With the Wonderland Trail behind me and the soreness still lingering in my legs I write you this story about our 3 day, 93 mile journey around Mt Rainier. The planning, the LONG ups, the LONG downs, and the emotional roller coaster in-between.
Let’s get started!
Planning for the Wonderland Trail
The very first thing that you need to do is apply for your Wonderland Trail permit.
You can find reservation info here: Wilderness Permits.
Just know that they only take a certain number of reservations per year. They do this to make sure the trail stays in good shape.
I can’t help but think that you’ll have a better chance of getting a permit if you’re doing the trail in less days. I could be wrong, but that’s my story. 😉
We started our Wonderland Trail adventure in August to avoid having to hike over a lot of snow. That plan worked well, as we only travelled over a few hundred yards of snow in total.
Once you’ve been approved for your permit, then the fun begins. You have to ask yourself a major question…
Will you have support, or will you be carrying all of your “goods” with you?
We opted for the support. This allowed us to pack light and move fast. Although, fast is really relative, and depends on how sore you are after the first day.
After day 1 I felt like my legs wanted to fall off, so the pace was pretty slow. That being said, fast or slow, having support is about the best thing you can imagine after a long day of hiking or running.
Here’s what good support looking like…
You get to the end of your hiking/running day, and you limp into camp. You’re hungry, and cranky, and don’t want to move. But when you get to your campsite, your crew members are happy to see you. You look around and see your tent up with sleeping pad, and sleeping bag ready (and even a chocolate on your pillow). You smell your dinner already being cooked. They ask you what you need. Your mood is instantly improved. They give you your food and water, and ask if there’s anything else you need. All you have to do is change out of your nasty clothes, eat, and rest. How does that sound? I will tell you, it sounds amazing, and is amazing! If you’re going to do the Wonderland Trail in 5 days or less, get support.
Where to stay the night before your adventure…
We stayed at the Whittaker’s Motel & Bunkhouse (http://whittakersbunkhouse.com/)
What in the world should you bring on the Wonderland Trail…
This is a good question, and will be answered differently depending on your food preferences. But I will tell you what we brought (1 guy/1 girl).
Gear on our bodies
* North Face Enduro pack (guy)
* CamelBak Aventura pack (girl)
* Altra Superior trail running shoes (review – men’s / women’s)
* Vivobarefoot Neo Trail shoes
* Brooks Cascadia Trail shoes
* Reebok CrossFit Nano 2.0 shoes (review)
* We only had one pair of shoes with us, and the others were with our support people.
* Your favorite running or hiking shorts and shirts
* Lots of Lululemon was worn
* Socks – Experia running socks
* Comfortable underwear
* Don’t wear cotton
* I like Exofficio and Under Amour (a lot!)
* A sweatshirt if you think it will be cold at night
* I didn’t bring a sweatshirt, and got a little cold when the sun went down.
* Bag Balm, Body Butter, Glide, or your favorite chaffing cream
* Leatherman multitool – Here’s the one that I have (and love)
* Trail map
* Steripen water zapper (amazon.com)
*This is a MUST have! Get one.
* Nalgene water bottle with wide mouth
* Max Muscle Rehab, Icy Hot, or BioFreeze (roll on)
Food on our bodies
* Larabars – 4-6 a day
* It’s very important to get a wide variety of flavors because the ones that taste good at the beginning of your hike will not be tasting good at the end.
* My favorites are the cherry chocolate torte, chocolate coconut brownie, blueberry, and coconut cream.
* Trail mix – 1/2 bag a day
* I like the Trader Joe’s trail mix with almonds, cashews, pistachios, cherries, cranberries, and chocolate chips.
* Trader Joe’s dried mangoes – 1/2 bag a day
* Chocolate covered espresso beans – 20-30 a day
* Beef jerky – 1 pack a day
* Nuun – 1-2 bottles a day
* I’ve found that the more Nuun I take the better I feel. I’ve been putting 3 tablets per Nalgene water bottle.
* Ham and cheese sandwiches – 1-2 a day
* I could only get these down on day 1. After that they didn’t sound good enough to choke down.
Gear with our support crew
* REI Half Dome 2 Plus tent – For 2 people (rei.com)
* Sleeping bags
* Sleeping pads
* We used a piece of memory foam that was about the size of the tent, and it was the best choice of the trip. So comfortable after a long day of hiking!
* 1 sweatshirt
* 1 pair of super comfy nighttime pants to stay warm
* I like Under Armour Cold Gear pants or flannel pajama bottoms.
* 6 pairs of sox – I didn’t use them all, but you can’t have too many (I love these).
* 3 pairs of undies – One extra just in case…
* Shoes – listed above, but I had three pairs of shoes, and wore two of them on the hike, and one at camp.
* 4 T-shirts
*Whatever is comfy.
* Camping stove
* 3 bottles of propane
* We used these as plates/bowls so we could easily store uneaten food. You can’t always eat as much as you think after a long day.
* Zip lock baggies
* Tooth brush, tooth paste, and floss (yes this will make you feel better)
* Wet Wipes
* A few gallons of water
* Toilet paper – Just in case the campground runs out.
Food with our support crew
Day 1 Dinner
*We ate breakfast at the Whittaker’s Motel & Bunkhouse – Sausage, egg, and cheese bagel
* 1-3 large lamb and garlic sausages from local butcher (A&J Meats)
* 1 sweet potato – pre cubed. Just boil in water.
* 1-2 string cheese
Day 2 Breakfast
* 4-6 eggs
* 2-3 small blueberry breakfast sausages from local butcher (A&J Meats)
* Chocolate milk
Day 2 Dinner
* 1-2 packages of Trader Joe’s Indian food
* This is GREAT, doesn’t need to be refrigerated, and only needs to be heated up for eating.
* Paleo coconut flour chocolate chip cookies
* I had about 10 of these. So good! Email me for recipe.
* Chocolate milk – Left over from breakfast
Day 3 breakfast
* 4-6 eggs
* 2-3 small blueberry breakfast sausages from local butcher (A&J Meats)
Day 3 Dinner
* Whatever is still open after you finish 🙂
* We went to Jack in the box. Tasted good at the time, but YUK!! It was all that we could find open.
The other great thing about having a support crew is they can go and get you things that you didn’t realize you needed while you’re out on the trail during day 2. We needed more Larabars, ibuprofen, and Icy Hot/BioFreeze. And I’ll stress again… It is soooooo nice to have their happy, energized, smiling faces at camp when you roll in. So nice!
Important extra note!
Chances are your support crew won’t be waiting for you at the end of day 3 (or when you get back to your car). So make sure that you have a stash of clean clothes (and whatever you’ll want..) to change into at your car.
Now that I’ve shared with you exactly what we needed to accomplish the Wonderland Trail adventure, let me share with you our story…
The Wonderland Trail Adventure Story
Where to start this epic story… it’s hard to say where the adventure actually began. I would say that it started with a pile of gear in the living room. The pile started off with a tent, sleeping bags, that kinda stuff.
Because we had a support car meeting us at the campsites, we could pack extra goodies without having to worry about the weight.
The trip snuck up on us very quickly. There was the pile of stuff for the support car in the living room, but before we knew it, the Tuesday before our Wednesday departure was upon us.
That Tuesday night we made our super Trader Joe’s shopping trip. And although our basket didn’t look much different from others around us, I’m guessing that we were the only people hiking the Wonderland Trail in 3 days. $70 dollars later and were were ready to rock (plus another $20 at the butcher). Not bad for 3 days of gourmet eating. At the time Larabars and chocolate covered espresso beans sounded delightful. Too bad that didn’t last…
The plan was to leave town Wednesday night, stay at the Whittaker Motel & Bunkhouse, and start our hike on Thursday morning.
Wednesday seemed to go off without a hitch. We met our support car (my mom and her friend) to drop off our goods. After about 30 mins of hiking gear Tetris, the car was loaded to the brim.
At the time I was questioning the inclusion of the full size memory foam mattress due to the amount of space it was taking up in the car, but it would turn out to be the best thing we brought. No joke! After a long day of hiking the memory foam felt like laying on a cloud. So much better than a standard sleeping pad.
With the support car loaded like a balloon and my car ready to go, we fired up the engines and headed south. It was about an hour and a half ride down to the Whittaker Motel & Bunkhouse from Seattle.
On the way we stopped at Chipotle for 2, yes 2 burrito bowls. Gotta calorie up!
The Whittaker Motel & Bunkhouse
I really didn’t know what to expect with the Whittaker Bunkhouse, but it was exactly what we needed. Beds, and a bathroom. The interesting thing about the Whittaker Bunkhouse is that it was actually taken apart and moved at one point to the location where it is now. It was also several other businesses over the life of the structure.
Once 9pm rolled around it was time to get to sleeping. Or at least trying to sleep. I always feel like the best sleep is 2 night before adventuring. I’m just so excited to get to the adventuring that sleep seems to just be getting in the way. But before I knew it, 6am rolled around, and it was time to head to breakfast. At breakfast we got sausage, egg, and cheese on HUGE bagels. It wasn’t the best food I’d eating, but it was a lot of calories. A perfect way to get ready for a 32 mile hike.
With bellies full, and packs loaded, we headed off down the road toward Longmire ranger station where we could pick up our permit. The ranger station didn’t open until 7:30am, so we timed our arrival for just after 7:30.
Day 1: Longmire to Mowich Lake Campground, Wonderland Trail
We walked into the ranger station and saw a small model of the Wonderland trail we were about the battle. We joked about how easy it looked, and when the ranger handed over our pass he looked us up and down a few times, unsure if we knew what we were getting ourselves into.
With smiling faces, and energy high, we started down the wooded trail away from Longmire.
The Wonderland trail started off with a slight climb, and as we continued on, the degree of incline increased. I was thinking that it was cool because we’d be getting the elevation for the day out of the way. I was so, so wrong…
We had 32 miles to get to White River (clockwise around Mt Rainier), and we had determined that it would be the hardest day of elevation. Our first few miles cranked us up to 5 thousand feet at Devil’s Dream, back down to 4 thousand feet, then up to 5,500 feet, then down to 3,750, then back down to… Anyway, we went up and down, and up and down. The Wonderland Trail is the trail with no flat hiking. Haha!
It was the second long uphill when my right hip flexor and left calf started to bother me. I’d had some achilles tightness in the weeks leading up to the hike which I was a little worried about, but that was no where to be seen.
I did my best to adjust my hiking to avoid having my muscles tighten up further, but when the hills keep hitting you hard, it’s almost impossible to do so. The pain started as a dull ache that turned into sharp, stabbing pain in my hip flexor. At that time I was wishing I would have done a few more hilly hikes. Fortunately (or unfortunately, I haven’t decided) pain is something that I can turn off. Or compartmentalize, and forget about it.
We also did our best to run the downhills to make up time, and get into camp before dark. At first this was a ton of fun. Running down hills has always been my favorite. And the more technical, the better. After running down a few of the steep, rocky hills, I could feel my quads and glutes getting worn down.
As we ran past Klapatche campground we were in the clouds, but it looked like with better weather we would have had some magnificent views. Maybe another time…
With the downhill switchbacks starting after the campground I had my body on autopilot, and my mind thinking about the hike, business ideas, relationships, and them it happened… I had tripped on many rocks along the way, but I’m usually really good at catching myself. When it happened I was running along a switchback that dropped down to another switchback about 20 yards below. Luckily the ground was soft dirt and wooded brush. My toe clipped a rock, and I did my best to quickly catch myself, but I started to go down. It was like things switched to slow motion. I knew I was going to fall, but I wasn’t worried. I saw where my hands were going to hit the ground, and it was dirty, not rocky. Then I started slipping off the side of the switchback. I was readying myself for the fall when I saw a lone tree about two feet down the side of the switchback, and as my upper body slipped off the side of the mountain I extended my legs toward the tree. As I slid past things stayed in slow motion, and I hit my legs at the back of my knees on the tree and flexed hard. This caught my weight on the tree and stopped my falling. I hung there for a split second, reached up, grabbed the tree, and hoisted myself back onto the trail to resume my running. It seemed in slow motion, but also happened so fast. The next thing I knew, I was back running down the trail. I checked my hands for bleeding, and although they burned from sliding on the dirt, there was no blood. Tragedy avoided.
As the last long downhill continued before getting to North Puyallup River, our run became a muscle preserving walk. This helped, but the grade of the hill was still enough to make the muscles ache. It was like pulsing headaches in your legs. Not a good feeling when you have two more days to go… And the first hasn’t even ended yet.
After what seemed like a few hours of constant downhill, we finally leveled out, and stopped to grab a bite to eat. Something just didn’t feel right… I reached into my pocket, and my iPhone was gone. It must have fallen out when I fell. I couldn’t believe that I didn’t check my pocket after the fall. We quickly decided that going back up the hill to search for my phone would leave us a few hours later getting into camp than we projected. It would also have our support crew freaking out about our whereabouts. I decided that my phone would be a casualty of the Wonderland Trail, and I could figure out a plan later. The really sad part about that was, I was the picture taken, and that’s why I had the phone in my pocket instead of tucked away in my bag.
We got back to moving down the trail toward the North Puyallup River, and could hear this loud cracking noise that accompanied the sound of rushing water. It sounded like someone was throwing rocks, big rocks. As we got closer, we realized it was the river throwing the rocks. Because of the rainfall from earlier in the day the amount (and speed) of the river had increased, and was literally pushing the large rocks down the river. This didn’t seem like any kind of problem until approaching the river crossing, and seeing the tree (which was usually used as a bridge) pointing down the river and smacking against the rocks. This was about a 10 foot gap that we needed to navigate. And the river was moving fast enough that we would surely have been swept away if a fall were to happen.
Our first idea was to throw large rocks into the river until they crested the water, and we could hop across. This looked like it was working, but we were running out of rocks, and we needed large, heavy rocks so they weren’t swept down river. Our next attempt was logs. There were a couple large logs nearby that we strategically placed across the ragging river. And to our surprise they stayed in place. We carefully made our way across, but it was clear that our solution wasn’t for everyone. In fact, if I had a backpack on, I’m not sure that I would have used our bridge. 🙂
The hike from North Puyallup to South Mowich River was a blur of pain management, and telling myself I was close to the campground.
We hit the final sign that said 3.2 miles to the Mowich Lake Campground. Great news, except that those 3.2 miles went uphill 2,300 feet. It was a switchback massacre! My hip flexor and calf were screaming. At that moment I wasn’t sure if I would be able to move the next day, and walking 26 miles seemed out of the question. I tried to keep myself positive, and take the next day as it came. A lot can improve with a good nights sleep, right??…
We hiked, and hiked, and hiked. The uphill seemed like it wouldn’t end, and I hadn’t eaten in hours. My energy was leaving me, my body was starting to shut down. And I hit a wall. I just stopped. I couldn’t take another step until I ate something. I grabbed a Larabar from my pack. It was a chocolate coconut brownie Larabar, and tasted like the best thing I’d ever eaten. After a few moments my energy was restored, and we continued our uphill battle. What we didn’t realize was we’d stopped only a few hundred yards down the hill from the campground. We started hearing people talking… It was almost surreal at first. We couldn’t actually be finished with day 1, could we? We hiked up a steep dirt incline that quickly leveled out, and opened up to a campground. Not only was there a campground, but it was a flat surface. Probably the largest area of flat surface that we’d seen all day. And there they were… Our support crew! When we started the day, we had a plan which lead to us meeting our support crew and having everything flow, but until that moment we weren’t 100% sure how everything would spin out. When we looked around, not only did we see smiling, happy faces, but we also saw our tents constructed with sleeping pads and bags ready to go. I even had a chocolate bar on my pillow. I mean the last thing that I wasted to eat was a chocolate bar at that moment, but how awesome is that?
We gave the hugs, and told the stories of day 1, and talked about how bad our bodies were abused by the mountain. And then we ate!
It’s actually pretty funny how not hungry you usually are after a really long day of work like that. I’m talking really long day of work! I have never been hungry after doing activity longer than 6 hours (we were on the trail for over 12 hours). But you have to force down the foods anyway. It’s quite the process.
After eating, and letting our bodies realize that they weren’t moving anymore, we got ready for bed. My spirits had been lifting by all of the awesome company at our campsite, but in the back of my mind I knew that my body had some serious repairing that needed to happen if I was going to even leave the tent on day 2.
And we slept…
***Click here to continue reading The Wonderland Trail in 3 Days (Day 2)… Coming soon!
***Also see How to plan an adventure for our Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass trip