Wonderland Trail Day 3 & 4

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 3 – Devils Dream to Klapatche Park
  • 11.2 miles; 3420 Gain, 2980 Loss
Indian Henry's Hunting Ground

This section was epic! The climb out of Devils Dream was relatively short and I soon found myself strolling across Indian Henry’s hunting ground. As the picture shows, it’s pretty clear why Indian Henry built his cabin where he did. It was a fairly flat section until after the bridge.

Tahoma Creek Suspension bridge

Next up was the Tahoma Creek Suspension bridge which sits over 200ft above Tahoma Creek. I had been looking forward to walking across this bridge and will admit it was a little scarier than I anticipated it being, as it bounces right along with every step you take. But it was pretty fun too!

After a nice healthy climb out of the forest, the hike transitions into this crazy mix of forest and desert like scenery, somewhat like the Yakama Valley if you’ve ever been there. And there she is front and center, Mt Rainier and great views of Tahoma glacier. This was the first time I got such an unobstructed view of the mountain and this was a side you absolutely cannot see unless you walk this section of the trail. She (yes, Rainier is a she) looked a little decrepit from this angle, but was still so beautiful to look at.

Once you get around the glacier you start to climb into a meadow straight out of the Sound of Music. I swear I was expecting Julie Andrews to come running out and singing. It’s unbelievably stunning to have these beautiful meadows and mountain vistas on one side and Mt Rainier with Tahoma glacier on the other. I was sitting there eating lunch, had been alone for hours, and had these views on either side of me.  It was insane and epic and I sat in awe at seeing this with my own eyes.

Once I passed through the meadow, the trail starts to descend and I incorrectly assumed it would be an easy peasy path back down into the woods. Mother Nature laughed at me. First I came across a section that had been washed out, with a 1ft wide path remaining and beyond that a very severe drop-off. For about 10 steps it was imperative that my feet stayed within the narrow path granted to me or else tumble quickly to my probable and prolonged death down the side of a washed out mountain. Did I mention I’m hiking solo and had not seen anyone for hours!

As the washout transitioned back into a trail I quickly discovered it was loose rocks on dry soil. If the soil is wet, rocks mostly stick in the ground, but dry ground and loose rocks on a descent means you have this fun slip and slide hiking action going on. Except its’ not so fun when your hiking down a ridge line and there is a steep drop off on one side and a tree lined slope on the other. My money was on falling left towards the tree lined slope if need be, at least my backpack might get hung up on a tree trunk or at the very least it would slow my roll so I could enjoy a leisurely descent to death.

After a couple of questionable switchbacks I cleared the ridge line and was back into the forest. Now let me paint a brief picture of this forest I entered. If you’ve ever seen the movie Narnia, I entered it. All around me were huge boulders and logs covered in bright green moss. The light was filtering through the trees creating this vivid green wonderland. I was looking forward to walking through this real life version of Narnia and getting some shade, until I realized the loose stone slip and slide fun continued. See, if you spend your time looking at Narnia, you will inevitably slide onto your ass and get a perfectly sized stone lodged up your bum (this did not happen to me, but oh the trail tried its mightiest). So you spend your time looking down at the very thing causing you to roll your ankles, testing your core strength, and with every other step flailing you backwards. If your me, or like me, you end up having a curse filled conversation with said stones.

I made it to the forest floor without busting my ass in Narnia land (I may have thrown my poles once or twice but we won’t talk about that)! I celebrated my success by dunking my shirt into this beautifully pristine river and taking a break. Soon after, I crossed the brackish S. Puyallup river and it was back to climbing into a mix of forest and mountainside.

About 2.5 miles to camp I was back on a ridge line walking through the sound of music again. I had one more mountainside trail crossing that left little room for error. It’s not a good day if the trail doesn’t make your ass pucker once or twice, and it didn’t help that I was starting to get a little tired. There was one final meadow walk filled with flowers and butterfly’s and then onto to Saint Andrews Lake for a water stop before hitting camp (I’m not lying…the pics prove just how beautiful this section is).

The scenery on this day was truly nothing short of epic (I know I’ve used that word a lot). I knew this was going to be a long day and while I was mentally prepared, I was definitely ready to hit camp. After setting up camp, I chatted awhile with Tamara and Bear, who had made it there a bit before me. We ended up being the only ones at Klapatche and were treated to an amazing sunset over Mt Rainier and the surrounding mountains.

  • Day 4 – Klapatche Park to Golden Lakes
  • 7.8 miles: 1500 Gain, 2100 Loss

I got the best night’s sleep I’ve had in such a long time! So much so that I slept way longer than I expected to. But clearly my body needed it after yesterday’s hike. Not long after I got up it started to rain so I went back to sleep in hopes to wait it out a bit. I had a short hike today so I knew I could get a late start.

The trail started off with a pretty good descent and was quite muddy, so I was happy to have the luxury of taking my time. I came across a nice little stream to wash all my rags in and get some water. It feels so refreshing to have a clean snot rag, pee rag, and cloth to wash up with (in case that wasn’t clear it’s 3 separate rags and not the same rag for all 3 functions). Four days out in the woods really makes you appreciate the little things!

N. Puyallup River

I got to N. Puyallup camp and stopped to have lunch per a friend’s advice who had hiked the trail recently, and he didn’t let me down. There was a great view of the mountain with the Puyallup River crashing down into a waterfall right in front of me. This is when I met Luke, who popped out of the woods while I was enjoying my tuna fish and crackers. We chatted for a bit and then he went off hiking.

I stayed at the site to finish my lunch and take some pictures of the mountain. Not long after, I came upon Luke hanging out at a stream. We chatted again briefly and I went back to hiking. I knew what was coming next and likely so do you. As I figured, Luke caught up to me and made no effort to pass or continue at a pace faster than me. I would slow down and he would slow down. I was trying to be nice but short with my words (e.g. bringing out the RBF) and he still didn’t get it! Finally I said I was going to stay back and catch my breath and he went on.

I hit the ridge line not long after and he was sitting in the meadow, off the trail eating berries. One, it pissed me off running into him again and two, it pissed me off that he was off trail on protected land not meant for us hikers to be. I acknowledged him and kept walking. I got through the ridge line and into yet another magnificent meadow and was looking for a rock or spot to stop and eat a snack when a very large ball of fur caught my eye.

Sure enough, it was a big ole bear standing right off the trail eating berries. I knocked my hiking poles a couple of times and he just looked at me and went back to eating (I assume it was a he by the size). I stopped to take some pictures, because that seemed the sensible thing to do when faced with a bear. Soon after, no surprise, Luke came up behind. I pointed out the bear and he proceeded to climb into the meadow and get what I would consider to be unreasonably close to this bear. What a jackass this dude is. Not only for trampling on protected land but getting close to a BEAR.

The bear wandered over to the first set of trees closest to the trail and I took it as my opportunity to get past both the bear and Luke. As I was walking past the bear, I saw him look at me as I was looking at him. We both acknowledged each other’s presence, kept a healthy distance, and it was a successful bear encounter!

But of course Luke caught up to me again and every time I hiked faster, he did too and when I would stop to take mushroom pictures (I became enthralled with the various mushrooms along the trail), he would wait up ahead. I finally reached Golden Lakes camp and he went to one side of the lake to filter water and I went to the other. I waited until I saw him hike on before I setup camp.

Look, Luke seemed nice, but as I’ve said in my previous post, I came out here to purposefully hike SOLO! If this post teaches anyone anything, it’s that many solo hikers are out there alone because they want to be, even solo female hikers! And if you don’t want to hike alone than don’t go out alone! At the very least, please ask if the person wants company before just assuming so.

You might be asking me, why didn’t you just tell him you wanted to hike alone? Well good question. Much of the day was spent hiking up to and on a ridge line and then through a steep sloped forest. If this dude where crazy, or off balance, and got offended by me saying I didn’t want to hike with him, he could have easily pushed me down the mountain! As much as I wanted to fuck politeness (Thank you Karen Kilgariff & Georgia Hardstark from the Stay Sexy and Don’t get murdered podcast for that term) I also wanted to keep my bones intact. I wasn’t truly scared he’d push me down a mountain, but I didn’t want to be mean either. I have such a backbone in other areas of my life, I don’t know why it escaped me here.

At this point in my hike I was trying not to let things get to me, but ended up frustrated much of the day due to my unexpected trail friend…and not the bear! Once I got settled into camp and had a moment to relax, I was able to let most of the frustration go and grateful that overall I’ve experienced much more solitude than noise. Tomorrow I’m camping at another front country camp, Mowich Lake, which means I’ll have a chance to dump my trash and use a real bathroom (these are singular so I won’t have the Cougar Rock Bathroom experience thankfully).

Wonderland Trail – Day 1 & 2

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 1 – Box Canyon Trailhead to Cougar Rock Campground
  • 10.7 miles: 2254 Gain, 2180 Loss

Today was a day of contrasts. On one hand I’m flippin ecstatic to be on the trail, but I’m also shit your pants nervous too. I’m thankful for many of the people I came across, and yet extremely annoyed at others.

I pull into the trailhead about 9am and see Dave. Who’s Dave, well he was in line behind me at the Longmire ranger station, another tired soul waiting at the crack of dawn to try and secure a walk up permit to hike the trail. We talked while waiting for the ranger station to open, going over our planned itineraries and chatting about what called us out to hike this beast of a trail. Back at the trailhead, we say hello and bid each other good luck. There’s a group of roughly 10 (who I would later learn are a great bunch of people from the Sierra club) kicking off, and so I start walking just before to try and get ahead of them. Why do I do this you ask, because I’m out here for solitude, not to start my hike with a group!

Looking down on Reflection Lakes

With the exception of going a bit too fast every so often, a bad habit I contend with throughout the hike, it was a fairly flat, quiet and relatively easy section of the trail. All is good until I get near Lake Louise and Reflection lakes which is where I encounter day hikers. No offense to those people I ran across but when you are carrying a full pack and trying to get into a solitary state of mind, the last things you want to get asked are: How far till I get to the lake, where does the trail go, is there a waterfall? I wanted to reply with…I don’t know, I’m not a damn ranger and do your own research. But mostly I just shrugged my shoulders and moved on.

I kept moving until I reached Paradise River Camp, which was a good spot to take a break and filter water for the night and next day. I learned quickly to make the most of my stops. As soon as I start hiking again, I see four guys up ahead and they don’t look like you’re typical day hikers. Yes, I’m about to stereotype. The group didn’t have packs, were wearing jeans, wife beaters (err tank tops), and in one case…the dreaded shirtless man who in my opinion should not have been shirtless. I got that intuitive weird feeling and slowed my walk considerably so I wouldn’t be in view. You’re probably thinking…stop being a baby Tara. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s never to ignore that gut feeling that something might be off. Had I known if other hikers were close by I would’ve kept on at my normal pace, but as it were I had been alone for quite some time. Eventually they veered off on another trail and I went back to walking my normal pace.

It pissed me off momentarily that I let the situation bother me, that I felt fear in a place I had not expected to. I went back and forth on whether to include my feelings on this portion of the hike, as I believe the Wonderland trail to be as safe as any other trail in WA, if not more so. But I also believe that an element of caution is warranted for solo female hikers when a trail comes close to a road, neighborhood, populated area, etc. Thankfully throughout the remaining days, I came across many other groups of men hiking, none of which gave me that gut feeling to stay back.

The thru hiker camp section of Cougar Rock was a bit off the trail but I found it easily, thanks to directions from a couple of thru hikers I met earlier in the day. Midway setting up camp I met three ladies, one from Portland and two from Oklahoma City as well as some of the Sierra club hikers that kicked off the same time as me. It was great to hear other’s stories from the trail and what they experienced thus far, it got me excited for the days ahead!

Reflection Lake

I noticed by the end of the first day the different types of thru hikers I would meet. There are those that want to share where they’ve been and pass on helpful information, those seeking information from you on what they might encounter, and those that stay silent and only nod when you say hello. I respected the silent greetings but didn’t come to fully understand it until later in my trail journey.

Despite the trail tourists, it was a good first day and I felt better than I expected to feel. In hindsight, it was beneficial to complete this section first for a couple of reasons. 

  • You get one of the most populated sections out of the way on day 1
  • It’s a great section to work out the kinks, figure out your rhythm and make any pack adjustments as it’s probably the flattest, easiest section of the entire trail
  • Day 2 – Cougar Rock Campground to Devil’s Dream
  • 7.3 miles: 2506 Gain, 520 Loss

So to set the stage, I’m not a morning person. My pleasant demeanor doesn’t develop until I’ve had at least one cup of coffee (some would argue that I don’t have a pleasant demeanor even after coffee but different topic for a different day). And the campground I stayed at is a front country campground, meaning it is accessible by car. There was an area just for thru hikers, but it was still close to the regular camp sites.

So shortly before going to bed last night, a group of young girls came into camp and thought it would be a good idea to sit around with a strobe light. At about 11pm I kindly asked them to turn it off as it was ruining the wilderness camping vibe I was trying to achieve, and it was f’ing annoying. That would be the least of my problems because there was a very large group in the regular camping area partying till who knows when in the night, which meant I got very little sleep and made for a very ornery Tara in the morning.

I went straight for my coffee injection and then headed over to the camp bathroom to wash up while I still had the opportunity to use running water. I was super fortunate to get stuck in the bathroom for the second time with someone who I can only gather had spent the last 12 hours giving birth to the most massive shit ever. I will be nice and skip describing the disturbing sounds that came from that stall. I still question whether what was next to me was human.

Needless to say, I couldn’t get out of Cougar Rock campground fast enough. If the thru hike experience has taught me nothing else, I have learned:

  1. To avoid front country campgrounds on your route if at all possible
  2. That shitting in the woods can be much more pleasant than the shared front country camp bathroom experience (now, if you are on an exposed ridge line with a bunch of other hikers than this does not apply)

Once back on the trail, life got quiet again and it was an easy, flat stroll to Longmire. I needed that time to mentally get back into trail mode and let go of the frustrations of last night and this morning. Once at Longmire, it was time to pick up my food cache and get moving again. I will admit I underestimated how much weight three days’ worth of food would add to a pack containing a full day’s worth of water. The crazy thing is that after a short period of time I didn’t even recognize the weight anymore, my pack just became an extension of me.

From Longmire, I had a roughly 5.5 mile uphill slog until my first backcountry camp, Devils Dream. From this point on, I rarely encountered anyone on the trail and those I did were thru hikers, which was AMAZING! It was the first time I was able to get into this sort of automatic mode where the chatter in your mind stops and you’re moving purposefully, contently.

There’s a very basic way of life in thru hiking, but by that I don’t mean easy. You have a goal, you have to get from point A to point B. If your anal retentive like me, you study the map at night and again in the morning to understand what terrain you will go through to reach point B, what water sources might be viable, what potential obstacles you will face. You pack and unpack strategically, based on what you think you will need throughout the day and on what the weather looks like. You continually assess your supplies to understand what you are using more or less of. You do this so you know what supplies you may need to look for in the free bins at the cache locations, or what you might donate to drop unnecessary pack weight.

First view of Mt Rainier

There was one spectacular view of Rainier but beyond that most of the hike was uphill through forested areas. There was one washout to cross and well as my first dry riverbed crossing around Katz creek. It was pretty easy to follow the cairns and they were obvious as long as I remembered to slow down and look ahead, to study where I needed to go next vs. just plowing along. I didn’t know it at the time but I would have many more of those dry riverbeds to cross.

I reached Fisherman’s Hornpipe creek and knowing this would be my last good water source till camp, I went about completing my daily water chores. While filling up I came across two women who I would later learn are the mother/daughter duo Tamara and Bear. They were hiking together while Tamara’s husband and son were overseas on a boy’s trip.

We ended up camping next to each other and they so kindly invited me over to have dinner with them! As we were talking about planning for our respective hikes, they mentioned researching which camps had the best views and I thought oh no, they’re gonna take my good camps. And then I thought…so what, stop being so petty Tara! How stupid would I be to rush to a campsite to sit and do nothing just to get the good campsite, and what does that even mean?! So what if everyone makes it before me. As long as I have a place to camp and don’t get stuck on the trail in the dark, I’m good. It was the reminder I needed to just enjoy the dang hike, the experience, and not get caught up in details that don’t matter.

Dry riverbed crossing

Finding myself on the Wonderland Trail

When she laughed she was beautiful, when she cried she was beautiful, but when she was determined…she was sexy as hell. – Matt Baker

On the summit of Mt St. Helen's

I moved to Washington in October of 2016 and spent the first two summer’s on my road bike, training for and completing rides from Seattle to Portland and Seattle to Vancouver. During this time I had completed a handful of hikes, reaching the summit of Mt St Helen’s with my brother as my biggest hiking achievement yet.

Early in 2019 when I was thinking about what I wanted to challenge myself with next, I knew I was ready to hang up the bike and spend more time exploring the mountains. And to be totally real, I had just been hurt by someone I thought cared about me and was aching to wander, to get lost, to get away and sort through the unhealthy relationship patterns I continue to involve myself in…basically to try and figure my shit out!  So in the spring of 2019, I started to plan my solo thru hike on the Wonderland trail, the roller coaster hike that circumnavigates Mt. Rainier with roughly 22k feet of elevation gains/losses and roughly 93 miles in length. That seemed like a reasonable challenge, a good place to figure my shit out, or at least die trying:).

Growing up in Michigan, I had camped a decent amount in my high school days, but it was all car camping and I never had to carry anything more than a day pack on my back, let alone everything I would need for nine days! Crazy as it may seem it sounded like a lot of fun!

Sophie ready to hike

Me and Sophie started our training hikes in May and did our first overnight the first week in July. During that time I got my pack dialed in and gave half my bank account to REI. The pass to hike may be free…but the gear sure isn’t!

Fast forward to the day after Labor Day and I was walking on the Wonderland trail thinking to myself…holy shit, I’m doing this…and then immediately…holy shit, what have I gotten myself into. What proceeded was the most intense, cathartic, crazy, amazing, mentally and physically tough, yet rewarding week and a half of my year! In some ways you could say my life up until that point.

Mowich Lake

I now know what it means to hike your own hike, what it feels like to be consumed in a walking meditation. I know how liberating it feels to strip down to your skivvy’s and jump in a lake because your hot and it feels good, because you no longer care what people sitting near will think of you, and because at that moment you are exhausted, and raw and the most real, the best possible version of yourself that you can offer.

Solo thru hiking taught me that you are never truly alone. You’re surrounded by a community of individuals, most of whom are searching for the same things as you. It’s a breeding ground for true connection, from sharing trail stories at camp, sharing tips and tidbits along the trail, sharing food and resources, sharing fears with strangers without thinking twice. Where else do people connect so easily, willingly and without hesitation?

That trail changed me, it showed me what I was capable of, it showed me the benefits of slowing down, of observing, of being patient, of trusting in yourself and what is before you. It taught me to be a little more like Elsa and let some shit go. Disclaimer: I’m still working on this which is why I said some and not all, but hey, we’re all a work in progress!

Me at Summerland Bar

What I have come to learn is that when life becomes heavy… go take a walk in the woods, or take your dog to the park, or simply walk around your neighborhood. Sit in silence for a minute, look up at the moon (and observe how many other people look up just to see what you’re looking at, people can’t help it…it’s the whole FOMO thing), stare at a duck swimming in a lake, whatever it is, take just five minutes if that’s all you have to do something that calms your mind. Doing this has helped me gain perspective, to realize that I have so much to be grateful for, to realize the insignificance of my problems in the larger picture, and it usually ends up overpowering the negative, minuscule shit that creeps into my head many times.

Next up: I’ll be posting daily recaps from my Wonderland trail journey so make sure you’re signed up, that way you’ll get notified when new content arrives! In the meantime, head over to my photo gallery to check out pictures from my hike…my other adventures too, or just to look at pictures of Sophie!

What are the chances I shit myself today?

What on earth would I do if four bears came into my camp? Why, I would die of course. Literally shit myself lifeless.

– Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods

I’m sitting in the backseat of a car on a 2.5 hour drive from Phuket to Krabi (Thailand) asking myself this question, while doing my yoga belly breathing to calm my nervous system of course. To be honest, I ask myself this question frequently. But always when I travel, and especially abroad.

I could blame it on the fact that I used to suffer from panic attacks (who wouldn’t panic at the thought of shitting themselves) or that I have a sensitive stomach. But let’s be really honest, more often than not the culprit is alcohol (hence well pickled). I like to explore the local beverage offerings wherever I go…I believe it’s my moral imperative as a tourist to sample all the Chianti Tuscany has to offer, the Malbec Argentinian’s are so proud of, and the pure 4 ingredient beer in Germany.

And I know I’m not the only one with this fear because it’s been cinematized. You know that Sex In the City Charlotte moment, the one where she let’s go of her inhibitions in the shower in Mexico and accidentally gets water in her mouth and then proceeds to shit herself in front of her friends. Well lucky for her she does it at her hotel right next to her room. Knowing me I’d be in the middle of a city, hours from my hotel, wearing white pants with shit running down my leg.

There must be a word for the fear of shitting oneself, I need to look that up. Yes, these are the thoughts going through my head while I travel. But hey, if it happens, at least I’d have a great response to the “what’s your most embarrassing travel story” question on Hinge. Although I don’t think my answer is likely to score me a date…shit’s herself in public…that sounds like a woman I’m dying to date. And if it does get me a hit, that dude likely has some fetish involving shit and that’s not the kind of fetish I can compromise with. Now that I think of it, I haven’t thought about what kind of fetish I can compromise with…hmm.

So what if I shit myself, what’s the absolute worst that will happen:

  • Embarrassment = yes
  • Ruined garments = yes
  • Good way to end a bad date = absolutely
  • Failure in adulting = depends on how you look at it
  • Death = not likely

What’s the point of me telling you this? To say that while I think about this predicament way too much, I don’t let it stop me from doing what I love, whether it be hiking or traveling or hiking while travelling or any other adventure. Sure, there are things I do, or rather not do, to try and avoid my fear becoming reality (which it will someday, I’m convinced).

The point is I don’t let it control what I choose to do, I don’t let it control me! How scary is it to admit this, very! How much grief will I now endure from any of my friends choosing to read this, a ton…Natasha, I can’t wait to see what you come up with. But the more you talk about your fears, put them out in the open, and laugh about them, the less “fearful” they become. And if I had let it control me, I would not have gotten the awesome pic at the top of this post!

Who the heck is the Home Sweet Nomad?

Hi there, my name is Tara and I’m mom to the most epic retriever, Sophie, amateur photo taker, stoked ambassador for Women Who Explore, and seeker of outdoor shenanigans.

I grew up a Michigander and currently call the Pacific Northwest home. Growing up, each year my family took the typical mid-westerner trips, e.g. going to Cedar Point and Florida. While I was fortunate we were lucky to take any trips at all, I longed to travel abroad, to visit in person the places I had only read about or saw pictures of in magazines.

So what did I do about it, well right after graduation I moved to Florida, settled down into a relationship and got a job that offered very little vacation time, essentially tucking my dreams of wanderlust away. Fast forward to 2014, the year I had to put my beloved dog, Roxy, to rest after 15 years together. And then shortly thereafter, a divorce. I was 35 and realized I didn’t have a clue as to who I was as an individual, having been one half of a couple since I was 19 years old!

The only thing I did know was that I was ready to travel, and I wasn’t about to wait until I had someone to go with me.

Me in Vernazza, Italy

I kicked off my first solo trip abroad end of summer 2014 by going to London, and late that same year I went to Germany and Austria. Trips to Italy, France, Thailand, South America, as well as around the US have since followed. In 2016 I moved to Washington and fell in love with all things outdoors, which has changed the way I travel for the foreseeable future, if not forever.

Why did I start this blog? Because I know it can be scary as hell to think about going on a solo adventure…let alone actually doing it. I was 35 when I took my first solo trip abroad and 40 when I completed my first solo backpacking trip!

I’m sharing my travel and hiking stories with the hope of inspiring you to get out and embark on a trip, a hike, or any adventure that you’ve been thinking about but have been afraid to commit to. I’ll share my crazy fears (which inspired my first blog post) so you know your not alone with your crazy fears. To know it’s ok to have them as long as you don’t let it stop you from doing that thing you want to do!

Sophie at the beach