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.