Smoke, Rocks, and Trees: Four Days on the Wonderland Trail

Record of an attempt to thruhike around a massive volcano as wildfires raged in the forests nearby. I went to grieve, to mend a broken heart, to walk my own talk with the Divine, and in doing so made new friends, one of them a dog, struggled with aging, and came face to face with…myself.

*This is a work in progress. Feel free to enjoy in the meantime. Thank you!*

Click on any image to enlarge the foto. Enjoy.

Wayne & I gaze up into the smoke-choked Tatoosh Range from where we stood along the banks of the Nisqually River, Mount Rainier National Park. Tuesday morning the 5th of September 2017. May the fires stay far away! May the long-promised rain finally fall!

Wildfires burned along the eastern edges of the national park, spilling out from the Norse Peak Wilderness from lightning strikes during a short but severe mini-drought. Even so, aye, even so, the Trail beckons and calls my soul forth to walk these paths thru mountain forests. This is a section of the Wonderland Trail near Longmire, Day 1 of 4.

The Sun burns thru smoky haze in the late afternoon at Klapatche Park on the Wonderland Trail, Day 2 of 4.

Tahoma Creek thunders below the infamous swinging bridge across the gorge. In the morning of Day 2. Felt like walking into the apocalypse, and all was beautiful anyway.

I went into the wilderness to grieve. My attempt to thruhike the Wonderland Trail, one of the most celebrated of the short long-distance trails, wasn’t to conquer nature or rack up another win on a list of long-distance hiking trails. The intention was to immerse myself in solitude so as to engage the Divine one-on-one. Especially while deep in the backcountry far away from crowds of people. Truth is I went into Nature to heal. 

This solo backpacking trip would be my own Walk ‘n’ Talk with God & Goddess, so to speak. For while I didn’t always show it, I remained in deep pain from the heartbreak of being ghosted not quite two months earlier by an otherwise extraordinary woman whom I loved and adored and, it appeared at the time, she, me. At least she seemed to love and appreciate me in the beginning of what was to be a remarkable and unusual albeit short-lived relationship. The irony is she was a bit of a globetrotter herself. She sought out long-distance hiking trails to heal and in doing so strip away the faux veneer of urban civilization. Aye, in many ways we were so much alike our similarities felt uncanny. Yet it was not to be. Nor did I see the end coming. 

Life goes on for the living, however, and tears heal. Grieving is healthy albeit painful for those grieving. It’s uncomfortable for those around the bereaved. So I chose to hike around the massive bulk of a giant volcano as my way of moving forward in this life. For as I took one step after another and one breath upon the next the immediacy of the Trail demanded such total focus as to push out all thoughts of anything else but the next breath and the next step and the next bite to eat and water to drink. These demands plus the threat of rapidly-spreading wildfires during a short but severe drought in the wake of record breaking snowfall and flooding all became part of my healing process.

Mt. Rainier on a clear day, the day of the great Total Solar Eclipse on Monday 21 August 2017. This was taken about 2 hours after the Luna eclipsed Sol. During my attempt to thruhike the Wonderland Trail, however, the great volcano was veiled in smoke & ash the entire time. I only caught fleeting glimpses of what the Tribal Alliance to Restore Native Names chose to call Ti’Swaq’, the Sky Wiper.

This Journey was marked by the harbinger of Full Moon gone blood red with wildfire ash & smoke the night before I left as I packed for the Trail. This foto of Red Luna was snapped on the night of Labor Day Monday in Condoland.

Red Luna dances across the Great Smoky Heavens. I moved my Nikon D90 around in loopy loops to capture this & the following images.

Something felt wrong, as if Archonic entities alien to our galaxy had somehow infected both Sun & Moon with mutant zombie werewolf viruses.

Wildfire Moonrise over where I lived in Condoland at SeaTac during this time. Monday night of 4 September 2017.

Red Luna gone quietly mad as she watches the human destruction of Earth’s biospheres upon the Eve of my Journey. But how can a cold, round, cater-blasted rock focus and reflect so much power back to those who dared summon it?

The contagion of Global Climate Disruption seems to infect even the Sun. Ash falls as snow down here in Tacoma as I wait for my good buddy Wayne to pick me up in his truck. I’d took one of the Rapid Line buses down from the SeaTac Link Light-Rail Station. BOOM, it was FAST!

Dawn breaks open the Night early this Tuesday morning in Tacoma as I wait for my friend Wayne & his dog to show up with his pickup truck at the Tacoma Dome mass transit hub. Day 1 of 4. Is the faint planet to the lower, righthand side of Sol Mercury or Venus?

Nope, Wayne & I did NOT go over to the Ladybug Bikini Expresso stand, LOL. Basically, while curious & horny guys, we also thought such things were kinda stupid. They felt disrespectful of girls and women. Where, however, is one to draw the line between playful fun, choice & consent, leveraging one’s natural physical appearances, sexism, healthy expressions of masculine-feminine polarity, eroticism leveraged as a capitalist marketing tactic, and socio-economic class exploitation of working class females? Would having nearly-naked males serving coffee level the playing field in a fun, playful way or constitute another sexist, class war assault on working class folks? What about LGBTQIAKP+ folks? I later got my coffee elsewhere after we got on the road. Meanwhile, fine ash the color of zombie flesh kept drifting down from wildfires all around.

This was where Wayne volunteered to drive me to, the traditional start of the Wonderland Trail loop at Longmire, the little village within Mt. Rainier National Park about halfway between the Nisqually Entrance and Paradise Village higher up on The Mountain.

Wayne Carter and his dog Soulo outside a little store in Elbe, WA, where we stopped for coffee & bathroom breaks. Wayne’s one of my best friends. Soulo, however, is his “bestest” friend. Wayne & I met up in Canada in 2005 & 2006 as fellow students in various workshops & seminars including a year-long psychospiritual counseling program.

Wayne & I goofing around in his truck with Soulo drooling contently in my lap.

It’s been a long, long time since I last allowed myself to get close to any dog. Once when I was a young boy rural Virginia and active in Cub Scouts, a large German Shepherd backed me up against a wall between two thick boxwood bushes at the house where our Cub Scout meeting took place. I stood perfectly still as the beast growled and snarled at me, his eyes leveled with my eyes. I knew if I ran or fought the dog would rip out my throat. After what seemed a long time, the dog finally backed away. Years later after it attacked other people, the dog was put down and killed. As a teenager on a farm out in the country who took on a few stray dogs as pets, I experienced my father shooting them dead as those dogs were also getting into people’s garbage and pooping in their yards. Two of my ex-wives had pet dogs, and my children considered the latter to be one of the family. I wouldn’t allow myself, however, to get close to them. I finally let go of such things with Soulo on this Journey to Ti’Swaq’,

This new friendship was unexpected and proved to be a breakthru in relationship for me.

The Sun glared down thru clouds and smoke as we rolled thru the Nisqually Entrance Gates and on into the national park’s SW corner.

Wayne & I pulled over off the side of the road into a viewpoint. The Nisqually River romped below us even as the current mini-drought had shrunk the once-wide river into small, braided channels strewn with logs and rocks. We could smell the smoke. Burned the eyes and throat a little bit, but wasn’t too bad. Yet.

The Nisqually at low water as it reflects the sunrise thru smoke & fire. A brief stop on our way to Longmire.

The muddy water looks almost golden.

The gnarly Tatoosh shrouded in veils of wildfire smoke drifting in from fires east, south, and north. It wasn’t the scene of majestic alpine grandeur I’d liked to have seen. These views with their hints of apocalyptic inferno mesmerize me anyway. Sometimes one has to go into it, aye, to go into it open wide to whatever happens. Open eyes, open mind, & with open heart. Such, however, must be one’s choice. I choose to go forward into it all despite the threat of spreading forest fires and trail closures.

Images of Nature’s violence are never far upon the volcano.

Wildfire Sun.

The Longmire Ranger Station lays just up from where the loop of the Wonderland Trail begins & ends (tho one can start & stop upon it from several other intersections as well).

Just as I turned around from looking at the ranger station to snap a picture of the WT sign …

…a Park Ranger on patrol pulls over visitors in another car. I don’t know the officer’s reason, but I snap a picture of the sign anyway. Rampart Ridge hulks in the background.

As a walk-in with a plan rather than a backpacker with a reservation, I had counted on the wildfires and the day being Tuesday right after Labor Day to keep the crowds away. Nope. This is the Pacific Northwest, and people go out into the backcountry in every kind of condition imaginable. Longtime Cascadians take pride in going out in all kinds of unpleasant circumstances. Nevertheless the Rangers helped me craft a plan to get me around the mountain from Longmire. As I didn’t have a car as I donated mine back in the Spring, I didn’t set up any caches. Carried everything I needed in a bearcan. Other than the bearcan I traveled as an ultralight backpacker.

The Wonderland Trail began on this stretch of old roadbed gone back to nature behind the Longmire Ranger Station. Hugged Wayne & Soulo goodbye and off I went.

Yes, I know I already posted this picture. The moment I saw this natural gateway where the old roadbed narrowed into a footpath was the moment I knew I was back home in the wilderness. This was a pivotal moment for me.

Descending into Kautz Creek Canyon, Day 1 of 4.

Looking to my right as I go down this eroded, crumbling section of trail.

Staring up Kautz Creek Canyon at The Mountain, but the volcano is shrouded in smoke. Two tiny figures near the lower left center of the foto are two men clambering over boulders as they scurry over to the other side.

Sometimes it felt as if the giant volcano goddess used her bulk to shield us and the forests from the inferno raging on the other side.

Looking down Kautz Creek Canyon from the Wonderland Trail.

OK, now, stop looking & just go! Go, Go, Go! This trail is 93 miles around, y’know.

One of the peaks across Kautz Creek. Maybe even Pyramid Peak. Hard to tell in all that smoke. Could’ve took a bearing on my compass & collated with my altimeter & map, to. But didn’t. Chose to hike on. I don’t need GPS or GLONASS out here.

Zooming in on The Mountain that Wipes the Sky.

As close as my eyes can get with the standard 35 mm lens on my 7-yro Nikon D90 DSLR. At the time I bought it after losing my other cameras in a house fire, the D90 was considered the best of the lighter weight DSLR for outdoor adventure travel for those on a limited budget. Now such a designation seems to go to those new Sonys. Things are always changing, from landscapes to technology.

There they are. Must’ve paused for a break. My imagination conjures up what this canyon might look like with all those rocks under a flood of raging mudwater. Kayaking that would be death, huh?

That’s me! About to cross over on a log bridge.

Wow, even a low-water crossing now would be dangerous as the channel is still too deep and the current forceful. Glad for the bridge, altho true wilderness is bereft of such artifacts of civilization.

Yes, I’m glad I don’t have to ford this wicked little stream of rushing mudwater.

I could scoot across the log down there across Kautz Creek if I really had to. Looks like others at least attempted it. Probably made it. Just unbuckle your backpack & loosen it up so as to ditch it quickly if you fall into these continuous mudwater rapids.

I’ll walk across the footbridge instead. And I did, too. After I unbuckled my hip belt, of course.

Rocks get rolled around in these kinds of rapids. When I saw this rock from about halfway across the footbridge, I was reminded instantly of the rock we cling to in the song, “Amazing Grace.”

This watering hole just after crossing Pyramid Creek turned out to be my favorite place to refill from. Tasted so clean & fresh! I used a Sawyer minifilter & collapsible water bottles. This may be Fishers Hornpipe Creek or a branch of it. A group of young women hiked by smelling of wood smoke. A few scowled and a couple of them smiled. They had just refilled upstream at another watering hole, but admitted this one was better. My first campsite for the night lay ahead at Devil’s Dream, a gloomy place among huge trees, dried up streams, an abandoned campsite nearby, and a Backcountry Ranger Patrol Cabin. A young Ranger I’ll call Red, as he was a White guy with carrot red hair & beard, came around to check on permits & schedules. He warned those of us thruhikers camping there he heard MRNP Headquarters were considering whether or not to close the Wonderland Trail as the Norse Peak Wildfire continued to burn its way deeper into the park. Day 1 came to an end with fitful sleep, midnight pisses, and smoke passing between us and the stars.

Day 2, Wednesday the 6th of September, dawns as I look back towards the forests from which I came. I began to enter the meadows & woods of Indian Henry’s Hunting Grounds. Fire closures or not, I determined to get as far as I could. I fussed a lot with the Divine along the way as I grieved the end of an unusual & intense romantic relationship with a woman who’d recently completed the Pacific Crest Trail.

Crossing into the Hunting Grounds.

Sweaty already.

The early morning sunrise eases upwards between the forest trees.

All in the same place at about the same time but from different angles & directions.

Moving on into my second day on the Wonderland Trail…looking ahead.

Then looking back.

The Ranger Patrol Cabin on the edge of Indian Henry Hunting Grounds. Camping is no longer allowed in the meadows as they were heavily damaged by trampling hikers in years past before there was much of an understanding of ecosystem fragility and minimum impact ethics. This cabin, constructed in 1915, is the oldest backcountry patrol cabin built by the National Park Service at Mt. Rainier. Prior to building cabins around the mountain trails the Rangers used old mining cabins. None of those old miner camps exist any longer, but the Indian Henry cabin was added to the List of Classified Structures, a Federal categorization of noteworthy buildings within the U.S.A.’s National Park system.

Sunbeams ebb & flow thru the trees making anything glow including the outside of the cabin. Moments after taking this foto, Red the Ranger comes out onto the porch with a mug of coffee in hand. We wave at each other, & I march on.

The notorious swinging bridge across Tahoma Creek Gorge swings into view. I’ve looked forward to this for a long, long time. I first learned of the Wonderland Trail’s existence when I first climbed Mt. Rainier during my first trip into Washington State. Gosh, that was July & August of 1986 after I completed my NOLS Mountaineering Course in the Wind Rivers of Wyoming, 31 years ago. Wow, how time passes. I’m confronted with aging, too. Yes, age is a number, age is a state of mind, age is a disease that can be somewhat reversed & held at bay for awhile, and I feel it’s effects. Even tho I’m in better shape than ever in some ways, for me aging is the accumulation of injuries over time, including damage to skin & blood vessels as well as to muscles, bones, & joints. But, hell, I’m only 58. Men & women in their 80s & 90s working out in the Gym or running in races have all told me I’m just a middle-aged “puppy.” LOL!

Shoot, that bridge looks like one could run across it then stop & dance upon those wobbly planks.

Yeah, it’s a long ways down into those thundering rapids surrounded by steep, shifting rocks & dirt.

OK, time to just go, go, GO, LOL!

The bridge was a bit bouncy, sure, but not too bad. Some of those boards were loose, and, again, easy to step across. Hey, it’s a swinging bridge! Easy as eating pie … as long as you balance yourself. Definitely not for anyone with the whirlies of vertigo.

Shee-yit, that was nothin’!

Oops! One shift to the side & the whole damn thing tilts. Still, plenty of cable to pucker up to!

Looking up the gorge Tahoma Creek blasted out from the Tahoma Glaciers on down.

See? No problemo!

This was a tough ol’ fella in his 60s. Almost 70, I think. He’d thruhiked the WT at least once before and was doing it again. He was proud of the heavy weight he lugged. Glad I was traveling lightweight, bearcan for all 93 miles aside.

He admitted to being a little bit nervous because “too many planks were loose! A guy coulda fallen thru back there!” He did fine. A bit of a giant, he kept the gantry & skywalk fairly stable.

After hiking thru a hot, dusty desert at the base of Emerald Ridge near the bottom of the Tahoma Glaciers, the WT climbed up and rounded the corner into this expanse of hellish beauty. The smoke was heavy enough to irritate eyes & throat. Worse here than anywhere else. I’m looking up at the volcano. Can’t really see it, tho. Day 2 of 4.

Gazing thru smokey haze at the lower crevasse fields of the Tahoma Glacier.

Meltwater exits from subglacial caverns to pour out upon rock & dirt covered ice. These glacial outflows are the primary headwaters of the South Puyallup River. The yellows & reds are from an abundance of sulfur & iron. It’s a volcano, after all.

Close-up of dirt-encrusted ice caves. Tahoma Glacier, MRNP. Day 2 of 4.

Looking back at what looks like a giant dinosaur in the smoke, the broken horns of Glacier Island Rock.

A late-summer waterfall plunges into the headwaters of the South Puyallup River.

What IS this? Does anyone know? If so, please contact me. Whatever this is, well, it is HUGE! I have not ever seen anything like this before, and I’ve seen plenty of sinkholes, moulins, wormholes, moats, & crevasses. Seen rivers in the Southern Appalachians drain down thru boulder sieves into underground channels. This is SO bizarre!

Is this some kind of sinkhole – moulin? Underneath all those piles of dirty rock is the compacted ancient ice of the glacier itself. Probably a moulin collapsed into a sinkhole? Other hikers & mountaineers I spoke with later about this claimed this was a mystery to them, too. None of them have ever seen anything like this either.

My initial desire to clamber down & walk out to shoot fotos vanished when I contemplated the dire outcome of having the ground collapse beneath my feet. This perfectly circular cylinder of a hole reminded me of those giant methane gas craters in the Siberia tundra. Except there isn’t any crater rim piled with ejected debris. Do you see any evidence of an explosion? There wouldn’t be any methane gas pockets down under the ice & rock of a glacier anyway, yes? So what the Hell is this hole in the ground? Day 2 of 4.

The view of the WT and Emerald Ridge immediately opposite of where I stood looking way down at the anomalous moulin-sinkhole below.

On the smokey edge of Emerald Ridge with the giant mystery hole & the upper canyons of the South Puyallup to the north (foto right).

Selfie time! And I suck at taking self-portraits, too. Even harder for me to choose, LOL!

Hmn Hn, yes, this is me, dammit. And I love being outside on these mountain trails! Doesn’t matter how tired, hot, sweaty, cold, dusty, bloody, aching, sore, thirsty, hungry, whatever I may be. Just glad to be outside in Nature moving solo among small bands of other hikers & climbers.

Looking back into ever shifting smoke. There’s Glacier Island Rock & some of the slopes of Rainier.

See, I can smile…

…Sometimes.

Cross-section of the Tahoma Glacier above the South Puyallup headwaters.

Yes, lookit. Me again. Alive before I die.

Looking over towards more rolling meadows along Emerald Ridge.

Yep, long hair, hearing aids, & broken glasses, LOL!

The trail down along the not-quite-northern flanks of Emerald Ridge as the WT drops down alongside the South Puyallup. Ranger Red has just disappeared over the horizon there after catching up to me for a pleasant chat regarding the challenges of careers & romance in the outdoor adventure lifestyle.

OK, last one of the head of a man named William Dudley Bass. For today, anyway. From Emerald Ridge, Day 2 of 4.

Staring down into the roaring, thundering mudwater rapids of the Upper South Puyallup River Gorge.

These continuous rapids were the most terrifying ones I encountered on my attempt to thruhike the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier. Seeing these rapids generated a little bit of trepidation as there were several crossings of multiple channels of the river without any footbridges. All of had been blown out by floodwaters. I’ll see… Still have a long ways to go before I stop to camp for the night.

The Trail downhill along Emerald Ridge was easy enough.

The South Puyallup…

Cliffs above the river.

Glad I didn’t have to cross here. The actual crossing proved rather uneventful, however, tho tedious & potentially deadly in a couple of spots. The river had spread out across wide gravel bars & boulder gardens. Some channels were shallow. I merely jumped or splashed across. Two or three were hairy scrambles across bouncing log jams. You could hear big rocks clanking underwater as the force of the rapids tumbled them downstream. Again, with focus & breath control, it was easy as there were always plenty of handholds & footholds as well as rogue branches to snag your pack up in. A few hikers told of scary close calls, but most didn’t have any trouble. A group of 4 Texans from Austin, however, lost a 2-person tent as they bobbed across a logjam. They didn’t doublecheck their straps & apparently the tent fell off into the river & slipped away beneath the surface of those churning mudwater rapids. One ranger later told us they sometimes found lost gear scattered downstream of those particular crossings. 

Coming up on Klapatche Park Campsites. I had initially wanted to camp here after hiking in from Devil’s Dream, but the ranger working with me back at Longmire instead scheduled me to go all the way to Golden Lakes. The relentless up & down of extreme elevation gained & lost was beginning to take a toll. I pushed hard, ate well, stayed hydrated, & the smoke didn’t bother me much, but I could feel exhaustion setting in. As an experienced thruhiker & mountaineer, however, one learns to accept exhaustion, embrace it even, & push on thru one physical & mental barrier after another. Even so, I felt it in my bones & joints I wouldn’t make it to Golden Lakes. But the sun was low in the sky, & I wanted to push on beyond Klapatche anyway.

The rocky blob ahead in the smoke reminded me of Cthulhu, the Kosmic monster god-demon conjured up by the creative madness of H.P. Lovecraft. Standing all alone & bereft of love, heartbroken with grief, yammering to a God & Goddess who don’t seem to hear, feeling exhausted, hearing the roar of silence, lost in the smokey haze, waiting for predicted rains that never came, well, I might as well been at the edge of the world buried deep within the Cthulhu Mythos.

And the Sun begins its descent beyond Klapatche Park into the Celestial Inferno to bathe Cthulhu’s Earth in shadows of fire & smoke.

Solarian views between the conifers of Klapatche.

Behold Cthulhu’s Baby, mutant spawn of Cthulhu & the Volcano Goddess, LOL!

Dried up alpine meadow bogs in front of the Backcountry Ranger Patrol Cabin at Golden Lakes just past Sunset Park, Day 3 of 4. I ended up camping in a dark corner in the far back of the North Puyallup River campsite upon what used to be an old tourist road long abandoned to the violence of Nature amok. I sensed hungry bears & cougars about, but wasn’t too worried. Clashed some rocks together to make enough noise to let them know a fool abides here above yon thundering rapids. Day 2 of 4 proved to be the longest of this trip. Map says 15 miles or so, but the Rangers said due to relos & recent changes the true mileage was 17 miles that day. I felt proud of what I accomplished. It’s not the same on a longer thruhike when you start out low-to-moderate mileage to work yourself up to over 30 miles a day. I jumped in quickly and charged up & down over those steep volcanic ridges & in & out of canyons.

Boardwalk from the patrol cabin behind me out to the Wonderland Trail.

Side trail to the Golden Lake campsites.

Behind the Golden Lakes Ranger Patrol Cabin at The Golden Lake.

Supposed to be a good swimming hole down in there, and I felt an urgency to press on back down the WT. Many miles to go & rumors have it the Park Rangers have closed all trails to the East of Mt. Rainier & as well as many of those to the North. How quickly are the flames spreading? Is it a slow moving ground fire? Or a firestorm blazing across the forest canopy? All we know it’s smoky smokey smokie!!! One of the advantages, however, of having either shorter hiking days or a looser schedule is to make the time to go jump in the lake & play.

What’s over there beyond the far shore?

Sky. Water. Trees. Rocks. Logs. Smoke & Haze.

Peeking back at the Ranger Cabin from the lakeshore.

Front of the Golden Lakes/Sunset Park Ranger Patrol Cabin, first constructed in 1922 between the First & Second World Wars. Check out those early 21st Century solar panels!

Golden Lakes cabin boardwalk across a dried up meadow bog.

Ended up taking a long lunch break here. In hindsight I wished I’d gone swimming. People also swam in the larger Sunset Park lake, too. I question the biological impact of so many human bodies with all their chemical deodorants, lotions, soaps, detergents, meds, shampoos, conditioners, sunscreen, bug repellant, even clothing submerged in the fragile environment of these small alpine lakes & ponds.

Back on the Wonderland Trail. Zigzagging north to camp at Mowich Lake. My last full day of backpacking on this solo expedition cut short. Day 3 of 4.

Afternoon sunshine beams thru the forest. I pause in awe & ask the Divine 10,000 questions & make several direct requests. Still, I have a long ways to go, both today & in other areas of my life.

A mid-afternoon pause to snack, drink, piss, & take pictures. Including selfies in the woods, LOL!

Yes, my broken glasses barely stay on my face. But, hey, it’s a funny day, eh? Cuz life is messy!

My pack feels lighter & lighter as I get stronger & faster. My low back still hurts, tho. Heaviest item is my big yellow bearcan with 8 days of food + emergency rations. After this evening’s meal, I’ll have 5 days of food left as well as the ERs.

Time to go.

River bottom views between the stream crossings of the South & North Mowich Rivers.

Peering close into the shelves of a giant orange mushroom or sulfur shelf fungus, sometimes known as a “chicken of the woods.” The western orange shelfies are among the Laetiporus genus of saprophytic tree parasites. They are mildly edible altho some experience non-lethal but unpleasant allergic reactions to these deep woods fungi. The most common ones found across Cascadia are Laetiporus sulfureus and especially Laetiporus conifericola. Gazing upon these organisms was a quasi-psychedelic experience for me.

Discovered this fungus cluster in the peninsula between the South & North Mowich Rivers.

Day 3 of 4 comes to an end. I finally reached Mowich Lake in the late afternoon & was prepared to push on to Ipsut Creek to camp. The Park Rangers had already closed the eastern half of the park and today much of the northern half. I could backpack the WT further, but then would have to turn around to be evacuated from Mowich Lake. Thus I decided to end my thruhike here. Much self-healing had been achieved, I’d bawled my face sopping wet with tears & sweat, wondered WTF Rose!?!, yelled at God, asked Goddess for help, questioned their existence, felt their presence, and, shit, y’know, I was done. Done. Just like that. Peace & calm grounded me into the shores of the lake. This was a new experience as in the past I would get upset if I couldn’t finish what I started. Now I felt a sense of serenity even as the long-awaited rain began to fall. Mt. Rainier National Park, NW Corner, Thursday night of the 7th of September 2017.

Temperatures dropped, wet clouds drifted down, and the rain was cold, cold, cold, but I loved it anyway. Struck up many a merry conversation with all the other hikers piling up into Mowich Lake’s Campground. Ate well. Slept well.

Thruhikers & section hikers piled in to await evacuation back to Longmire. A large contingent of volunteers from the Sierra Club were there, too, to repair & maintain area hiking trails. The division between long-distance hiker trash & the weekender Clubbers with their portable shower was comical. Other than some light drizzle & dampness, the overnight rain petered out by early-mid morning.

Most of us thruhikers had already packed up, LOL. I’m standing in the back of one of the Park Ranger pickups. Helped them load in garbage & tools. At first the Rangers wanted us thruhikers to turn around & backpack back to Longmire the way we came. We all revolted. Hell no, we protested quietly but firmly. Logistics, caches, & schedules were all messed up. I had to let my friend Michelle who was generous enough to drive out & pick me up next week after she got off work that she didn’t have to do that now, concerns about spreading wildfires, no cell communication from Mowich Lake, just ranger radio, etc., etc.. So HQs relented & we thruhikers had to wait for the first of several convoys of 3 pickup trucks each to evacuate us out. I made friends with two couples from Austin, TX and another from Los Angeles, CA. There are others, too, from around the U.S.A. & even other countries.

Mowich Lake outflow into Crater Creek which spills southwestwards between the flanks of Elizabeth Ridge & Faye Peak. The air smells & feels so much cleaner…but only for a few short hours before slow-moving walls of smoke push back in.

Where the lake flows out into the creek…

Mowich Lake in the morning.

Lakeshore path to the Mowich Lake Ranger Patrol Cabin on the other side of those trees.

Farewell, Mowich Lake. Been here a few times before, loved it every time, & shall be back. Day 4 of 4 of this trip to Mt. Rainier National Park.

I plan to attempt another thruhike of the WT next year during the Summer of 2018. This time I’ll apply early for a designated slot in late July/early August before the worst of fire season starts. Green Trail maps are awesome tools, by the way, altho the Rangers & some of the Sierra Club volunteers at Mowich claim the WT between Longmire & Mowich Lake is about 2 miles longer than it used to be due to a mix of storm & avalanche damage, displaced stream crossings, relos, fires, etc. I don’t know the accuracy of those claims, but the other thruhikers & I agreed that it took a hella lot longer than we expected from say, Klapatche Park to Mowich Lake, & we surely hiked a couple of miles more than the current maps indicate, especially after factoring in speed/time/distance & elevation gained & lost & gained again.

Map of my first day on the WT as I backpacked from Longmire to Devil’s Dream. Tuesday 5 September 2017. Kicked my ass, too, especially after Pyramid Creek.

Mapped Route of my 2nd Day on the Wonderland Trail. Hiked from Devil’s Dream to North Puyallup River campsite. Wednesday 6 September 2017.

Route of my 3rd Day on the Wonderland Trail. Hiked from North Puyallup River to Mowich Lake. Thursday the 7th of September 2017.

The Big Picture. While there were certainly younger & faster hikers and recently 2 young women RAN the entire 93+ miles of the WT in just over 29 hours to set a new speed record, the majority of hikers surprised me with how much they were in awe of my daily mileage. Traditionally backpackers took 12 to 14 days to thruhike the WT. As gear became lighter & lighter in weight & people trained more & more, many were hiking the WT in 8 to 10 days. I had planned to do it in 6 to 7 nights / 7 to 8 days. Hmn, maybe next year!

My backcountry Wilderness Permit for the Wonderland Trail for 6 nights & 7 days. No caches to fret about either. Totally self-contained & was prepared to stealth camp off-trail out-of-sight if I couldn’t make it to a designated campsite. One reason I carried a bearcan instead of relying on caches. Being self-contained saved driving time & fuel with less pollution, too.

 

*This is a work in progress. Feel free to enjoy in the meantime. Thank you!*

William Dudley Bass
Tues-? 21- November 2017
Wed 15 November 2017
SeaTac/Seattle, Washington
Cascadia
Earth

 

Copyright © 2017 by William Dudley Bass. All Rights Reserved until we Humans establish Wise Stewardship of and for our Earth and Solarian Commons. Thank you.

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