for my first few days, I found them so comfortable (even on the snow and on rocky terrain) that I abandoned my other hiking shoes at my first food cache--and the trail gloves became my only shoes. Including side trips, my estimated trekking distance was 98 miles. I used the Merrell Trail Gloves for about 84 of those miles. For the snowy sections I wore a pair of Rocky Goretex socks over some SmartWool socks to keep my feet dry. I also used the Yaktrax for extra traction and a pair of very lightweight gaiters to keep the snow out of my shoes. I was very happy with the performance of the trail gloves.
I had a great time on the Wonderland. Though the trail was not crowded, I did encounter one other BPL member, and it was great fun getting to know him. I feel fortunate to have experienced the Wonderland at a time when the weather was spectacular, the wildflowers were abundant, and at a time when there were so few hikers on the trail.