14 Days of Wonderland

Three Months Prior

This year I hiked around a volcano.

At this time Mt. Rainier is dormant but lies waiting for its turn in the explosive shadows of another more popular one of recent times, Mt. St. Helens.

I always have been both eerily scared and intrigued by the beauty and stature of mountains. It began when I was a young girl and my grandmother lived at Mt. Rainier with her family. It continued as my cousin, David Crockett filmed the historic footage of the explosion of Mt. St. Helens when he worked for local news station KOMO 4 here in Seattle.

This year I turned 63 and decided it was time for me to spend more time wandering the backcountry and learn to live day and night in Rainier’s glacial arms and backcountry camps. Knowing I would be met with challenges along the way and knowing I would want to give up more than a few times, in the end mental and physical demands didn’t prepare me enough. I soon learned I must depend on the trust of my friends and people that would help me along the way in order to hike this classic cascade volcano.

Deciding early on I would document my 14 days through film in order to help me recount the experience more fully, my friend Shannon Hughes, who had completed the Wonderland Trail several years ago went with me ten out of the fourteen days. Shannon has a lot of hidden talents. She is a much better cook, dehydrates all her trail food. She is a writer and her cool as a cucumber nature and happy personality offset my drive and stubbornness.

I first met Shannon by a shear stoke of luck earlier 2020 when I had snowshoed with my friend Carrie up to a trail hut to hut ski system Mt. Tahoma Trails Association. Shannon and her partial Wondercrew, Susan and Catherine had a reservation along with our shared evening at High Hut. We ended up all exchanging numbers and I was told later Carrie and I were added to the Wondercrew.

At the onset of COVID-19 that ushered in a new way of life, our state shutdown all wilderness areas. The National Park did not know whether it was going to be open and the backcountry permit system was put on an indefinite hold. What we did know in June was we did not get a permit approved through the lottery and we were unsure there would be any chance of walk-up permits that were typically issued from the wilderness information system at Mt. Rainier National Park. The park generally allows a portion of permits through the lottery and the remainder are walk-up in park permits.

As time went by, the park finally pulled the bear out of the den by offering a real-time backcountry campsite availability online permit system. This was the miracle we needed to get any slim pickings of a permit for this year. The one caveat was you could only apply between 7 and 30 days in advance and are also limited to 14 days total.

Six Weeks Prior Mid-July

Shannon and I got to work creating all sorts of scenarios and managed to build a creative chain of backcountry campsites around Rainier. We also had to consider transportation and shuttling cars since we would not be able to through hike.

The most coveted time on Rainier being August and with both our schedules we soon noticed the lack of availability. All the blue Xs are not available sites. All the red stars were available. All the green stars were side trips we hadn’t taken before and could add them as excursions, optional of course. Some days would be shorter hikes, some days would be gruelingly long. As it became clear during our actual trek, the park was holding at about 50% capacity at all campsites both drive-in and backcountry. We noticed many backcountry sites were almost empty each evening as a result and we probably could have stayed anywhere in theory.

The photo below is the best we could do even with waking up at 12:01 am 30 days in advance after weeks of watching the weekly availability updates the park would post.

Our first day we started at Deer Creek Camp which is neatly tucked away along side Hwy 123 between White Pass and Naches Pass.

Episode 1 video contains a search for a lost camp known as Deer Creek as well as a rainy first day through gorgeous wildflower meadows. Lisa ends up wet from head to toe but with the help of her friends, ends up wearing gallon zip lock bags in her shoes and Carrie’s clothes for a climb up Tamanos Mountain. Runtime 9:31

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