Wonderland Trail: Longmire to Sunrise

Having scored a thru hiking permit for the Wonderland Trail we set off to tackle the trail. Well……I made it part of the way. I went backpacking on the PCT week before and shredded a couple toes, that never fully healed. By the 4th morning I knew my feet were done. I had an out at Sunrise, and a way back to my truck. If I kept going I was stuck hiking the whole trail with painful steps. This trip taught me a lot of lessons about boots, socks and how much food to take.  What worked for 7 mile days didn’t work for 15 mile days with 2,000 feet and more of elevation gain.

But it was a great trip. It was nearly magical.

We started at Longmire, the “typical” start of Wonderland thru hikes. It’s an odd start, it’s very busy in summer and deep in the forest. Walking into the the forest seems very normal. The first bit you can hear cars going by, coming and going from the mountain.

And the trail is so very wide and smooth here. Designed for the masses.

The trail eventually comes to the crossing of the Nisqually River, across the road from Cougar Campground, on a large log foot bridge, that changes with the year.

The trail winds it way past a backcountry site on Paradise River (the “River” is a creek) and comes up Narada Falls. It’s almost overwhelming as you encounter the crush of day trippers and tourists and heading back into the open forest seems a great idea.

The trail follows under the Stevens Canyon road on the hillside, before winding up and crossing the road at Reflection Lakes.

And yes, it will be CROWDED here.

But as you walk along the lakes, the crowds are worth it. The dropping down comes quickly and the profile is loosing elevation quickly as you pass by Louise Lake, and then follow Stevens Canyon Road, crossing it once.

Take the time to visit Martha Falls. It feels so wonderful to get soaked on a hot summer day.

The trail follows along Stevens Creek. Maple Creek backcountry site is passed along the way.

The trail crosses Stevens Creek on a bridge and crosses up to Stevens Canyon Road to cross it, at Box Canyon, on the road bridge. There are garbage cans here. Never pass up a chance to dump garbage!

We got back on the Wonderland Trail (walk down the Box Canyon Trail a tiny bit) and headed back into the woods. It was a long day with many ups and downs, somehow we made it to the backcountry site at Nickel Creek. There was another party camping there, who stayed up all night partying and were not humored when we woke up before dawn to tackle a very long day.

The hike from Nickel Creek is uphill from the first step. It stays in dry, dark, dead feeling woods until just past the Cowlitz Divide Trail junction. As you pull up, every step gets you closer to subalpine, then alpine beauty.

The trail climbs a very long ridge, winding through copses of trees, and open meadows full of wild flowers.

This is a trail you don’t want to end.

The views get only better and it is easy to not notice the climbing. Ohanapecosh sits to the right of Little Tahoma, where once a glacier was. It is why the Ohanapecosh River runs clear down low.

The trail continues on, sometimes going on the meadow sides of the ridge.

Suddenly you are looking down at Ohanapecosh, and the trail runs downhill so fast. You get almost giddy to run the trail.

The Ohanapecosh River bed comes into view, and the cabin shelter (it is the group site) sits above.

It and the one just over the ridge at Summerland are so neat. Take the time to visit.

The river is crossed on a bridge over the falls.

Indian Bar is one of the most beautiful spots in all of Mount Rainier. It isn’t easy to get there, no matter what direction you come from. It is also one of the best backcountry sites on the Wonderland Trail. It is also very hard to score a night there.

So alas, after spending an hour cooling off in a side creek, we headed up the hill, with our second elevation gain of the day. The hike up from the valley was beautiful though, with many stops to look back down and across.

There were snow fields to cross and lakes to wind around.

The views of the Cascade Mountains looking towards Mount Adams.

Another snow field to go across (at the top).

Crossing a field.

The final push to Panhandle Gap.

After crossing the snowfields on Panhandle, it is a walk down through the alpine tundra, with melt lakes of the dying snow fields.

Slowly and surely you come to the crossing of Panhandle Creek. It was bridged with a massive log, barely holding on. I didn’t stay on it long.

The trail quickly wound down into subalpine meadows at Summerland, where we made camp in the trees.

Having dinner in the shade next to camp.

The sites were not spectacular, but a short walk led one into the prettiest places. The meadows just below the camping area, as you prepare to leave Summerland is intense in summer.

We slept well in Summerland. Camp was full that night.

Early in the morning we woke up, broke camp and headed out. Hiking out from Summerland is basically downhill for most of the way, crossing Panhandle Creek one time on a log bridge, then into the forest for the rest of the way, to White River Road.

At the road the two guys in the party decided to hitchhike to Sunrise, up the road, as they were both very tired from the day before (far too much sun for one of them). Tori and I set off on the trail, but came out to the White River Road at the car bridge and crossed there instead. We then road walked the road into the White River Campground. The bridge over the White River for the Wonderland Trail was sketchy. Stupidly we passed up on a young park ranger’s offer on a ride to the campground (which would have saved my feet a little wear!). We finally made it to the campground, dumped garbage into the cans, and then headed up the ridge, and thousands of feet of elevation gain later, we crossed over the top.

Tahoma from the top, with the White River and Emmons Glacier far below.

We took off for the Sunrise Complex and met up with Steve and Jeremy. I called Kirk from the payphone to check in, then we went and had a huge meal at the cafe at Sunrise. We picked up our food buckets we had cached earlier that week, and headed out to camp at Shadow Lake (the backcountry site for Sunrise).

In camp we met up with our friend Drew who was hiking the other direction with his group, and they snagged a site next to us. Also joining us was Tori’s boyfriend for the night, and another friend who was joining the hike at this point (with her boyfriend there for the night).

My feet were in really bad shape from the long miles on concrete that day. In the morning I decided it was time to stop. One of the boyfriend’s gave me a ride back to Longmire to pick up my truck, and I headed home.

Tahoma in the morning as we hiked back to Sunrise.

Maybe it was a failure of a trip, but I didn’t feel that way. I hiked a section I really wanted to, and I learned a lot from it.



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