Wonderland Trail , Mount Rainier Park
September 22-25, 2009

Photos and story by Jason

"To see LARGER photos, go to Alpine State of Mind"


Alice says, “I wonder if I've been changed in the night? Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I'm not the same, the next question is 'Who in the world am I?' Ah, that's the great puzzle!”
- Lewis Carroll from Alice in Wonderland

For me, the weather was too nice, the house too boring; I needed escape. The Wonderland Trail was perfect, then. After a weekend spent in blowing snow at Three Fingers Lookout, I woke up Monday too lazy to go anywhere, but that forecast of yellow suns kept plaguing me. I needed to get up and go, so that's what I did. I dug up leftover food from previous trips, threw it in my car and pulled away before I could think of a reason not to.

It was only a few hours later that I found myself at Longmire. I had no excuses then. I stopped to get permits, and for my knees sake, I added another day, leaving 4.5 to finish. Before setting off, I snagged a handy Wilderness Trip Planner Map that I'd use to count the miles more than I should have.

My itinerary:

Longmire to South Puyallup - 11.1 miles (half day)

to South Mowich River - 18.2 miles

to Granite Creek - 23.9 miles

to Indian Bar - 19.3 miles

to Longmire - 20.9 miles

= ~93 miles and 20+ thousand vertical gain and loss

Leaving my car with a backward look, I took a deep breath, satisfied I hadn't forgotten anything. My feet kept pushing me forward until I'd past Devil's Dream and walked into Indian Henry's. The one thing of interest here is the Patrol Cabin, the oldest in the park (circa 1925). It has, to me, long appeared a quaint place to stay. I could imagine a summer languishing here among the meadows, wildlife, and ponds. Sadly, the time I'd spent was already too much, relegated to a quick meal before chasing fading light to the North Puyallup River.

Cruising by Emerald Ridge was too much to ask. Taking my pack off, I sat in a tall field of grass near a small pond. Wishing the light was better, I snapped a few photos, knowing I couldn't wait any longer. Already I was regretting I didn't have more time, but isn't time is a fickle thing. Best to take what you got and give it your attention.

The last few miles to camp weren't good for me. Bruised ribs from a mountain biking accident the weekend before were eating away at much of the joy I mustered (but easier to deal with than fellow cascade crusader, Christy Kinney who broke her hand and rode out the last two days anyway). Too stubborn to take it easy, I kept going, limping into camp at dark. I could barely breathe. Frustrated, I set up camp in a hurry managing to misplace my matches and light in the process. That's why I had two of each! All I found was one, my extra headlamp and it DIDN'T work. This was doubly frustrating cause I'd bought new batteries that morning, plus checked to make sure they worked. All I could do was stumble to water by sound, a tiny trickle at that. After looking everywhere for my matches, a light went off (in my head that is). Why, there's a push start on my stove. With frustration fading, I ate in the pitch black before getting some rest. I could hardly lay down. I told myself to go home, but I knew I wouldn't. Laughing, I told myself, "You're an idiot." Few would disagree.

With enough pain killers I slept well enough. Next to my tent I found the missing flashlight and matches. Picking them up I packed camp and set off. Taking a deep breath I could hear my inner voice belligerently say, "F***, suck it up chump." That day I'd easily hike over 18 miles. Highlights include surprising a cinnamon bear right before rounding onto Klapache Park, resting on the shores of the South Puyallup River, and being fascinated by two Dragonflies whisking up and down the shores of Upper Golden Lake. The last was topped by looks into another old Patrol Cabin on the lakeshore. As a kid, we'd stayed at several of these cabins during a ski trip through the park and outlying areas. I remember digging down to the door, which took hours. Our trip was part of my father's plan to put a yurt near the park border. Champion, the logging company that owned the land, eventually forced its removal after a few seasons. The yurt was part of a network of huts maintained by the Mount Tahoma Scenic Ski Trails Association my father helped found and was the first president of (our family of 5 were among its first 10 members). Through the silver forests near Golden Lakes and the high slopes of the Colonnade are abundant slopes of glissé. As I wondered through them on my way to the South Mowich, I made a promise to return this winter to ski around the mountain as well.

I'd only seen one person on the trail all day. At the South Mowich Camp, not a soul. With plenty of light, I regretted not slowing my pace since I was now stuck in the forest. With nothing of interest, I found the rocks banging and grinding down the Mowich River, well, interesting! How this mountain has even lasted this long, I can only wonder. So much of it is washing away. In its youth, a smooth volcano and in its old age, wrinkled and pitted slopes.

My third day was a long one. In total almost 24 miles that would take me up from the Mowich River all the way to Spray Park, down to the Tahoma, back up to Mystic Lake, then down to Vernal Park and the head of the Winthrop Glacier, before a final climb to Granite Creek Camp. It would be an awesome day for me. Since my ribs weren't hurting as badly, I was stoked.

The miles melted away as I climbed from forest to Spray Park below Mowich Glacier and Ptarmigan Ridge. From my high point where the trail turns to a few patches of snow and loose shale, I caught sight of lingering fog in the valley. It was thick over the Carbon Glacier and wet once I dropped from high meadows and streams to brushy lowlands. At first a disappointment, although I soon warmed up to the dreary landscape. There was an added bonus. Without the sun, I would be shaded from the heat.

My climb went fast with one break for lunch. Throughout the trip I'd kept my ears tuned to sounds of wildlife, but none were presented that night. Moreover, time was mustering up the seconds like troops and that day was marching faster than I was. Too much was stalling my progress. At Mystic Lake I had planned to camp high on the mountain, but I knew my schedule wouldn't allow for it; I needed to push on. After wondering around the lake, I set off back down the trail, intent on arriving before dark. Even then, in the dim light, the terminus of the Winthrop Glacier was amazing as well as the waterfalls crashing down cliff side. I've found that any hiking at night is one not done alone, at least you never feel that way. Perhaps an instinctive stowaway from prehistoric days? With no hope of going further without a light, I gave in and pulled out my lamp next to a stream where I filled my water bottles up. Unsure of how much further I had, I was ecstatic when not 30-ft later a sign grew out of the darkness. I was at Granite Creek Camp! It was chilly - that night would bring frost.

By morning I was off again. This time I had just over 19 miles to get to Indian Bar. Once more, I'd have long lonely sections followed by short, busy tourist areas. Even then, the hiking had its own set of joys. In grassy fields below the Emmons, crickets by the thousands let out their chorus of clucks. It seemed every valley had their own set of creatures, none quite the same? Bees in one, bears in another, and Ptarmigan in between.

Every time I thought of resting, as I'd promised myself, I just kept on going, passing Sunrise altogether and nearly reaching White River before I made my first stop. I didn't have much food left, so I ate a bit of candy before setting off again. It was at White River I passed a hiker I'd seen once before in Klapatche park, several days before. Familiar faces are weird cause you don't expect to see something you passed already. We chatted before parting ways. There wasn't much to say.

High in Ohanapecosh Park, I left all other two-legged beasts behind. In the quiet, I lingered, watching the blazes burn near White Pass and long faced shadows play across the alpine slopes. The views of giant waterfalls crashing down gray walls below glacier were in contrast to this serenity. On my perch between it all, I wondered if the mountain wanted an audience? I should've sat there until the sun went down and then hiked to Indian Bar, but I didn't. Forward is like a magnet and it was strong enough to force leave of this amazing viewpoint. At camp, in the dark, dinner was served beneath stars and moon.

21 miles remained on my last and final day. After waking in the cold and fog, I packed and carried my gear to the nearest stream for water. After which I tiptoed up cedar steps out of camp and beyond, so I wouldn't wake others and, in the hope, I'd surprise wildlife. Several Grouse jumped out in front of me but no other meetings. It was a pleasant hike. Throughout ridge lines folded over in the fog along with the bugling Elk, out of sight, to mystify an already eerie atmosphere. Grassy hummocks gave witness to their earlier being near the trail, having bedded there. I stopped, never in a hurry. I knew my hike from then on was down into the valley and any views were limited to forest. While pleasant, it is the medium between, in those meadows and patches of tree above the thickest forest that I find most special. I feel like I am on the precipice of two worlds.

That quiet morning transitioned to occasional hikers storming up the trail. It was saturday, so a norm from here on out. Past Nickel Creek, Maple Creek, and Reflection Lakes. Up Stevens Canyon and down to Longmire. It all went by too fast. Endings are the beginnings of something new. The Wonderland was familiar. I stalled a few times before the final hundred feet to my car. What was I going to do now? Home is boring and finding work, a future I don't contemplate. For the moment, in unemployment, I get to relish the in-between, the soft, gooey center of life. It's not often, if ever, you get a break in your life without commitments screaming, "You can't do that." I can and am.

When I arrived at my car, instead of going home, I drove up to Cougar Rock Campground, found one of the last campsites. In the morning I continued up to Paradise where I loaded up my skis and boots and climbed toward Camp Muir. That day I'd get a few turns in. Before coming down I'd stop, high on the mountain on a rock. From there the Wonderland Trail could be seen far below. I knew every inch now and that was satisfying. "Yep, it is always better to do."

Thanks for reading, sincerely Jason Hummel...

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