This year I hiked around a volcano.
Six Months Prior
At this time Mt. Rainier is dormant but lies waiting for its turn in the explosive shadows of another more popular sister mountain of recent times, Mt. St. Helens.
Eerily sacred, many of us who call the Puget Sound and Cascade mountains home are intrigued by the beauty and stature of our mountain when it is out. Phrases many of us use are “my mountain” or “the mountain is out”. The city of Tacoma near by even has a concrete wall that states, “Live like the Mountain is Out.”
For me my mountain obsession began when I was a young girl and my grandmother lived at Mt. Rainier with her family in the Longmire area. 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 now or never for me to spend more time in 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 the training of the mental and physical demands didn’t prepare me enough. I learned I must depend on and trust my friends and people that would help me along the way in order to hike this classic cascade volcano.
Candace and I started hiking together recently. We met on a group on Facebook titled, “The Wonderland Trail” group. Her husband urged her to start hiking with a group since she often hikes solo. I liked the idea of her not hiking alone plus I had the added benefit of adding a new friend to my hiking posse’.
The most popular and currently used book is Tami Asars, “Hiking the Wonderland Trail”. Since Tami Asars book is currently so popular, we picked the more leisurely 13 day trek and settled on submitting our permits for both counter-clockwise and clockwise, mid August, beginning at Mowich, a less desirable starting point.
Mowich is also less desirable for the following reason.
Mowich Lake drive-in campground is an eleven mile dirt hole drive through potholes and mud until you arrive at your even more dusty location.
After you leave your vehicle there for over a week, no telling what could happen. You may not be able to find it with all the dust. There is also no running water and pit toilets. The one desirable thing about Mowich is the beautiful crystal blue serene lake.
In the end, since the probability of being pulled out of a lottery for any itinerary published in Tami’s book is slim to none, coupled with the most desirable time to do the Wonderland being late July and August, I really thought through our strategy over and over again in my head in the middle of the night.
The window to submit is March 15th-30th this year. Here is where we started after meeting and then here is were we discussed again Tuesday and landed…
Here is my thinking why starting at Frying Pan Creek is most desirable….
First, the trailhead is in a good spot for one of the most challenging portions of the trip.
This trailhead leads to Summerland and the highest point of the Wonderland, Panhandle Gap. Panhandle Gap is usually always snow covered and there is a 2900′ elevation gain from the TH to the gap. The nice part about this is, we will stay at Indian Bar one night, then Nickel Creek day two. Our next cache is at Longmire, adjacent to our stay at either Paradise River or Cougar Rock or The National Park Inn.
2900′ elevation gain with two days of food sounds really desirable to me. It gives us a burger and a beverage at Longmire with our trip ending at Sunrise for another burger and adult celebration beverage.
After day hiking for years, I think Frying Pan Creek is most certainly the ticket!
I am using the Wonderland Guides Trail Planner to play around with several scenarios. It has online tools and easy guides to adjust days.
The best book currently available is Tami Asars Hiking the Wonderland Trail
Three Months Prior
This year I hiked around a volcano
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.
Around early June, the wilderness areas started to open and Cadence and I were able to backpack into the The Enchantments in Alpine Lakes Wilderness area. This too, is a lottery system for permits but it opens earlier and closes in February. The permit system is through the USFS and encompasses some of the more pristine areas of Washington State. Thousands of people apply for the permits within the 5 zones with permits being very limited.
- Core Enchantment Zone: 24 people per day*
- Colchuck Zone: 3 groups per day
- Stuart Zone: 4 groups per day
- Snow Zone: 5 groups per day
- Eightmile / Caroline Zone: 3 groups per day
We stayed at Eightmile Lake and hiked around Lake Caroline for 3 days at the end of June this year. It is a beautiful area. Here is a video from Eightmile Lake / Lake Caroline
After our successful and fun trip to The Enchantments, my hopes continued to stay up about The Wonderland Trail opening up as well. By the time June ended and July began my dear friend Cadance made other plans for August but I was holding out.
It was early July when my friend Shannon Hughes, who had completed the Wonderland Trail several years ago decided she could go me ten out of the fourteen days with me in August.
Shannon has a lot of hidden talents. She is a much better cook than me, dehydrates all her trail food. I was drooling each evening looking at her meals she put together. Shannon is also a strong writer, has an uncanny view on life, is full of one-liners, 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.
High Hut is an amazing adventure in and of itself. The hut is part of a hut to hut ski system in Ashford, WA known as Mt. Tahoma Trails Association. We all happened to snowshoe but most folks ski up and carry supplies on sleds. You can rent a bunk for the night or pay for lotto tickets through their gala event held at REI each November, on non pandemic years.
There is no running water, plumbing, or inside bathroom. The 5 gallon bucket you see in the photo is how you get water. There is a scoop inside, you take it outside, fill it with snow, then melt it on the wood stove. There is a sand filtration system you then dump the melted snow in for filtered water, then you heat it on the wood stove. The toilet is a pit toilet outside. VIDEO of OUR HIGH HUT ADVENTURE
Six Weeks Prior Mid-June
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 also were limited to 14 days total.
Shannon and I got to work creating all sorts of scenarios, wish lists and possibilities and then 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, pressing send 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