We showed up before 7:30am on a Monday at the White River Wilderness Information Center (WIC), and were second in line behind a lady named Sandy, there with her husband and daughter. We got to talking and learned that she (by herself) was going to try a similar itinerary as us, as a walk-on. She had talked to a Ranger the week prior, wondering the chances of getting a Wonderland Trial permit as a walk-on, and the answer was that approx 30% of permits were reserved for firsts-come first-serve people, so the chance was pretty good. We had wondered the same thing, so this news was encouraging, as we were also trying for a walk-on permit.
After the WIC opened, she got her permit pretty quickly and we said good bye to her. We presented our ideal itinerary to the Ranger and were also about to get ours approved, when she said “just the two of you?” and I responded “oh, it’s us and our 5 kids” to which she replied, “Oh, well, then we’ll have to do group campsites.” We then proceeded to try and make an itinerary work, but to no avail. Too many group sites were booked. It looked like our chances of getting a WT itinerary was shot. I told the Ranger that somewhere I had read that a single family could get a permit, and it wasn’t only limited to 5 people. She conceded to look briefly with me at the NPS website where I thought the verbiage existed, but we couldn’t find it. Next, she called a senior Ranger who confirmed “No, I’ve never heard of that. If you have more than 5, you must do group sites.” I was sure I had read somewhere that a family could get a regular permit.
She asked us to step out of line to let others go ahead, and we could work on an alternate itinerary. So, we started trying another WT idea with group sites. We got back in line, tried another itinerary, but no go. We stepped out of line again and tried to put together a Northern Loop itinerary. We got back in line and presented our new idea, which was also not doable with group sites, since too many of them were already reserved. We got back out of line to let others proceed, and we started considering other options when I found the wording in the Wilderness Information Planner that said “Individual permits are issued for parties of up to 5 people or one immediate family.” Bingo! All I had was a red pen, so I used this to circle the wording on the page. What would the Ranger say?
We got back in line, feeling a bit bad for bothering her again. I pointed out the wording and she responded with “That’s what I needed to see” and proceeded to put together our itinerary, and a few minutes later we walked out the door elated that we had our permit! We were going to hike the Wonderland Trail!
The weather was supposed to be good all week with very little chance of rain. We would be starting at White River and going counter-clockwise over 11 days. This was our ideal itinerary except for one camp change. Day 2 was supposed to end at Dick Creek, but this we had to change to Cataract Valley, which made for a longer second day and a shorter 3rd day. Also, we had hoped to stay Monday night at White River campground and then start on the trail early on Tuesday, but because of camp availability we had to start the same day, Monday, which meant we were about to get a late start because we needed to drop off a food cache.
So, we high tailed it to Longmire about 1.5 hours away to drop off a food cache, and then turned around and went right back to White River to start our hike. By the time we got all that done, we hit the trail around noon. But, we were fresh and in good spirits, and we crushed it, even with the steep start up to Sunrise.
We stopped at Sunrise camp for lunch, and and then continued up to Frozen lake. There we met a very friendly chipmunk who had obviously been fed before. He was a bold little bugger, and jumped onto a man’s lap who was eating lunch. His lady friend suddenly started speaking rapidly and excitedly in an unfamiliar language, apparently quite concerned about the situation. The guy seemed to be enjoying himself.
The scenery as we passed Berkeley Park was gorgeous, with areas of wildflowers and wide open spaces.
Near the top of the ridge, we met a snowfield that looked seriously steep. The trail crossed it sideways, and a fall down the slope would result in slamming into rocks at the bottom. I went first, to check it out and cut good steps with my shoes. I left my pack at the top and then came back. Mom transported packs, and I took kids, one by one up the slope. The snow was soft, but we had to go slow and make sure each step was steady and sure. We made it past without any trouble.
The view from the ridge above Granite Creek was amazing, so we stopped for some pictures as the sun sank lower in the sky. We were able to see the Mt. Freemont Lookout and Grand Park in the distance.
Even with the late start, we arrived at Granite Creek with daylight to spare, set up camp and had our first dinner on the trail, mashed potatoes and summer sausage, with other items on the side. Aside from some minor blisters and slight body aches and pains, everyone was feeling pretty good. Tired, but good.
As it was getting dusk, I was headed to the bathroom, and in a small clearing about 30 feet away was a beautiful buck with fuzzy antlers, leisurely grazing. I sneaked back to alert the others, and we all got to watch as the buck wandered through the edge of camp. That was such a cool experience, and we were able to snap a few pictures. Being in such a beautiful forest, watching this beautiful animal, it felt like we were in a place of privilege, experiencing such beauty up close and personal.
We got all 7 of us into our 9’x7′ tent and tried to get some rest as we knew the next day would be a long one. The kids still had extra energy to burn, as the hike had not totally exhausted them, so we didn’t drop off to sleep right away. Some of us wrote in our Wonderland Trail journals, recounting the day’s events. I calculated in my head what time I needed to be up and moving the next morning. We snuggled into our sleeping bags, hoping to get some rest. Tomorrow would be a long day.
< PREVIOUS: PART 1 – INTRO