Wonderland Trail Day 5 & 6

Disclaimer: The Well Pickled Wonderland trail journal is more about my experience on the trail vs. descriptions of the trail itself. If you are looking for specific details on the actual trail, terrain, etc. I recommend picking up the book – Hiking the Wonderland Trail, written by Tami Asars. Listed mileage and elevation were sourced from the aforementioned book.

  • Day 5 – Golden Lakes to Mowich Lake
  • 9.5 miles: 2329 Gain, 2300 Loss

Queue Ice Cube’s song, Today was a good day. I kicked off at my normal late hiking hour of 9am (turns out I’m just as lazy in the morning while backpacking as I am at home). I barely saw anyone all day and the few I did were thru hikers. I scared the shit out of two guys who thought I was a bear as I was coming down a switchback hidden by thick brush, making it possible to hear but not see me. They said they were about ready to trigger the bear spray…which would’ve made for a supremely bad day on the trail!

Today provided me with the solitude I was looking for and very much needed after the day before. It was another one of those day’s where my mind mostly shut off, which is a good thing! When solo hiking my mind has a tendency to try and wander to places it shouldn’t go…reminiscing about bad decisions, former lovers, paths I should’ve taken and warnings I should’ve listened to.

Thankfully Dave came along to occupy me today and keep my mind from wandering where it shouldn’t. Now this isn’t the same Dave that I met while getting my pass, this was Dave the hover fly, which looks a lot like a bee but without a stinger. You see, there was a man named Dave Zigler who was a close family friend of ours and he was well known to crack a corny joke about every five minutes. He had the most infectious smile and was just an all-around great guy. One day my dad was telling the story of how he got stung by a bunch of bees at work and Dave said casually, well ya know Howe, it just bees that way sometimes. I have no idea why, but that corny ass joke has always stuck with me. So when this bee wannabe started following me not long after I kicked off, I affectionately named him Dave and he became my hiking buddy for the day, popping up in front of my face every now and again to remind me he was there. It may sound weird but I took it as a reminder that while I was alone I wasn’t truly alone.

The only ass pucker moment of today was crossing South Mowich River. When I picked up my cache at Longmire, the ranger warned me that the log crossing over the river had a good chance of being washed away as the river was flowing at its mightiest by this point in the year. The ranger gave me some tips on crossing at other points if need be and told me to unbuckle my pack at the crossing, that way if I fell in my pack wouldn’t get stuck and pull me under. Apparently there was a point not far down the river where it narrows enough that I’d be able to retrieve my pack. Now I was grateful for this sound logic; however, it didn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy, especially when I saw how high the river was and how fast it was flowing! Thankfully the bridge was still there, or I might have turned straight around as there was no way in hell I was fording that body of water.

The raging Mowich River

Decision Point: Walk across the log like the super confident hiker I am, or booty scoot across like the safe and responsible person I should be? I had briefly chatted with another group that day and they told me that half of them walked and the other half booty scooted. Well, being the super confident dumb-ass that I am, I told myself that my legs, and not my ass, would be getting me across that log. Well, thankfully they did, but I ain’t gonna lie, it was damn scary and I knew there was no one anywhere near me to help if shit hit the fan…or in this case if well pickled’s ass fell into the raging river. I did follow the ranger’s advice and unbuckled my pack just in case…thank you Rangers for all of your guidance!

Mowich Lake

I got to Mowich Lake and ran into Tamara and Bear. We chatted for a bit while they were drying off after a swim in the lake. I was planning to take a dip myself, but with my clothes on. Bear jokingly lectured me to stop being so damn modest and stop caring that there were people around. So I went for it, stripped down to my underroos and took a dip. I wondered why the hell it took me 40 long years not to care…thanks for the encouragement Bear…you rock my friend! It’s an alpine lake so of course it was cold as hell, even in summer, but felt damn great after five days of no shower!

You really learn to appreciate the little things when you’ve spent five days in the woods.

  • Toilets – being able to sit and potty is a luxury…trust me on this one
  • Trash cans – the joy of a trash can to a hiker, it’s real
  • Day campers/hikers who share things like paper towels with you

I ran into Brenden and his girlfriend, a couple in line with me the day I got my pass, and they setup camp right across from me. They live in the bay area and work at REI. We shared a picnic table (yet another luxury) while having dinner and talked about our experiences on the trail thus far. It’s cool to share this experience with relative strangers and yet they feel like friends in a way. The hiking community is pretty amazing!

Just after dinner, storm clouds roll in and it quickly starts to thunder and lightning strikes all around us. While this doesn’t sound like a big deal, we rarely ever get lightning in the Seattle area so it truly is unique. And it’s a little scary since we’re up at 4.4k feet and surrounded by very large trees. Everyone retires to their tents quickly as the rain starts to really come down. I check my Garmin InReach and the weather report shows some massive storms rolling in for the entire night…well, this should be interesting.

I haven’t been in a storm like this since living in Florida and never experienced one from the inside of a tent! The one benefit is that the storm curtailed anyone from partying so that means I should get a decent night’s sleep, assuming I don’t get struck by lightning, or get crushed by a fallen tree that was just struck by lightning.

  • Day 6 – Mowich Lake to Mystic Camp
  • 13.5 miles: 3771 Gain, 3000 Loss

If you read the previous post than you won’t be surprised that today started out wet! The rain storm last night properly socked us all. I woke up in the middle of the night to what felt like sleeping on a waterbed, which is great if it’s 1982 and you intend to wake up on a waterbed, but a tad disconcerting when waking up in a tent. The pad my tent was on had flooded, but thankfully my tent held and all the water remained outside! I crawled out at who knows what time and moved the tent to the one slightly less flooded spot and hoped for the best.

The Wall of Fog

Come morning I was still dry on the inside and there was a break in the storm, we all seemed to know the rain was coming back soon so it was a mad dash to pack up to try and get ahead of it. I was off with all my rain gear on and carrying my heaviest pack yet, carrying five days’ worth of food as there were no more caches for me. I made it up to Ipsut pass and had to laugh. My friend had shown me a pic of him at the pass a couple weeks earlier with this gorgeous view of the meadows lining the descent, mine was a lovely view of fog.

I descended pretty quickly and since there weren’t many views to be had I decided to hike at a faster pace today. Even though the weather wasn’t great, I decided I was going to make the best of it and be thankful for being out here and for seeing the mountain in a different way. It’s all about perspective right? Just wait till the next post…spoiler alert…perspective is a fickle friend.  I made it across yet another dry riverbed guided by cairns and as became my tradition, said a couple of thank you’s to no one in particular once across. Stupid as it may sound to some, I always feel a bit of trail magic when I’m able to cross a stretch that isn’t clearly defined (at least to me).

I started my next climb and was awarded with great views of Carbon Glacier, which is massive. I wasn’t expecting it but I realized I actually feel better when I climb vs descend. If your pack fits correctly, it becomes a part of you and you don’t feel it when climbing. I made it to my next camp, Dick Creek, by 1:45 and made the decision to keep climbing to Mystic Camp. I was having such a great climbing day and wasn’t ready to stop! I knew I shouldn’t break my permit but I also knew Tamara and Bear would be camping at Mystic and figured if the sites were full that maybe they’d let me crash on their site. I do not encourage doing this and only broke permit because I knew people that would be camping at the next site.

I was getting stronger each day and found that I was managing the hike much better than anticipated when I planned my route. Of course I had trained all summer, hiking as much as my schedule would allow. But I didn’t believe I would be able to hike the distances I was covering and feel so good throughout. It was a damn good feeling!

The hike up to Mystic Camp was pretty steep but thankfully there were a few well situated short straight spots to break it up. The hike was a mix of moss covered forest and rocky crags. The climb was solitary and uneventful until I reached about a half mile to camp. I came upon a meadow and there was a momma bear and her cub up ahead on the trail. I got my whistle out but that didn’t startle momma bear at all. I clanked my hiking poles and finally momma bear looked up at me, and then went back to eating. I decided to stay back and wait them out a bit, last thing I want to do is provoke a momma with her cub! About ten minutes later they started to move towards the forest and once she and her cub were a comfortable distance I started back down the trail. Second bear encounter was a success!

Momma bear & her cub

Once I got to Mystic Camp I spoke to the Ranger about my plan to camp with friends if a site wasn’t available (the Ranger schooled me for this…as he should have and as I deserved). I also took the opportunity to rearrange my permit since I was a day ahead of schedule. I kept the same amount of nights but added a stay at the coveted Summerland camp! I was so stoked to get a night at both Summerland and Indian bar, supposedly the two best camps on the circuit.

I ended up crashing on Tamara and Bear’s site even though a couple of the sites ended up empty. I really hope I didn’t impose on you Tamara and Bear and I’m so very thankful you allowed me to stay with you! I truly did feel bad but I had been having such a great hiking day, I didn’t want to cut it short. We didn’t chat long after dinner because the rain picked up quite a bit and the temperature started to drop considerably.

All in all it was a good day of solitude, safe hiking, a couple of decent views, another bear encounter, and a place to lay my head. It was also my biggest mileage/elevation day with my heaviest pack, and each day forward my pack will get lighter. Even with the storm, rain and cold, I’m still so glad I did this…no regrets!

Mossy Wonderland
Mossy Wonderland

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