Wonderland Trail in Three Days: Guest Writer
Cascade Endurance runner Michelle and friend Claudia tackled the 93 mile route around Mt. Rainier last weekend, completing the tough trail in three long, glorious days. What follows is Michelle's account. Great job, you two!
Day 1: Longmire to Mowich Lake (33.5 miles & 9,500 ft of elevation gain)
Our first day was great. We were excited to finally be hitting the trail after months of preparing. There was a lot of climbing and descending, but it all felt manageable; we ran the runnable sections and power hiked when we needed to. The highlight of the day was Indian Henry's Hunting Ground through Emerald Ridge, where the wildflowers were amazing and the mountain was awesome as it stared in our face the whole time. The challenge of the day was the last 3 miles up into Mowich Lake, a steep climb on tired legs. We took it slow and just kept ourselves moving. The .2 miles to go sign was the greatest thing to see, where we pretty much sprinted (with whatever we had left) to the top because we were so happy to be done. We did a great job of staying hydrated and fueled throughout the day. It took us about 11 hours to run this section: we didn't feel rushed and took time to enjoy where we were, took breaks when needed, and took a leisurely 1/2 hour lunch break where we soaked our feet in St. Andrew's Lake.
Day 2: Mowich Lake to White River (26 miles & 5,950 ft of elevation gain)
The first few steps out of the tent were rough, but once I was up and moving around it all felt good. My recovery plan the night before worked great, allowing me to feel fresh and ready to run for a second day, which turned out being amazing. The beginning couple of miles was on a relatively flat and rolling trail that gave us a good warm-up for the upcoming climb to Spray Park. We took a side trip to Spray Falls and spent about an hour playing around in Spray Park (enjoying the views, taking pictures, saw a bear). The wildflowers were again amazing. We hit our first patch of snow at Seattle Park. It was an easy crossing before our long descent to Carbon River where we began our climb up to Mystic Lake (our lunch spot) alongside the Carbon Glacier, had a fun little scramble (with a fixed rope) up to the forest where we met some shade for a welcome relief from the hot sun. The last mile before Mystic was my challenge point for the day. I think we pushed too long before eating so I was low on energy which made it tough, but we really wanted to eat at Mystic Lake. After a quick snack break, inspiration from the wild flowers and mountain views, we rallied and pushed on through to the lake and refueled. Again, we took a 1/2 hour lunch break, soaked our feet, refilled water, and relaxed. From there we cruised and climbed up Skyscraper Mountain (a long & steady climb) and were wowed by the views from the top at 6,750 feet. We headed for Sunrise for a long awaited ice cream at the general store with some stops to frolick in the wild flowers along the trail. Unfortunately, when we got to the general store the ice cream machine was out of order. The funniest part is that the machine overheated when my husband and daughter ordered their ice cream a couple hours before our arrival: they got the last ice cream (although, they deny such a tragedy)! We must have had the saddest faces in town when we heard the news. We settled on a cold Gatorade and headed down to White River. The campground was full so we had to drive 20 minutes to our campsite for the night.
Day 3: White River to Paradise (30 miles & 5,850 ft of elevation gain)
The third day we were again ready to roll. Our recovery plan continued to go well and we got on the trail by 7:00 am, starting with a lovely first 3-4 miles. The trail was flat and rolling through the forest: a great warm up for the last day. Rounding the corner and seeing Summerland was stunning. The wild flowers were in full bloom, Mount Rainier was awe inspiring, and we finally got some big views of Little Tahoma. We also finally got see to a marmot who was poised so beautifully on a rock with an amazing mountain view. The marmot even turned around to pose so perfectly in front of the mountain for us. Just past Summerland we hit the snow and traversed over snow for the next 2-3 miles to Indian Bar. There was only one spot where the sun had yet to hit and soften the snow, but by taking it slowly and carefully we made it to the gap with no problem, where celebrated hitting the high point of the Wonderland Trail (6,800 ft). From Panhandle Gap to Indian Bar we played in the snow, saw marmots & goats, had views of Adams & Hood, did some trail finding, followed a goat path and then found the human trail down to Indian Bar for our now customary 1/2 hour leisurely lunch. We cruised up and out of Indian Bar (steep climb but amazing views of the mountain) and down to Box Canyon making really good time. The challenge of the day for me was the four mile climb out of Box Canyon. It was grueling and relentless on tired legs. While it was hard, I never felt like I couldn't make it, it just hurt. We took it slow and steady, focusing on staying safe, hydrated, and motivated to finish. Reflection Lakes was a happy sight because we had less than 2 miles to go. Once we hit the 1 mile mark we got a surge of energy and powered on. Our mantra was Slow, Steady, Strong, Safe. We sprinted into Paradise to the Ranger Station with giddy smiles on our face and happy screams of joy. We then finally had our long overdue ice cream. It was the best ice cream I've ever had!
The entire adventure was amazing. I felt strong throughout the run, recovered well each day, and had a blast hanging out in the mountains with Claudia. We were a good team together, keeping each other motivated, reminding each other to eat, hydrate, and rest. At the beginning of the run we agreed that being safe and having fun was our focus point for this trip, and we kept to it. We never even opened our first aid kit which was a win. Claudia has endless energy and is a bit faster than me which was a great motivator particularly through the tough end of the day climbs. She has a tendency to get excited and push the pace so I was able to keep us balanced and in control so that we could continue to run strong for 3 days. The challenging parts of the run were an expected part of the adventure, yet they were so minimal compared to the rest of the experience. I expected more really tough spots, but the sheer joy of being on Rainier just took all the pain away.
Here are some stats:
Ran approximately 90 miles
It took approximately 32 hours of running (with stops for food, water, photos and wow factors)
Total elevation gain was around 22,000 ft