M Lightweight in Wonderland

by J. Sinclair Oal

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Article Summary:

The Wonderland Trail (WT) is a northwestern classic. The ninety-three-mile circuit takes in the scenery around Mount Rainier, which, at 14,000 feet, is the tallest volcano in the Cascade range. Thanks to the National Park Service, the WT is one of those hikes when a compass isn't required. The route is well-maintained, there are few intersections, and on clear days, you've got a view of Mount Rainier by which to navigate.

Undeniably, the mountain adds incredible mystique to this trail. Rainier, or Tacoma, as the Native Americans called it, creates its own rain clouds by snaring warm, moist air flowing inland from the Pacific. Thus, the cone is often shrouded in a smoke-like fog, which drops to the valleys below as it accumulates moisture. To mix things up, sometimes the fog just precipitates all over those valleys, as it did on my tour!

The WT is the perfect spot to practice lightweight backpacking because it's both rugged (in terms of elevation and weather conditions) and forgiving (in terms of access to help). The steep climbs and drops on the route will quickly remind the East Coaster of the Appalachian Trail, as will the unpredictable weather emanating from Rainier itself. Yet, in the hiker's favor, there are several manned food cache locations and a number of fellow travelers with which to share resources should things go sideways. About three hundred people complete the Wonderland Trail each summer, passing beneath endless acres of western red cedar, Douglas-fir, maple, and hemlock.

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