It was a big hike. The farthest we’d ever backpacked was 60 miles, so I spent quite a bit of time, combing through the many blogs and websites, reading about others’ experiences on the Wonderland Trail.
Now that Scout, Dallas Cowboy Fan, and I have completed the 93+ miles it takes to hike around Mt. Rainier, I have some suggestions of my own, that I found no where else.
1) There are short days and there are long days…there there are NO easy days on the Wonderland Trail.
“Oh…that’s so far,” folks will say when we tell them about our adventure. Well, it’s not the mileage, it’s the elevation. There may have been 500 yards of FLAT path on the whole hike. Cumulatively, we gained and lost 23, 000 feet of elevation. Of course, I’d read this fact as I did my research, but it didn’t become reality until my heart tried to explode through my chest on the first day.
So if you’re training at sea level, I’d suggest you go find a mountain on a weekly basis. It took about 3-5 days to develop enough red blood cells to carry the extra oxygen that kept me from panting like a dog.
2) Forget doing laundry.
Okay, that’s a personal goal when I hike. When I reach camp after 12-15 miles, I like to take a bucket-bath and then rinse out my sweaty clothes. It makes me feel human. Here, it took several days for items to dry…and we even had hot, sunny weather (first week in August). Well, this is a rain forest, so duh… Either put a fresh change of clothing in your cache or become a walking clothes line with socks and shirts swinging from your pack as you stride down the trail.
3) You can buy propane at Longmire and Sunrise.
No one was able to tell me this before hand. They carry the big ol’ green Coleman canisters, but that beats carrying fuel because you can’t ship it.
4) You need to arrive at Sunrise Ranger Station before 6pm, if you’re picking up a cache.
This was August 2010, and they may change their hours in the future, but the Ranger Station closes at 6, after that, you’ll have to root someone out to get your food. Fortunately, a Ranger had told us this, so we hoofed it to the Lodge in time to snag cheeseburgers from the restaurant, and get our cache. But don’t expect to find hot water in the restrooms. All that’s available is a cold wipe-down with paper towels. Live with it and treat yourself to a gi-normous chocolate chip cookie for comfort.
5) When blogs say, hikers get wet from the drip off the weeds next to the trail, you should multiply that about 1000 times.
These are massive vines, shrubs, and dinosaur vegetation shrouding the trail so it’s like whacking a path through a jungle movie. If it’s morning, you’ll be soaked from dew. If it’s hot in the afternoon, you’ll be covered with sweat and studded with dust and weed seed. If it’s raining….well, you’re taking a walking bath. The good news is that you’re working so hard, your body is steaming, and you’ll dry quickly.
A group of us were sitting around the White River ranger cabin, comparing notes and discovered that all of had had fallen on the Ipsut Pass trail. Narrow, rocky, and the footing is totally obscured by …ugh! Weeds. Maybe we should start an Ipsut Stumblefoot Club?
6) Your perspective looks different from the top of the mountain than it does from the bottom. Give it time. Both attitudes weave to touch your future.
There were times that I couldn’t believe so much power, beauty, and a sense of everlasting could be in one place.
There were times, kick-stepping each boot into the glacier over Panhandle Gap, or sliding down steep, muddy trails, I promised myself I’d never backpack again.
A half mile from the end of the WT loop, I could hear that echo of applause that rises in the mind at the completion of Herculean projects. “I’m selling my gear. I’m finished doing this,” I told Dallas Cowboy Fan as folks at the trailhead cheered and took our pictures.
Two weeks later, I’m at REI. How could I resist that Ospery pack that fit me perfectly?
Well….it’s 4 pounds lighter with the perfect number of pockets. I’m sure it’ll make all the difference on the next trip.