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Joined: 16 Jun 2022
Posts: 8 | TRs | Pics
I planned to run the local Snohomish River Run, but with the air quality at the race at 160+ in Snohomish and unlikely to improve, I decided to head to Rainier and make an attempt at the Wonderland Trail. The Wonderland Trail is a 93-mile, 22,000 vertical foot trail that circumnavigates Rainier, which is usually snow-free from August-September. There are three main access points - Longmire, Mowich Lake, and White River campground, each about 32 miles apart.
10/14/2022: White River→Ipsut Creek (22.07 miles, 4,852' vert, 9:29:50)
10/15/2022: Ipsut Creek→North Puyallup River (22.30 miles, 5,764' vert, 10:38:17)
10/16/2022: North Puyallup River→Reflection Lake (24.20 miles, 7,608' vert, 11:16:45)
10/17/2022: Reflection Lake→White River (28.48 miles, 6,857' vert, 13:46:53)
Why 4-days CCW from White River?
The late-season weather forecast and my lack of available days off work constrained the upper time-limit of this trip (4-days or less), and my level of fitness and lack of wilderness experience constrained the lower bound (4-days+). In addition, Mowich Lake was slated to close on 10/16, so it was important for me to get through Mowich Lake in the first few days to maximize my bail-out options if it turned out backpacking wasn't for me. Therefore, there were two possibilities: White River CCW, or Longmire CW. Of these two, my odds of hitchhiking to civilization were better from Longmire (skyline trail proximity), so I decided to put the car at White River and go CCW.
There's five ways to do this trail with the current permit system:
1. Win the permit lottery and select an itinerary on recreation.gov
2. Pick weather-dependent permit scraps on recreation.gov, after the lottery winners take them
3. Walk-up permits - 30% of campsites are available
4. Do a three-day run, and have friends with easy-to-obtain cross-country permits at each of the cross country zones. Aspire Adventure Running also has some neat trips in this category.
5. Non-stop ultra-run
I've always wanted to do this trail after seeing wonderland-trail backpackers on a long summer day-hike to Indian Bar via Cowlitz Divide, watching this documentary, and generally being around the Rainier National Park. Watching williswall.com videos added to the fire.
After losing the permit lottery (again!), a bunch of permit scraps for a 6-day June 30th-July 5th itinerary were available. But after taking an unintentional early-season swim in frying pan creek on a shakeout hike a few weeks before, I cancelled. Fitness was certain to be a blocker for option 5 and option 4, leaving no path forward in 2022.
But then, the park announced the end of the recreation.gov online permit season on October 11th, I checked the weather, and it was a go. Somehow, the lack of snow extended into October, and Panhandle Gap didn't have a drop of snow. Therefore, I decided to try walk-up permits.
1x 18L camelback backpack
1x twilight bivy
1x half-length sleeping pad
1x 30F sleeping quilt
1x jacket, softshell pants, long-sleve synthetic shirt, hat, gloves
1x shorts & t-shirt
1x sawyer squeeze
1x bottle that screws into the squeeze filter
1x 3L camelback
8,000 calories of Tailwind Endurance Fuel – 80x (100 calories, 303mg of sodium, 88mg of potassium)
5,000 calories of chex-mix
4,000 calories of peanut m&m
4,000 calories of trail mix
2x trail map
1x elevation map
1x detailed guidebook of the trail
1x garmin forerunner 935
1x garmin in-reach sat messenger
1x 4000mAH battery
1x phone with offline maps
1x toothbrush, toothpaste
8x ibuprofin 200mg
1x small camp towel for drying out feet
Ultimately, the pack was too heavy to run with, probably ~10-13lb without food and water. A 4mph trot down some hills was about as fast as it got.
10/14/2022: White River to Ipsut Creek
On Friday, I left at 4am, picked up snacks, and got to Longmire Museum (the winter ranger station) at 7:50am. Unfortunately the hours got moved to 9am, so I had a chance to try and stuff things into my pack better. 18L is a very small pack, but it helped me stay disciplined about what to put into the pack. I did some surgery on the book (Hiking the Wonderland Trail: The Complete Guide to Mount Rainier's Premier Trail) and removed the vestigial parts not related to navigation – I did not expect to identify flora and fauna this trip. While waiting for the office to open, some visitors asked me if there were any restaurants in the park. In hindsight, I should have offered them some of my backpacking food, since I would carry too much food on this trip.
I got my permits and the ranger gave me an extra bear cylinder to use for caching. I put a third of the food into the bear cylinder to pick up on 10/16/2022, and hid the cylinder in the woods. Then, I drove around to white-river campground on the north-east side of the mountain. There are some benefits of starting at white river and going counter-clockwise – if things were going poorly, it’s easy to hitchhike out of Longmire, and I went counter-clockwise so I could pass Mowich lake before the road closes for the winter on 10/16/2022. I like caching at Longmire, because I can borrow the bear-cylinder from the ranger station and return it as I go, and I don’t have to drive an extra 2 hours at the end to turn it in or carry excess cylinders after collecting the cache.
I finally got going at 11:43am. From White River, I hiked to Sunrise Camp. I met some government scientists at sunrise camp, counting fir trees vs pine trees. Right now, the pines are losing ground to blister rust disease. I almost hiked up Burroughs mountain on accident, but a friendly day-hiker commented that I had just left the wonderland trail 200 feet ago, and was on a different trail. Oops! I was more careful after this with navigation.
Mowich Lake, 10/15/2022
Tahoma Creek Suspension Bridge, 10/16/2022
Indian Henry's Patrol Cabin, 10/16/2022
Fall colors heading up to Panhandle Gap, 10/17/2022
Mountain goats at Panhandle Gap, 10/17/2022
I filtered water at skyscraper pass, hiked up to Mystic Lake, and it got dark as I got to the bank of the carbon river.
After wandering along the side, the same log appeared from the williswall beta. But despite being a solid v5 boulderer and knowing the exact beta from williswall's website, I can't say I was confident while climbing over a random rootball over the carbon in the dark. I tried not to think about what happened the last time I went over a dubious crossing, and pulled over the 8ft rootball.
Crossing a creek in the evening
Carbon Glacier at dusk
After anti-climatically walking across on a 4-ft wide log, I met Tim Cooke (https://www.strava.com/activities/7973973469), who was making a 30-hour non-stop attempt at hour 18 and mile 50 or so, starting from longmire at 3am (option number 5...). I was a bit concerned that the first person I saw in about 15 miles was 50 miles into an ultra!
There was a scary looking set of red eyes blocking the trail near Ipsut Creek Camp at 9pm. After about 5-10 minutes of banging the hiking poles together, an unknown animal retreated into the forest and allowed me to pass. I believe this was likely a fox, but I wasn’t going to follow it to verify...
10/15/2022: Ipsut Creek→North Puyallup River
On day two, I woke up at about 8:00am or so, and it took a while to stuff everything into the pack. Eventually I learned the system for rolling up the sleeping gear more efficiently, but for the time being it was still taking me about an hour to pack up ‘camp’.
After filtering more water (necessary about twice a day), I headed up Ipsut Pass, one of the steeper passes. The key with mountain passes is to walk at a sustainable speed, avoid checking the watch, and eat as much food as you can stomach as you walk. Uphill is a great opportunity to put the stomach to work digesting solid food, since the slow pace will avoid bouncing the food around (or worse, back out!). Topping out a mountain pass or gaining a ridgeline is a great feeling – you see a slot in the distance slowly get closer and closer, until finally you go over the top and see the light on the other side!
Superb details for the carbon crossing (from WillisWall
I met two women on a hike near Mowich Lake, who were training for Wonderland Trail in 2023. Hope you two win the permit lottery!
With weather forecasts accurate to about 3-4 days, folks are either very fast & light (such that weather is predictable), or slow & armored & ready to get stormed on (spikes, parkas, waterproofing, and whatnot). The October backpacking crowd is generally the light-and-fast crowd. This trail just doesn’t work in the winter - avalanche slopes abound, panhandle gap and other narrow sections will become sketchy snow traverses, and the rivers wash out or make unsafe snowbridges. It does not take much to make snow at 7000+ ft above sea level in October, so everyone has to be willing to book it 15 miles to the nearest road if a storm arrives.
After a quick cold bath to clean off at Mowich Lake, I headed south, eventually ending up at Golden Lakes. I met three groups of clockwise hikers – Paul (ultrarunner, https://www.strava.com/activities/7975047317, started 7 hours ago at Longmire), Trent (backpacking, clockwise from Longmire), and a middle-age couple whose names I didn't catch (backpackers, clockwise from Longmire). While my campsite was intended to be South Puyallup River Camp, in practice I ran out of steam at North Puyallup and camped there. I didn’t want to camp at Klapatche Park – that area is known for bear activity according to the book. I would later pay for this procrastination with a harder day 3 and 4.
10/16/2022: North Puyallup River→Reflection Lake
I woke up at sunrise, and left quickly. By now I had learned how to pack up camp, and I was 8 miles behind my original plan, and 18 miles from Longmire. The goal for day 3 was to resupply at longmire, check the weather report, and make a decision on if I can finish the route. Ideally, a few more hours after Longmire would get me in striking distance on Day 4 – Indian Bar, Nickle Creek, or Maple Creek would all be nice. Paradise River camp would make the final day an infeasible 30 miles & 8k+ vertical foot gain, and risk an extra day and missing work on Tuesday.
After crossing Klapatche park and San Andreas park, I went past my original planned campsite and continued south. After gaining Emerald Ridge, I ended up crossing through Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground (which Dad camped at many years ago!). The suspension bridge was massive!
Waterfall at North Puyallup River
The descent from Devil’s Dream was uneventful – while the campsite had a reputation for bugs, they were not around in October. I passed through Pyramid Creek campsite, ascended Rampart Ridge, and descended towards Longmire. At the Kautz Creek, some women were closely inspecting a log crossing. Since the river was benign, I decided to test the log in style and ran across the top of it. I hopefully asked them if Longmire was around. However, I must have looked somewhat dire, because they looked at me like I was an alien! They told me Longmire was 3 miles down the trail, and I trotted through the moraine in that direction.
At Longmire, I picked up my cache, turned in my rented bear cylinder, and officially moved my itinerary from Nickle Creek to Maple Creek. As it would turn out, even this decrease in expectations was not pessimistic enough, and I wouldn’t make to Maple Creek either by night 3.
I was not sure if I should continue at Longmire. I was surrounded by happy, normal national park visitors, and it seemed like they had the right idea. In a pinch, I could hitchhike or my friend would drive over and pick me up. But, I was not ‘in a pinch’ - the weather report looked solid for another three days, and there was plenty of food. From a musculoskeletal perspective, everything was feeling sore but solid. I took some ibuprofen (200mg – a responsible quantity), turned in extra unopened food to the food box and removed some more pages of Hiking the Wonderland Trail.
This optimism promptly collided with a 2,000’ climb, on a day where I already had 5500’ of gain. It was all I could do to motivate myself to check out Narada Falls, a mere 0.1 miles off the trail and a huge highlight even in the marginal light.
I slowly trudged up the climb, and just as I crested the climb, night fell and I lost motivation. The bivy sack came out about 500 meters from reflection lake, about 8 inches off the trail. I did some math with disappointing results. Oof - 30 miles to go. As scheduled, Day 4 would break Day 3's record as the longest day I'd ever hiked.
10/17/2022: Reflection Lake→White River
I woke up at 5am. Rather than list of which body parts were sore, I’ll list the ones that were not sore. The quads and abs were doing OK. Everything else hurt. Somehow even my arms were aching from using the trekking poles. But, the end was in sight, and I got an early start on level / downhill terrain to Maple Creek. I filled up 3L of water, and moved onwards.
The Cowlitz Divide is hot and exposed. This is where I made a bit of an error, and didn’t fill up at Nickel Creek. It would have been better to top up another liter prior to climbing the cowlitz. I crossed dry-stream after dry-stream after dry-lake, and ran out near the top of the cowlitz. I could tell I was not alone in my dilemma, because some of the dry streambeds had footprints where people went looking for water. While annoying, this was not a serious situation. At least 3 options - backtrack to Nickel creek, descend the cowlitz trail, or find a route to the lake two miles to the right. Lastly, I could push on to Indian Bar shelter – even if it was dry, I could wait for nightfall to climb up Panhandle gap. On a 50F night, I can climb a hill without losing water. In addition, I was consistently drinking 6L+ a day, and was well hydrated going in to day 4.
Water conservation wasn’t necessary though, and Indian Bar had tons of water nearby. I filled up, rested, and contemplated the most formidable section of the wonderland trail that lay ahead – Panhandle Gap. Panhandle gap is notorious for it’s high elevation, steep inclines, and snow accumulation into August.
This year though, Panhandle was a rocky trail like any other. The biggest danger came from me eating too much – I had consumed 21 servings of tailwind (100 calories each), 1500 calories of chex mix, 1000 calories of peanut m&m’s this morning, and my stomach started to feel quite unsettled after a short jog.
While eating too much isn’t particularly dangerous by itself, vomiting is. After vomiting, a person is usually dehydrated and lacking in electrolytes. Therefore, I stopped running immediately, drank a few sips of pure water (no tailwind), and proceeded with caution as to not further jostle my peeved digestive system.
After Panhandle Gap, it was ‘all downhill from here’ for the next 12 miles. I walked past summerland (using the composting toilet), across Frying Pan creek, to the Frying Pan creek trailhead. I left my pack at the trailhead, drank a few sips of water, and decided to sprint the last 2.4 miles to the White River trailhead and drive down to pick up the pack.
Much to my surprise, I drove up and saw fellow humans huddled around my pack. They had seen me hiking back to frying pan, and were very concerned about my unclaimed pack at nightfall. Unfortunately, in the 35 minutes it took me to run to White River and pick up the car, the last people down from the trail had called 911 and reported an abandoned pack at nightfall at a common day-hiker trail. I should be more careful about the optics of leaving my pack in random places.
After clearing up the misunderstanding, I was off to Seattle and arrived home before 10pm. What an adventure, and what a finale for the summer season. Excessive snow in July, losing the permit lottery (again?), and lack of time off work made this challenging, so I am elated to finally accomplish that goal after so many false starts.
Indian Henry’s Patrol Cabin
Tahoma Creek Suspension Bridge
 Sunrise, Box Canyon are also seasonally available. A Grand Park or Cowlitz Divide exit is possible or some dubious exits on the west of the park, but these would be more challenging.
 Fortunately, I had Indian Bar permits for the 17th. If things went bad, I was going to sleep early, set an alarm for 1am, and try to make it back in time for work on the 18th.
Crossing the White River – the finish line is 300 meters away.
Cam, kiliki, seawallrunner, jaysway, SpookyKite89, Slim, rubywrangler, awilsondc, Brushbuffalo, mosey, reststep, zimmertr, Tom
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Joined: 30 Sep 2007
Posts: 1904 | TRs | Pics
Congrats and nice write up! We were in the process of moving so I was unable to get out much during the weather window we had; it was fortunate for you to take advantage. Glad I was of some help, that Carbon crossing was a mess.
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Joined: 16 Jun 2022
Posts: 8 | TRs | Pics
Thanks, hope the move went smoothly. As for the weather, it was better than I comprehended at the time. looked at the SNOTEL data - temperatures are now about 20-30F colder than during the trip and 10+ inches snowier at Paradise (although I'm not sure where on the trail would get the most / least snow). I am quite happy not exploring the temperature limits of the 30F quilt or the waterproofing limits of the bivy just yet.
Site Id Date Time AVG.D-1 (degF) SNWD.I-1 (in)
679 2022-10-14 60 0 Day 1
679 2022-10-15 59 0 Day 2
679 2022-10-16 59 0 Day 3
679 2022-10-17 59 0 Day 4
679 2022-10-18 58 0
679 2022-10-19 59 0
679 2022-10-20 60 0
679 2022-10-21 49 0
679 2022-10-22 35 4
679 2022-10-23 32 5
679 2022-10-24 31 4
679 2022-10-25 33 8
679 2022-10-26 33 -99.9
679 2022-10-27 31 18
679 2022-10-28 35 15
679 2022-10-29 38 13
679 2022-10-30 38 13
Next time, I'll have to figure out how to modify the camera settings and take a photo of the stars! Couldn't get the stars to appear on the camera at all.
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Joined: 09 Sep 2008
Posts: 1811 | TRs | Pics
Awesome, highly detailed post! Thanks!!
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