Wonderland Trail – Have you ever seen the rain?

  • Day 7 – Mystic Camp to Sunrise Camp
  • 8.9 miles: 2400 Gain, 1900 Loss

Last night, the temperature dropped quite a bit and rain persisted throughout the night. There was no break in the weather this morning which meant packing up camp in the rain. And this wasn’t the typical Seattle drizzle, this was full on rain. No matter how good you are at packing up your site, some of your shit is gonna get wet! I put on my rain gear for the second day and headed out towards Sunrise Camp.

There isn’t much to write about from this hike other than a day spent hiking in the rain and fog. I ate lunch basically hugging a tree, trying to get any sort of shelter I could while I ate. I came upon Berkeley Park which from what I could see through the fog and rain looked to be a stunningly beautiful meadow, or rather would be in nicer weather. Julie Andrews wasn’t running out and singing today. High above the park I did get my first look at an adult and baby mountain goat which was pretty cool.

Wonderland Trail
Berkeley Park…still beautiful when covered in fog

I reached Sunrise camp and all of the campsites were flooded, as were parts of the trail. There is an old Ranger shelter but it was boarded up and there was no overhang from the roof to create a dry spot to setup a tent. The weather report on my InReach showed rainfall to be steady throughout the night and following day.

I decided to walk to the Sunrise Visitor center a little less than a mile up from the campsite to see what options I might have of camping up there, or getting a ride back to my car. I didn’t want to walk off the trail, I really didn’t. Even though my rain gear was amazing and kept me dry underneath, I didn’t want to spend a third night in the rain, and yet another full day of hiking in the rain tomorrow. I cried on the way to the visitor’s center because I knew if I could find a ride I was going to take it, and I felt like such a quitter for even thinking about breaking my thru hike.

I got to the visitor’s center and came across a couple of other thru hikers facing the same decision as me. As we were drying our jackets, shoes, backpack covers, and tents by the huge fire in the visitor’s center, we started going over our options (camping at the visitor center was not allowable):

  1. Go back to Sunrise Camp and try to put my tent as close to the old Ranger station and hope it somewhat shelters me from the rain…and doesn’t flood.
  2. Continue to hike another 3.4 miles to the White River front country camp, pay the fee for a campsite and pitch the tent on top of a picnic table to keep it off the flooded tent pads. This site also allowed fires so it would be possible to stay warm…assuming I was actually able to get the fire started.
  3. Race it to the campsite and call dibs on sleeping in the enclosed privy (yes, it was actually discussed sleeping next to a wilderness toilet.
    1. Pro: I wouldn’t have had to worry about shitting my pants or getting wet to go potty.
    1. Con: Contracting giardia or some other ungodly parasite because you spent the night wrapped around a toilet in the woods…but hey, I would’ve been dry.
  4. Try and hitch a ride back to my car from someone at the visitor’s center.

After going over each choice numerous times and checking the weather via my InReach and with the Rangers, I decided to hitch it back to my car and abandon my thru hike of the Wonderland trail.

Yes, I could have continued and yes, I would have dealt with the rain. But my logic was that I would be spending yet another night and next full day in heavy rain which afforded absolutely no views of one of the most beautiful sections of the trail. So I would be hiking it just to say I did it.

So I went home with the plan to skip that night at Sunrise and the next night at Summerland, coming back to hike in and camp my final permit night at Indian Bar if the weather was clear.

I could not end this post without expressing my sincere gratitude to the Rainier National Park Rangers that let us hikers take over an entire area of the visitor’s center to dry our gear and rest. They were trying to provide every option available to us and were truly a gift to some cold, wet and tired hikers. And the biggest thank you of all to the trail angel who went out of his way to take me back to my car so I could sleep in a warm bed, instead of a cold tent over a water logged campsite or on top of a picnic table!

  • Day 8/9 – Frying pan creek to Indian Bar loop
  • 8.8 miles each way: 2900 Gain 1800 Loss

The storm finally cleared out and I was back on the trail, kicking off my hike from the Fryinpan Creek trailhead about 9am. The day was absolutely beautiful, despite fog rolling in and covering most of the mountain and surrounding hillside by noon. Even without complete views of Rainier, the landscape was amazing. It also helped my mood having had gone home and showered, cleaned my gear, and had pizza and a couple of beers (a huge improvement after seven days of dehydrated trail food).

Going through Panhandle gap with up close views of glaciers mixed with the desert like terrain was stunning, and nothing like I’d seen before. Once I crossed through Panhandle Gap I entered Ohanapecosh Park, this mega meadow filled with plant species such as lupine, American bistort, pasqueflower, paintbrush, mountain daisy, gray’s lovage, glacier lily, and avalanche lily. Views of distant mountains and evergreen trees complete the Bob Ross real life landscape painting. If I didn’t know better I’d swear Walt Disney himself came out and landscaped the trail. It’s crazy to me that each year this meadow goes through the cycle of seasons, the plants dying and then grow back into this beautiful landscape without human intervention. I image Berkeley Park must look similar to this and I vow to go back and see it someday when it’s not pouring down raining.

After crossing the park, the trail starts descending rapidly. I look down the trail and see this very tiny structure and realize it’s the group site at Indian Bar campground. I consult my trusty Green Trails map and deduce that there is only one mile to go before camp, and that mile is all vertical! At least I got lovely views while shredding my knees.

I got to camp and ran into my trail friends from the Sierra club as they were drying out their tents. They confirmed that it did in fact rain all throughout the night I walked off the trail and all the following day. We chatted for a good while about our trail experiences and what we planned to do next. I then settled into campsite #4, which wasn’t as great as the coveted #2 site, but it did have a path which led to a comfy little rock with solid and solitary views of the mountain, a great makeshift trail patio to enjoy dinner and my morning coffee.

Looking back towards Indian Bar on my way to Summerland

The next morning I took my time savoring my coffee while soaking up the scenery, my last day on the Wonderland trail. I had such a hard time removing my ass from that comfy little rock, from my lovely little camp patio…I wasn’t ready to leave. I wasn’t ready to face what was out there, beyond the woods, beyond these mountains.  Reluctantly, I packed up and headed back towards my car at Fryingpan creek, with the sun shining all day and the mountain out for my entire hike…a sign, I don’t know what kind, but a sign. On that 8.8 miles back to my car, I was finally able to hike my own hike, to keep my pace slow enough to enjoy every last bit of the trail.

2 thoughts on “Wonderland Trail – Have you ever seen the rain?

    1. Melissa, it was an amazing hike and I hope to have the opportunity to hike it again in the next couple years and actually finish the thru hike. Thanks for visiting!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: