Wonderland Trail
August 29-31, 2003

Ben filming a wonderland on a late hazy afternoon.

Photograph: Josh

3 Days-62hours

93 miles, 24000 vertical (up and down!)

Story By: Josh Hummel

WHO: Ben Manfredi and Josh Hummel

Ben wanted to “...keep busy and not waste a whole lot of time sitting around....” The Wonderland trail in three days seemed to be the cure to his worries. Ninety-odd miles (Some books say as much as 100 miles) and about 24,000 vertical feet up and dare I say DOWN. By the end of the trip, “down” would be the most wretched, outright despicable four letter word you could ever say to me.

The plan was to start Friday at Longmire. We left my place in Tacoma at 3:30am. We reached the Indian Henries parking lot just above Longmire at 5am. The parking lot was as full as a bar on Monday morning. Only the hard cores were out. Before we left we weighted in our packs. Ben’s came in at a mere 25 pounds. Mine was nearly 35 pounds. By 5:30am we were on our way.

We saw only a few people all day on the entire trail and only a couple of consequence. They were two women on their sixth day. One of them had hurt her knee and run out of IB Profin. They were headed in the opposite direction as us. I offered her four of mine and then we were gone. I would later discover the saying, “what comes around goes around,” in more ways than one. There were many miles to cover so we left with few words.

Ben, who had attempted this trail a couple of times chose to do Longmire to Mowich lake first. His reasoning was that this is the hardest section and not wise to be saved for last. I had no arguments. The first 20 miles was alright. The next 15 to Mowich lake did not feel too pleasant. The sights were amazing. We cruised right through Indian Henrey’s down to the Tahoma drainage.

The bridge across the Tahoma deserves mentioning. It is a suspension bridge, narrow and wobbly, high off the ground with a view that does not go away until you reach the top of the next ridge, and the next, and the next. The views never go away. This day would bring many beautiful sights as would the others.

It was still morning as we worked our way up Emerald ridge. We took a break at the top, our first. About 15 minutes later we were off again. At this time I still felt OK, but not at the top of my game. I had not worked out, or planned, or prepared for this trip in anyway. To tell the truth, I had climbed little recently, and had sacrificed much of my winter and spring to work. So I was not too surprised when my legs began to hurt as I worked my way up Emerald ridge barely a third of the way through the first day. Pathetic would be an understatement.


Our first break on Emerald Ridge.

Photograph: Ben


Josh on Emerald Ridge.

Photographer: Ben

Our next stop would be Saint Andrews park. A beautiful highland meadow with a small lake, but after a long dry summer now just a mere pond with some frogs. Ben and I had brought little food. You’d think that we would have a dozen energy bars, gu, and several dehydrated meals. The truth is 80% of our food revolved around a loaf of wheat bread, Land-O-Frost sliced ham, and Kraft singles cheese. We had no stove or tent, and about 80 miles ahead of us.

After the North and South Puyallup drainages and Saint Andrews park it was nearly all downhill. The next section I was fairly familiar with. I had biked up the West Side road to the North Puyallup drainage. I had also spent many a winter and spring day skiing the Silver Forest and the Colonnade (a ridge that stretched high up onto Rainier) by the Golden Lakes. One time my brothers, parents, and I had gotten permission to use several of the Mt. Rainier ranger cabins. We had linked the Mt. Tahoma Scenic Ski hut to hut system to the Rainier cabins. At one point the Tahoma hut to hut system had a yurt just out side of the park a mile from Golden Lakes. A great winter access point to that side of the park. Champion(logging company and owner of the land) later made access difficult and the hut was removed.

The Silver Forest is the remnants of an old forest fire. Huckleberries are everywhere. On the way down to Golden Lakes we passed a group of hikers. At this point we took some photos. Eventually, we found ourselves just behind the Golden Lakes ranger cabin taking our third and next to last break of the day. The lake was packed with campers and there were even some people swimming.


Ben entering the Silver Forest just above Golden Lakes.

Photographer: Josh


Josh on his way to Golden Lakes.

Photographer: Ben


Josh at Golden Lakes.

Photographer: Ben

After another ham and cheese sandwich we were off again. Unfortunately, in our hurry to get started we headed in the wrong direction. On our second time around we read the trail sign and trotted on down to the North and South Mowich drainages.


Ben posing in front of the Mowich Glacier.

Photographer: Josh

Ben was a little worried here. Last time he had to take his shoes off to cross the river. I was hoping this time we would not have too. To my relief there were bridges across all of the forks. At first glance I swore I was going to get wet. The bridges were scattered up and down the river and some were barely hanging on.

Next we came to the North Puyallup. In-between there is a camp and a shelter. The North Puyallup had two old broken down bridges with two new ones well on there way to being build. At the last bridge we took a well deserved break. The 30 odd switchbacks down the last hill wore on the feet. After a good soak we were on our way again. Next stop, Mowich Lake and rest. 2300 feet and 3.8 miles later we were finally there. Question was, should we go farther? I did not really want to camp at Mowich Lake. Too many people. After dipping the feet in the lake and another ham and cheese sandwich it was bed time. Ben slept right on the picnic table while I took the dusty ground. Not the best camp, but it worked. As darkness fell so did I into that oblivion called sleep.

At a bit passed 5am the next morning we were up. By 5:30am we were gone, but not so fast. I caused no raised eyebrows at the pace I was going, not that there was anyone around to see. Soon to my relief my legs began to cooperate again with the addition of IB Profin to the blood stream. This next section I liked a lot. The first view was at Itsut Pass just as the sun came up. Ben filmed a short clip as I worked my way down to Itsut Camp turnoff. The only sight worth mentioning in this section besides the brush is the trees. Along this section you will see the largest Alaskan Cedars in the World. Some as old as 1200 years.


The first downhill after Mowich Lake.

Photographer: Ben

The next sight on the list was the Carbon Glacier. It is the lowest glacier in the contiguous United States. As always we filled up our Camel Packs at any creek or spring that looked good. Most of the time we added Iodine, but not always. By the end of the trip I used lemonade mix. We drank about 3 quarts a day so the Lemonade was a change for the good. The suspension bridge across the Carbon made for a good view of the glacier. Next we continued uphill all the way to Moraine park and then Mystic Lake, which is by far the most beautiful highland lake on the entire Wonderland Trail.


Carbon River bridge.

Photographer: Ben

Here we again soaked our feet and ate a ham and cheese sanwich and the 25 minutes we spent there seemed like hours. The warm sand, soft grass, enchanting views, and the monotonous waves lapping upon the beach made it hard to leave. Time was short and so we departed our minds relaxed and our bodies refreshed. The hike down to Winthrop glacier was pleasant and like the Carbon the Winthrop Glacier was right in your face. I even stopped to take a couple of pictures in the middle of the debris field.


Ben soaking his foot and analysing the damage.

Photographer: Ben

Our next obstacle was Skyscraper Ridge. It was a long steep hike up, but the views at the top would prove worth it. We took a break and yet again ate a ham and cheese sandwich. After some photos we headed across to Sunrise and another very short break. From here it would be downhill for a long, long ways. My legs still hurt to this day, four weeks later due to this and the following downhill. The next dozen miles or so we encountered many people who had ventured from Sunrise, but very few others. I even saw wheel chair tracts far from sunrise.


Ben admiring the views.

Photographer: Josh


Josh resting after a long uphill push.

Photographer: Ben

Soon we made it to White River campground and a well deserved break. The use of the faucet was the best part. At this point we got the most questions asked by tourist. We had to be a funny sight sitting in the dirt next to the faucet, uncaring, with our shoes off, chilling. Soon we had to go. There were still a lot of miles to cover and it was getting late.

During this next section we would try to hike as far as we could before dark. We would not reach Summerland though. We ended up a few miles short, but found a nice campsite next to the White River. After eating our sandwiches we soon fell asleep with little talk.


Dinner time.

Photographer: Ben


Josh eating dinner. Ham and bread again, man...

Photographer: Ben


Day three would test my will power. Yet again I had a little trouble walking, but my ski poles acted as second legs. I eventually forgot the pain and continued on. I would only stop when I finished. My knees hurt and I had no IB Profin left. I bummed two off of Ben and hoped for the best. My knees had taken a beating the day before and they refused to work for the rest of the trip.

With our annual trips up to Little Tahoma skiing we were very familiar with everything nearly all of the way to Pan Handle Gap. We had skied several routes off Meany Crest, some direct and some not. I did not stop at Summerland, but continued on several hundred vertical feet to were we had closer access to a clean creek. Towards Pan Handle we saw a couple of Mountain Goats and only two people. Besides Sunrise (hundreds of people), we only saw a couple dozen or so people during the whole hike and usually in groups.


Ben getting ready to rest just above Summerland.

Photographer: Ben


The first break of the day at Summerland.

Photogragher: Ben


A Marmot watching Ben, or Ben watching the Marmot.

Photographer: Ben

About 15 minutes later we were off. Soon we were at the top of Panhandle Gap the highest point of the trip at some 6,750 feet and our first encounter with snow. I enjoyed this section for its views and after Pan Handle something I had not done before. I had never ventured down to Indian Bar. The view of the serpentine creek, lush valley, and solitary cabin were breathtaking.


Josh on his way to Pan Handle Gap.

Photographer: Ben


Indian Bar on the last day.

Photographer: Ben

At Indian Bar we met up with a Ranger. My knees hurt so bad and then this Ranger comes up and pesters me. I sent him Ben’s way after I stumbled through a few sentences. I had no wish to converse with a Ranger. Their conversations usually center around permits and regulations. I hike and climb to get away from such things. We left soon after with bellies full of water and fresh pairs of socks on our feet.

The hike up to the top of the Cowlitz Divide took no time at all. The ridge never did really end for a couple of miles though. When it did, the downhill was excruciating. To my amazement and relief we passed the two women we had met at the beginning of the trip a few miles below Indian Henry’s. The conversation went something like this. “How are you doing,” and with only a little humor slipping into to my voice I said, “well it is my knees that hurt this time around.” Molly, I believe her name was said, “I picked up some IB Profin at Longmire if you want some.” With more than relief creeping into my voice I said, “Yes,” without sounding too desperate. She gave me six and I used them all before the end of the day. We talked for about 10 minutes about the highlights of our trips and then parted ways. Like I said above, "what comes around goes around,” and so it did.


Almost there, but a lot of downhill left.

Photographer: Ben

Eventually, we made it to the Box Canyon parking lot. During some point here I lost my sunglasses that I had for some 4 years. After a sandwich and some water we left. Box Canyon was pretty cool. It was a tight deep gorge with small waterfalls and deep holes. With any flowing creek or river though we now look at them as we do all mountains, i.e. skiable? Or with water, kayakable? Probably not, but maybe.

Next, the hike up to Reflection Lakes. This was quite a uphill trudge, but not too bad. Uphill did not bother me, only the downhill. I met up with Ben at the Reflection lakes, but continued on to a bench under some trees overlooking the lake. Three minutes later I was off again. The end was near, but ALL downhill. I suffered all of the way, but I was going to make it. Ben ate blue berries like a kid does candy on a Holoween night and mozied his way all of the way to the car.


Reflection lakes with Mt. Rainier in the background.

Photographer: Ben

I saw Ben once more with blueberry stains all over his lips and hands at Narada Falls, one of the largest at 168 feet. He soon left and I would later see him at the end, the car. He had no knee problems and so cruised the downhill. I was not so lucky. Just before 8pm I made my way to the car in high spirits, but my knees hurt like none other. I dropped off my pack into the back of the car and began the hour and a half drive home. We had made it and I was happy. The end, or was it.

On the way home we stopped at Mcdonalds. I was not too sure I would eat so I turned off the car and relaxed, but then changed my mind. I then left the car locking it with the automatic door lock out of habit. After ordering my meal I realized that I had left my keys in the ignition. Not too bright. The Mcdonalds was now closed, as in locked, I couldn’t really walk, and we had no phone, and no one to call. Ben felt he could break in though....with a stick. Yea, you heard me right, a stick! The only way I could think of doing that with just a stick was bashing a window in. We did it though with no damage to my Ford Explorer. We pulled on the door, shoved a stick through and pushed on the automatic door lock. The stick though was a problem. We were surrounded by cement and only a few small saplings encased in, you got it, cement. With a look to the right and a look to the left and ignoring the cameras we broke first one (the first not long enough), and then a second branch. I felt like a criminal breaking into my car and vandalizing shrubbery.

With the trip at an end we had done some 100 odd miles and 25,000 verticle gain and loss in about 62 hours, averaging 1.5 miles an hour (93miles/62hours) counting sleep. Not bad having slept at least 9 odd hours a night. Ben still felt he could do it in a day, though he admitted that he would not feel too well afterward. He had already tried and failed once. Before leaving we weighed ourselves, Ben and I had lost about 7 pounds each. A great weight loss plan, but not one I would recommend. Overall, the trip was memorable, beautiful, and so why do it in three days? Well as Ben said, we needed to “...keep busy and not waste a whole lot of time sitting around....” We saw everything at once and when I think back I do not have to think hard, because it was weeks worth of adventure stuck into 62 odd hours. Another Cascade Classic around the Wonderland and Mount Rainier, the Cascade ranges crown jewel.


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