Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Wonderland Trail

The Wonderland Trail is the 93 mile loop that climbs and descends around Mt. Ranier. It is one of the most famous trails in the world - known for its beauty, its difficulty, and its predictably crummy weather. We experienced all three the week of September 18-26.

Ben Warner (left) and Ross Mangin (right) were my partners - more accurately I was theirs. I hopped on the trip last minute. Thanks Lia! We really did have a blast. I noted this on the way home, but it was true throughout - we never argued. I've been on lots of trips like this, and I can't remember one that went conflict free. This one stands out for that.

I credit Ross and Ben's great attitude for it. The first few days really tested it. They were hard physically and mentally. It rained. The second day in particular was 6,000 feet of elevation change, pouring rain, and slippery icy conditions. What made it more miserable was that the last two miles were 2,200 feet straight up from a campground where we had shipped our food for the rest of the journey. So there was 30 extra pounds that none of us wanted but needed to carry. Somehow we sucked it up and made it to Sunrise camp. (Later I found out Ross and Ben had garnered the energy by secretly eating a bag of dried mangoes)...ha!

No matter how we did it, we all made it. We were exhausted though. That night we cooked food in our tents and went straight to bed. The next morning Ross woke up early to be the first of us to discover that the clouds had parted. He dragged us out of bed to the view below.

That was the turning point. The sun, the mountain...we spent the morning soaking both in. After what we had experienced Day 1 and 2, it was one of the most breathtaking/satisfying moments I have ever had on a trail.

Later that day we met the first of four bears.

He/she was huge. From 50 feet, I could see the beads in his/her eyes, the points to his/her claws, the thick muscles, the thunderous jaws. Like other bears I've come across, this one was unafraid. I have to admit - though I stood my ground, it was mostly out of paralysis. I won't speak for Ben and Ross.

The thing that makes this trail so challenging is the elevation change. Every day we had to go up one ridge to go down the other side. If you think about a mountain, it is a series of ridges that rise to a peak. So going around it, you go through a Sisyphusian experience of climbing only to have to go back down again. It was frustrating, but it was part of the deal. Here we are crossing one of the many rivers we forded. This one happened to have a suspension bridge.

Each night we would set up camp, cook dinner, then play a card game called San Juan. It is sort of like Settlers of Catan without the game board. I think we would all highly recommend it. Here Ross and I are looking out on the appropriately named Mystic Lake. I can't remember who won, but I do recall this was taken just after one of our San Juan games.

The last day was our best weather day. The picture below was taken then. As a birthday present, Ross and Ben allowed me to go ahead and run the rest of the trail for fun (also to get our car, which was stranded 13 miles away from the finish). It was a great experience for me. A great way to finish the week and begin this 36th year of my life. (36 - I can't believe it.)

It was a great gift from Lia as well. Of anything I could have asked for, a trip into the Wilderness was exactly what I needed. Thanks again, Lia! You know me so well!

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