Backpack Diagrams

When packing our backpacks for the trip, I had 3 things to think about.

  • Distributing the objects appropriately – trying to have each pack somewhat full, not overstuffed with light objects, or under-filled with heavy ones.
  • Getting the correct final target weight for each person in their pack.
  • Remembering where all the stuff went in each pack because on the trail, we would be emptying them and re-packing on a daily basis.

This took some trial and error before I found the best place for everything.

To keep track of where everything goes in 7 backpacks was more than my memory could handle, so I enlisted our 11 year old to help me by drawing diagrams of each pack. These are what he came up with. We carried these with us on the trip, just in case we needed them for reference.

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Our failed Wonderland Trail backpacking adventure – Part 8 – Things We Learned on the Wonderland Trail

After backpacking part of the Wonderland Trail, we learned some good lessons and came away with some valuable experience.

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Why we cut the trip short:

  • A backpack starting to fall apart
  • Our pace was too slow
  • We did not plan sufficiently to take a 3 year old on the trail
  • Our 11 year old began having sporadic knee pain
  • Mom began having bad back pain
  • Overall, after day 2, morale had sunk very low

Planning to backpack a family of 7 around the mountain was a lot of work. Of course, the first time you go backpacking is the hardest, because everything is new and the learning curve can be steep. As they say, experience is the best teacher, and even for as much as we had planned for this trip, there were some things we had to learn by going through them.

Start at Your Skill Level

We should have started our backpacking adventure with something more at our skill level, something like 3-4 days, with shorter daily mileage. Our initial idea of doing the Northern Loop would have been ideal.

Do Some Test Trips

We should have gone on some shorter backpacking trips first to work out the kinks. We had camped before, but never backpacked, so we had that advantage, but we were not experienced in the day to day logistics we were about to face on the trail. We as the parents were left doing almost all the work at first, taking care of the 7 of us with sunscreen application, bug spray application, blister prevention and foot doctoring, getting water for everyone, setting up camp, etc, and it just took a lot of time. Simply getting up in the morning, re-organizing packs, breaking camp, and getting breakfast took about 2 hours, which was too long. As the days went by, our efficiency began to improve as we began handing off jobs to the older kids such as cooking and setting up camp. But, working out these things should have been done prior to a trip of this scale. Also, we made the mistake of trying a few “new foods” that didn’t go over well.

Kids on the Wonderland Trail

Is it a good idea to take kids on the Wonderland Trail? I would say it really depends on the parents and the kids. I can’t speak for the entire trail, but it felt like we got a little taste of everything. There were easy kid-friendly parts of the trail, but there are also rough, steep, and slippery areas that took time and patience to navigate. There were fast flowing rivers to cross, steep snow fields to traverse, sketchy parts of the trail to cross, and other hazardous areas. We evaluated the danger of these areas and proceeded with matched caution. If the parents are careful and the kids mind well, these parts can be safely navigated with minimum risk.

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Know How Much You’ll Use

Items can run out quickly with 7 people. Two things that disappeared quickly for us were sunscreen and ibuprofen. As a family of 7, we went through the sunscreen very quickly, too quickly. We had 1 aerosol can and were almost out by day 3, and we didn’t have a resupply until the Longmire cache, 5 days away, and so I was prepared to buy more from people at Mowich Lake. While packing for the trip, at the last minute, we had switched from sunscreen lotion to aerosol cans because application is so much quicker. For that reason, I’m glad we switched, however, our previously mailed Mowich Lake cache didn’t have another can. If we were unable to acquire any at Mowich Lake, our backup plan was to wear long sleeves and pants, and use the remaining sunscreen sparingly.

Water – to Filter or Not?

I would recommend it. Did we filter water? We filtered a few streams, but most we did not. We knew we were taking a chance of getting sick, yes, but it was a calculated risk. We considered each water source, what it looked like, and where it came from, and then decided accordingly. Did we get sick? Back to that in a moment. I would have preferred to filter all of our water, but helping everyone get water and filter it multiple times a day was something we decided would slow us down too much. If everyone would have had a personal filter, and been able to get their own water, we would have filtered it all, but the younger kids couldn’t get their own water without risk of losing the bottles, or getting their feet all wet, so someone had to help them. Of course, we didn’t drink silty glacier water, and ones that looked more scummy or had more mossy plants growing got filtered.

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My favorite stream was the one near Cataract Valley. We had gotten in late at night, it was dark, and I was getting water by myself. As I was filling the bottles and looking into the freezing water with my headlamp, I noticed a bunch of tadpoles swimming around, rooting between the rocks for food, and I’m wondering, “Should I add pills to this water, or not? I also need to be careful to not suck any stray tadpoles in these bottles. That would sure be a surprise for somebody later.” Whether or not to add pills was on my mind that night, but I was also calculating in my mind how many we had left. In the morning, I was up early thinking about it again. If I added them, we’d have to wait 30 minutes before the water was drinkable. Well one thing and another, I just didn’t get around to it.

Walking Poles

We are so glad we took walking poles. They are wonderful. We learned how to use them properly, and they really take a load off. They made a big difference in propelling us forward, saving leg strength, and being extra stabilizers on snowy and rocky terrain. We had 2 pairs, but we could have used a couple more since the kids kept wanting to use them.

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Small People and Short Legs

We were not prepared to take a 3 year old on the trail. During training, we had calculated our average speed, but during the hike we couldn’t keep that pace due to other factors that slowed us down. On much of the trail, for his own safety, we had to hold his hand or let him hold our poles. He was frequently tripping over rocks and roots. His pace was slow, and his footing was not very sure those first couple of days especially. To make our camps before sundown, we had to either carry him occasionally or hold his hand to keep up a decent pace. Carrying an extra 30 pounds in addition to a 35 pound pack was not a good option. Mom carried him a number of times the second day, which was too much for her back. If carrying him had been part of the plan from the beginning, we would have planned accordingly and fared better.

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Do Comparable Training Hikes

Overall, we didn’t train sufficiently for this hike. We trained a lot, but it still didn’t match our actual days on the trail. We figured out our target pack weight for each person and then spent a few months working up to these weights. We started with short hikes and worked up to longer ones, but our longest days during training were only 5 or 6 miles (Northern Loop-ish mileage). We had never trained so much for anything before. Even so, shocking our bodies on the trail with 8 and 11 miles the first two days was rough. Our bodies just weren’t ready for it.

Get Good Shoes & Break Them In

Get good ones, preferably waterproof, and break them in before the trip. Being waterproof will help keep your feet dry after walking across lots of snow and if it rains. Good tread will give you a better grip on the steep snowfields, and thicker soles are helpful for protecting your feet from sharp rocks and roots. Most of us had good shoes, but a few pairs were acquired too close to the start of the trip. The result was some of the older kids started having rub spots and blisters in the first few days that forced us to stop more often to put on bandages and deal with sore feet. We didn’t have a sufficient break-in period, which cost us time on the trail.

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Inspect Your Gear

Mom’s backpack started ripping 2 days in. The shoulder straps both started coming apart where they are braced to the top of the pack. We had needle and thread, but these straps were very thick and not easy to sew. I rigged up a temporary fix with para-cord that held. It would have been a good idea to do a once-over of our packs before the trip to spot possible issues like this before they revealed themselves on the trail.

Water – to Filter or Not?

Did we get sick from not filtering water? No, we didn’t.

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Note: I don’t know if the water above was filtered or not, but it does contain a chocolate breakfast drink mix.

< PREVIOUS: PART 7 – WHITE RIVER, SUMMERLAND

Our failed Wonderland Trail backpacking adventure – Part 7 – White River, Summerland

After staying at Cougar Rock campground for a few days, we decided to relocate to, where else? White River campground. Around the fire, mom had suggested we do an 8.6 mile round-trip day hike from Fryingpan Creek up to Summerland and back. What was she drinking?? Actually, she was thinking about me in an effort to help me enjoy the rest of the trip since we didn’t get to finish the Wonderland Trail. As we looked at the map, the trail certainly looked doable. The first couple of miles looked to be gently uphill, with the last two somewhat steep up to the camp. We were still feeling good after our Panorama Point hike, which had gone well, and this trail was only a few miles longer. It could be a good final hike to finish off our trip.

We spent our last day at Cougar Rock relaxing, attending the evening programs yet again, sitting around the fire, and enjoying the experience.

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Day 7

The next morning, we packed up early so we could try and get a campsite at White River. It was Sunday, so we were hoping the weekend traffic would be thinning, and we would have a better chance of finding a spot. We said goodbye to Cougar Rock, and an hour and a half later, we pulled into the White River campground.

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We drove around looking for open sites, but there were very few, so we kept an eye out for people packing up to leave. It was still mid-morning, so more people would be departing. One family we talked to said they would be leaving later. They were willing to let us leave some items on the table and reserve the site, so we left a cache bucket and went to pay for two nights.

After returning with our site ticket, we left the campground having decided to spend the rest of the day at Sunrise. At some point, we realized that we had gone through all 3 park entrances and had just finished driving around the entire mountain. So, comically, we did make it around the whole thing, just not on foot. That wasn’t our intent, but that’s just how it worked out. Funny.

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First order of business at Sunrise was to get some hamburgers at the restaurant (fondly remembered from a previous trip), which were delicious, and quickly disappeared.

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We went through the visitor center, looking at the 3D relief map, as we considered the Summerland hike. Somehow the maps make the trails look so straight forward and simple, and short.

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As we were leaving Sunrise, we stopped to view the actual valley leading up to Summerland, and decided the next day we would do it. The rest of the day was spent back at White River campground unpacking, setting up, exploring our new surroundings, and playing near the river.

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That night, we attended the evening program and again enjoyed a nice warm fire before going to bed.

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Day 8

Since we were getting soft and greatly missed waking up super early, we awoke at the crack of dawn, and drove to Fryingpan Creek trailhead. We arrived around 6:30am and got a good parking spot. With two lightly loaded packs, we headed out, chilled and kind of grumpy.

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The first couple of miles went quickly as our bodies woke up. There were lots of huckleberry bushes along the trail with green unripe berries, but we did find a few semi-ripe salmon berries that should have stayed on the vine a few more days.

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Across a stream, and through some meadows, we were slowly gaining elevation. Soon we were climbing switchbacks up the hillside, and a short time later, we were surprised to find ourselves entering Summerland camp. We were already there? That was quick.

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I was rubbernecking it, secretly hoping to spot some mountain goats as this area was a common place to find them. We took a look at the group shelter and admired the view up and down the valley. The flowers were nice in some places, but we agreed that Spray Park took the cake.

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It was still mid morning, but some of us were hungry. We grabbed a snack in the shade and took a break. There was surprisingly a lot of traffic coming and going on the trail (mostly day hikers like us). Mom was suspiciously eyeing Panhandle Gap in the distance, the highest point on the Wonderland Trail.

“How much further is it to Panhandle Gap? We could have lunch up there,” she suggested. We were all feeling pretty good, and most of our foot issues had ironed themselves out. We grabbed the map, and it looked like another 1.5 miles up to the top. We would be above the tree line for most of it, and there were a number of snow fields to be crossed. I would have to carry our 3 year old across a lot of it, but with a light pack on, I could carry him easily without tiring.

If we went up to Panhandle Gap, our total mileage for the day would be pushing 11 miles. Our last 11 mile day didn’t bring happy thoughts to our minds, but this time we were all in relatively good moods, physically doing great, and there was the hope of doing some glissading further up on the snow. We refilled our water bottles and began climbing. Our pace was moderate and steady. As we climbed higher, snow patches became more frequent, the trees began disappearing, and the ground became rough and rocky.

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Up on a hillside, we spotted a herd of mountain goats resting, and we stopped to watch.

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The snowfields began covering larger sections of the trail, and we had to be careful crossing some of the steeper ones, but none of them were as sketchy as the one we met on day 1 near Granite Creek. The sun was high in the sky, so the snow was soft and we could easily get footholds. Our youngest got to enjoy being carried for long sections.

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We had been steadily getting closer to the mountain goats and were able to get a better view of their mid-day resting spot. Occasionally they would stir up clouds of dust, pawing the ground as they bedded down in the rocky soil.

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With the top in view, we made the final push up the last snowfield to Panhandle Gap.

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Around noon we reached the top and were presented with stunning views to the north and south. We took a much needed break and ate lunch, removing our shoes and socks to let them air out as we enjoyed our food and the scenery. A marmot peaked over the rocks above us as we sat in the shade.

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After a nice break, we packed up, turned around and retraced our steps back down the way we came. The kids were eager to slide down a snowfield, so we looked for a good one. The most thrilling one was near the top, but we passed by as it was very steep. We tried a couple others further down the trail but didn’t tarry long. After a few slides, we packed up again and headed down the trail. The mountain goats had moved to a snowfield by this time, apparently wanting to cool off in the mid day sun.

We continued our descent, with me carrying our youngest most of the time to keep up a good pace. I didn’t mind, but I noticed he was becoming very cuddly, and somewhat limp. I suddenly realized he was starting to nod off. Oh, no you don’t! Sorry, but I’m not going to carry you the whole way, naptime is over! I put him down, and he roused awake, giving me a goofy grin as I tried talking to him. We slowly walked as I held his hand, and soon enough, he was back awake and we continued down the trail.

As we left the snow fields and began meeting the tree line, I saw the goats were now moving NE down a ridge line in the same direction as us. Soon, they disappeared behind the hill, and we didn’t see them again.

As the miles added up, our bodies again started complaining. After about 8 miles, my feet were starting to get sore, just from being walked on all day. The tips of my little toes had also developed blisters from being constantly smashed by my 4th toes.

Upon arriving at Summerland, we took a short break to visit the camp’s fancy rest stop before continuing on.

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Back down the switchbacks and into the valley, the last few miles seemed to drag on, and our bodies were ready to be done. We arrived at the Fryingpan Creek trailhead after 5pm, and made our way back to White River campground to rest and have some dinner.

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That evening we attended our final evening program before heading back to camp for one last round of marshmallows.

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We agreed, this was a good end to the trip. This had been our longest camping excursion as a family, and our most tiring, and our most adventuresome, and the hardest, and a lot of other new things. The weather had been nothing but perfect the entire time; no rain, beautiful skies, cool nights and warm days. But, it was time to go home.

Day 9

The next morning, we packed up and said goodbye to White River. We said goodbye to the Wonderland Trail, and we said goodbye to Mount Rainier. We sure had a lot of fun, and reached our limit, and were thankful for the time we were able to spend together as a family.

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Our final stop was Yakima. I’m sure we looked pretty dirty, and who knows how we smelled, but Miner’s was calling. The burgers were huge, the size of a plate, and there were plenty of fries to go around. Mmmm, it was so tasty, and a great way to end the trip.

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> NEXT: PART 8 – THINGS WE LEARNED ON THE WONDERLAND TRAIL

< PREVIOUS: PART 6 – COUGAR ROCK, PANORAMA POINT

Our failed Wonderland Trail backpacking adventure – Part 6 – Cougar Rock, Panorama Point

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Day 5

Our first night at Cougar Rock was so nice. With two tents we had extra room for everyone, fresh fruit, plus other food, and it felt like we were living in extravagance. For breakfast we had scrambled eggs, bananas, milk, and toast over the fire.

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A Ranger stopped by, inquiring about our presence in the campsite. Since we had a vehicle, it looked a little fishy to be in one of the Wonderland Trail hiker sites. I proceeded to explain the previous evening’s conversation with the other Ranger, whereupon he asked to see our WT permit. I gave it to him, and after looking at it, he said we were just fine and didn’t need to worry about paying for the previous night. How nice was that!

We knew we needed to vacate our current site, so we did some looking around, found an open first-come first-serve site, paid for it, and then packed up and moved over with the plan to stay two more nights.

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After setting up camp, we talked about ideas for the next few days. One thought was doing a short backpacking trip, using a site or two that still existed on our WT permit. The only idea that seemed somewhat doable was starting at Box Canyon, hiking 1.2 miles to Nickel Creek on day 1, then 6.4 miles to Indian Bar on day 2. Day 3 we would turn around and go back, either 7.6 miles all the way to Box Canyon, or inquire if we could reserve Nickel Creek, and then make day 4 a reverse of day 1. But just thinking more about backpacking wasn’t very appetizing. So, we ditched that idea, along with doing any more backpacking this trip. Day hikes, sure, but overnighters sounded a little too much like torture.

So, we loaded up and headed to Longmire. Stopping by the Wilderness Information Center, we turned in our WT permit, picked up our food cache buckets and extra fuel. After that, we spent some time wandering around Longmire, visiting the various buildings and enjoying a leisurely day.

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After a time, we returned to Cougar Rock to relax. The kids played as mom and I discussed other possibilities for the remainder of our stay in the park. Despite leaving the WT, we still wanted to do some hiking and decided a good choice was Panorama Point up at Paradise. Mom and I would carry lightly loaded packs, and the kids would carry something light, like nothing, binoculars, or a camera.

That night we enjoyed ample elbow room in each tent, along with some extra sleeping gear that had been packed in the car “just in case.”

Day 6

The next morning we made our way to Paradise somewhat early and found a good parking spot. We gathered the necessities into two backpacks, along with some food for lunch, and made our way to the trailhead. The kids were very much looking forward to doing the hike “without packs.”

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Things started out relatively flat, with wide paved trails. The morning was warm with the temperature in the 70s. It was a beautiful day.

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Soon the pavement turned into gravel and dirt as we wound around to the east, taking the Skyline trail, which meandered up through fields of flowers, across small streams, and provided beautiful views down into the valley. With lightly loaded packs, the climb seemed easy and effortless.

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As we climbed higher, we began to meet up with lingering snowfields and sections of the trail covered in water from late-season runoff. Throwing snowballs and “touching the icy water” became favorite activities among the kids (maybe adults too).

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In some places, the trail disappeared entirely, and we followed trail marking flags and footsteps of those who had gone before us.

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Working our way across a steep section of snow, we looked down to see people who looked like ants, roped together, wearing lots of gear. Presumably they were learning the necessary skills for climbing the mountain, but we never got the chance to ask.

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We made very good time, and soon found ourselves above Panorama point, looking out over the mountaintops. The sky was clear, and we could see Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, and even Mount Hood in the distance.

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We let our feet air out as we ate lunch, and afterward the kids worked on their cairn building and demolition skills.

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After our break, we continued west, meeting more snow and beautiful views of the mountain.

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One incentive for hiking this day (for the kids mostly) was the possibility of glissading on the snow. Upon discovering a popular sliding area, we busted out our black garbage bags and had some fun (until we got scolded and decided to move on).

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A ways further down the trail, a marmot right near the path captured our attention. I’m not sure who was more curious, him or us.

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My good knee started giving me trouble again going down the steeper sections, so I kept falling behind. So much for blaming the 3 year old for our slow pace. We made it down in the late afternoon and spent some time at the Paradise Visitor Center before we made our way back to Cougar Rock to enjoy the rest of the evening.

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We relaxed around a nice warm fire, attended the evening Ranger led programs, and tried to soak it all in. What a beautiful place.

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> NEXT: PART 7 – WHITE RIVER, SUMMERLAND

< PREVIOUS: PART 5 – EAGLE’S ROOST TO MOWICH LAKE

Our failed Wonderland Trail backpacking adventure – Part 5 – Eagle’s Roost to Mowich Lake

Day 4

We woke up somewhat early, knowing that we would need to start earlier than the other family to make it to Mowich Lake before or around the same time as them. Everyone in their party were adults, and they would be quicker on the trail. I got up first and started getting things ready: retrieving our food bags hanging on the bear pole, taking backpacks out of their rain covers, getting shoes, etc.

Jeff dropped by our camp site and let us know that they would be happy to give me a ride. They planned to leave camp around 9am, so we aimed to leave about 8am. It seemed everything was working like clockwork. I informed the rest of our family of our new change of plans, and there was great excitement in the camp.

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We passed out breakfast, did some packing, and then headed to the nearby stream to refill our water bottles.

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It felt like we were getting more efficient, a few days too late. We finished packing and got off right around 8am.

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Our bodies, like our moods, seemed to strengthen and the 1.8 miles to Mowich Lake seemed like a cake walk (maybe the easier terrain had something to do with it too). We arrived feeling great, with extra energy to spare.

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After dropping our gear on a nearby picnic table, the boys and I went to retrieve our food cache from the ranger cabin. The trail took us by the lake, which was calm and very clear.

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We arrived at the ranger cabin, opened the large bear box, and found our food cache buckets. There wasn’t a ranger on duty yet, presumably because it was still early. We loaded up and hauled the buckets back to our picnic table.

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While we waited for the other family to arrive, the younger boys began making car trails in the tent pad nearby.

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Our plan was for me to travel about 2 hours to White River to retrieve our vehicle, and then drive back to pick up our family. Then, we would all head to either White River or Cougar Rock to try and find a campsite for the night. If I returned too late in the evening, or didn’t show up for some unknown reason, the family would camp at Mowich Lake that night.

A short while later, the other family emerged out of the woods, said hi, and headed to their car. We gave them some time to remove gear and pack up. I got some items together that I would take with me to White River.

I said goodbye to mom and the kids, and climbed in with the other family, taking the only remaining seat in their vehicle. The drive to White River went surprisingly quickly as we chatted about camping, backpacking, church, family, and other things. We stopped in Enumclaw at a grocery store, where people picked up whatever they were craving that their backpacking diets had been missing. I made sure to get more ibuprofen and sunscreen, plus extra blister bandages. We got back on the road, and while we had cell signal, I updated some people about our change of plans.

Soon we arrived at White River, and it was time to say farewell. I offered to buy them Miner’s but they would have none of it. I thanked them again for their kindness and generosity, and after a few pictures together we said goodbye. It was great to meet them and a blessing from the Lord that our paths had crossed in the Mount Rainier wilderness.

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Meanwhile, back at the lake, mom and the kids were having fun enjoying the lake, watching wildlife, talking to the ranger, and doing some exploring.

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At White River, I got back on the road for the return trip and a couple of hours later was pulling into Mowich Lake campground with a very dusty vehicle thanks to the Mountain Meadows road. It was around 3:30pm, and everyone was excited to see me after more than 4 hours of waiting. We loaded up and decided to continue our counter clockwise route around the mountain, and see if we could get a campsite at Cougar Rock for the night. This would put us near Longmire where we could retrieve our second food cache and turn in our WT permit to free up the remaining camps that we wouldn’t be using.

We stopped appropriately in Eatonville to eat fresh at Subway, which was very tasty after all the dried trail food. We also picked up some fresh groceries. A few hours after leaving Mowich Lake, we pulled into Cougar Rock campground.

There were a number of open sites that said “Wonderland Trail hikers” but few otherwise. Our WT permit actually had us tentatively scheduled for Cougar Rock a number of days in the future due to Paradise River camp being closed temporarily for maintenance. After spotting a Ranger, I stopped and told him we had just come off the Wonderland Trail and didn’t have a reservation, and we were looking for a place to stay the night. He said to just go pick one of the open WT sites and we could work out the details in the morning. We were so thankful!

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We found a site, started unpacking, pulled out a second tent, bought some firewood, and had a leisurely evening around a warm fire, enjoying our new change of pace. I have never before seen our family so excited to be tent camping. Hilarious. Everyone was happy.

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> NEXT: PART 6 – COUGAR ROCK, PANORAMA POINT

< PREVIOUS: PART 4 – CATARACT VALLEY TO EAGLE’S ROOST

Our failed Wonderland Trail backpacking adventure – Part 4 – Cataract Valley to Eagle’s Roost

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Day 3

After the struggles of our previous day, we were very much looking forward to a shorter day of about 4.7 miles. We slept in a bit, but not too much. We had changed our sleeping arrangements, and instead of staggering everyone in the sleeping bags, we took our reflective pads and slept directly on them, and then used the sleeping bags like blankets, giving us an extra layer on top. I don’t know if the temperature at Cataract Valley was any different than Granite Creek, but we definitely stayed warmer.

We cooked our dinner from the previous night, which meant a hot breakfast of couscous with beef & onion flavoring. It was passable, but not worth a repeat. One consolation was the warmth, which made our tummies happy.

Sandy was also at Cataract Valley that night, and she stopped by as we were breaking camp. She had heard us come in during the night and was like “thank you God”, and said she had been praying for us. She was headed to Mowich Lake that night. We chatted briefly, and she was off. That was the last time we saw her. We don’t know how the rest of her WT hike went, and we hope she made it around the mountain!

Our destination this day was Eagle’s Roost, and our route would be taking us through Spray Park, with the hope of seeing beautiful flower filled meadows.

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Mom’s back was still quite sore, and some of our feet were needing attention. We got everything re-packed and headed out, hoping this day would offer a break to our bodies and minds. We were soon to discover this day was going to be anything but easy.

About a quarter mile down the trail, I suddenly realized that I had left a bunch of our socks drying on bushes near our campsite. Aww, how stupid! Way to go, Mr. short day. We really needed those socks. I grabbed our 6 year old (who at this point was doing about the best of any of us), and we headed back to retrieve the socks while the rest of the family continued on. The socks were right where I left them, and after stuffing them in our pockets we returned for our packs and began playing catch up.

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We knew the first half of this day would be steadily uphill, but we weren’t prepared mentally for what was to transpire. As we worked our way up through the forest, there were more stops for foot doctoring, resting, and getting water. Going uphill also meant going slower, and our morning just dragged on and on.

At some point, I noticed both shoulder straps on mom’s pack were coming apart. These help to cinch the pack closer to the shoulders, and the threads were coming undone. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to stop and sew them, and even if we did have time, this area of the pack was made of extra thick fabric, and sewing it looked like a pointless endeavor. I ended up using some para-cord to tie the straps to the internal frame, and thankfully this held for the rest of the trip.

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On this day we encountered the only stream we would end up fording on our hike. The books warn you that bridges occasionally wash out, and wading may be necessary, so bring your water shoes. This was a unique stream, flowing down a flat rock face. It was just wide enough, that we couldn’t jump across, and there were no stepping stones. To avoid everyone removing shoes and socks, I ended up carrying everybody across as my feet turned numb. Then they all waited while I dried off and reapplied tape to my feet. It was all kind of anti-climatic.

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The trees started thinning out as we climbed higher, and we stopped for lunch at one of the last shady spots. We aired out our feet and checked blister status. This was when I realized our sunscreen was almost out. The aerosol can was about done, and we didn’t have a resupply until Longmire, about 5 days away. We needed to start wearing long sleeves and pants and our bandannas to cover our heads and necks, using the sunscreen as conservatively as possible until we could acquire more. Mowich Lake was only a day away, and I could try and buy some sunscreen off of some picnickers or day hikers. Mom had also been using the ibuprofen for her back pain, and we were almost out. I would have to try to find more of this also.

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After lunch, we covered our arms and legs with longer clothing and re-applied sunscreen as the next few hours looked to be in the open without any tree cover. The progress was slow going as we trudged uphill, watching the trail turn rocky — big rocks, loose rocks, sharp rocks, and shale.

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At times, it seemed the “top” was in view, but we would reach it only to find a false summit tricking us into thinking we were “almost there.” Our morale was starting to slip again. Our short day was feeling anything but short.

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At one point we looked up to see some tiny hikers high up on a ridge in the distance, and we groaned as we supposed that was where we were headed. It looked so far away. After a while, we met these hikers going down, a father and two teenagers. The dad said they had just taken a 4 hour detour that led them further up the mountain, when they should have continued down the trail we were currently on. He said, “When you reach the fork, stay to the right, don’t go left. That’s the detour we took.”

Sure enough, when we reached the fork, there was no trail sign, and the bigger cairn was pointing at the wider trail to the left. The right trail was smaller and had a less obvious cairn further down the trail. We pulled out the map, and it wasn’t very clear, but going to the right seemed like the correct direction, so we took it. Sure enough, this was the correct route. Without the warning from the other hikers, we might have taken the left trail, and who knows how far out of our way we would have gone before realizing our error. We thanked God for this blessing.

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We had finally reached the real top and soon began our descent. The trail leveled out somewhat, giving our legs a much needed break. The rough trail turned smoother, and the rocky terrain began turning into grassy meadows.

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Soon we were strolling through beautiful flowery meadows. There were patches of lupine, bear grass, paintbrush, and other varieties.

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Our pace quickened and the rest of the day went quite quickly as we descended to Eagle’s Roost. We arrived with a few hours of daylight to spare, which was good, but not very encouraging with the “short” distance we had traveled. We had a hot dinner of ramen, spam and summer sausage. It was delicious.

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After cleaning up, we got the kids ready for bed and into the tent. Most crashed and were soon asleep.

Mom and I sat down to talk. Amidst all the activity of the past few days, there had been no time for us to connect and have a real conversation. We started discussing the trip so far. The collective mood was grumpy and glum. Our bodies were taking a beating. Our 11 year old’s knee was continuing to cause him sharp pain. Mom’s back didn’t seem to be getting any better, and her pack coming apart was a concern. Our overall inefficiency was a problem, as was our slow pace. Looking at our itinerary, we had a couple more 10+ mile days, and our hope of reaching these camps in the light seemed unlikely.

The obvious question was if we should call it quits. All those months of preparation and throwing in the towel after 4 days?? Arghhhh, there was so much conflict in my mind. Mom knew I would be reluctant to consider cutting our WT trip short, but that was what made the most sense, I had to admit. As much as I hated giving up, for the sake of all involved it seemed the wisest choice. We were almost to Mowich Lake, where I could try and find a ride back to White River. After more discussion and praying about it, we agreed that stopping at Mowich Lake was the best plan, and then we could do some car camping at Cougar Rock or White River. We felt really good about this decision, and our moods picked up after this conversation.

Getting a ride from Mowich Lake to White River seemed like it might be difficult, since our vehicle was on the other side of the mountain about 2 hours away by car. Most people leaving the lake were probably headed west toward Seattle. Mom recalled that another family that she had talked to the day before (also staying at Eagle’s Roost that night), were finishing their hike at Mowich Lake the next day. We could ask where they were headed afterward. It was a long shot, but it was still light out, and after some hesitation we walked over to their camp. We explained our situation and inquired of their plans after Mowich Lake. They were, in fact actually headed back around and past White River on their way to Yakima to stop at Miner’s for some burgers. LuRae, the mom, realizing our plight, asked if we needed a ride? Yes!! She was with her adult daughter and boyfriend, but her husband Jeff and other daughter were gone on a side hike. She was almost sure they could give me a ride, and she would discuss it with Jeff and then we could talk again in the morning. They were a nice Christian family and, after some further discussion, we found out they were related to our former optometrist, and we had met one of their relatives at a church we were visiting only a few weeks earlier. A small world to be sure. It seemed the Lord was confirming our decision, and providing the ride we needed.

We went back to camp and headed for bed. Our 13 year old was still awake, so we shared our decision and new plan with her, and she was very excited. We dropped off to sleep feeling hopeful and at peace.

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> NEXT: PART 5 – EAGLE’S ROOST TO MOWICH LAKE

< PREVOUS: PART 3 – GRANITE CREEK TO CATARACT VALLEY

Our failed Wonderland Trail backpacking adventure – Part 3 – Granite Creek to Cataract Valley

Day 2

This was the day that was supposed to be ending at Dick Creek, but we had to switch it to Cataract Valley, which added distance making it about a 12 mile day.

On top of that, our night’s sleep was not all that great. The sleeping arrangement included 4 bags, 2 each zipped together and open at each end so we could all be staggered on each side. However, that night we found out that this just didn’t work well for us. A few of the kids rolled around way too much and made it hard to keep everyone covered. We (mostly mom) had to frequently untangle and re-cover them during the night.

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I knew we needed to start early and get a steady pace going, so I was up in the 5 o’clock hour and started breaking camp, re-packing bags, and getting us ready to go. It was a chilly night (this was probably the coldest camp site on our trip), and people were reluctant to crawl out of their cozy sleeping bags. As they started getting up and moving about, it was obvious they were cold and preferred to sit around hugging themselves.

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It felt like we were moving at a snail’s pace getting ready, with mom and me doing most of the work. There was a lot to do, kids needing this and that, trying to organize people, and keep things moderately clean and get food distributed. We also needed to re-organize the packs so things were in their proper place.

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At some point, the same buck from the night before reappeared, and we enjoyed saying hi again. Apparently he lives nearby.

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After breakfast, we finished packing and all things considered got off somewhat early, around 8am, but I was doubting if it was early enough. 7am would have been ideal, 6:30 even better. We dragged our tired bodies back onto the trail and tried to convince ourselves that we were enjoying this. On the trail, we tried to take minimal breaks and not waste unnecessary daylight.

After passing Winthrop glacier, we got to cross the fast-flowing silty water coming out of it. The water was splashing up on the log, which made it a bit slippery, so we guided most of the kids across.

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As we continued, we seemed to be wandering through a wide variety of different forests. At times it was rocky, with short scrawny trees. Other times plants and grasses grew in abundance.

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Sometimes we were in the open; other times we were under dense canopy. As we passed through these different landscapes, I was amazed at all the variety, each place beautiful and unique.

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A some point, our 11 year old crumpled to the ground, complaining about knee pain, in the middle of his knee, and he was almost in tears. We took a break, and after a time he got up and tried to walk. He found a way to continue without it hurting much, but if he straightened his leg, the pain was sharp. I was concerned, here we were, in the middle of nowhere, and this could be a big problem.

At that moment, I felt quite powerless and vulnerable, unable to help. No phone service, days from civilization, very few people, and there was nowhere to turn for help. Nowhere, except the truly legitimate source of help, God. My prayer life had been getting exercise the past few days, and this instance was no exception.

After a time, his knee began to feel better, and the problem seemed to disappear.

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Around 2pm we made it to Mystic Lake, which was going to be our longest break of the day, plus our sock washing & drying time. As we were arriving at the lake, we caught a glimpse of Sandy leaving on the other side.

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After our lunch break and some fun in the water catching tadpoles, we dried off and pressed on, our pace slow but steady. Looking at the map and calculating our time, we knew we needed to hurry. Mom started carrying our 3 year old for stretches, adding 30 pounds to her already 30 pound pack. I wanted to carry him too, but my knees wouldn’t have it. The best I could do was hold his hand to help keep him going.

Not long after leaving Mystic Lake, with our oldest kids up ahead, we came around a bend and out of a grove of trees into a little meadow. Mom and I had stayed back to help one of the younger kids answer the call of nature. Our 11 year old, in the lead, rounded a corner and almost ran into a bear about 10 feet away. The kids in front backed away while another kid came running back to us. “Why are you running!?” Mom wanted to know. “There’s a BEAR!” was the hushed but excited reply. “That’s a good reason!” mom responded.

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We all retreated back into the trees and watched from a distance, but the bear didn’t give any indication we were there. He kept wandering back and forth near the trail, grazing on plants. I wish we could have enjoyed the encounter more thoroughly, but our tight schedule had us thinking more about how to get past the bear than soaking in the moment. We would have loved to stay and watch, but we knew we needed to get going.

After a few minutes the bear meandered a little further away from the trail, so we cautiously moved ahead with me in the lead, making noise, talking and singing to the bear. He continued to ignore us, and after we passed him by, we hurried on to put some distance between us all. Later bear, we’re outta here.

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A while later, we met some hikers going the other direction, and after swapping stories, found out they had also just encountered a different bear in another meadow. Continuing on, we met this bear as well, across a little stream and in more dense foliage. Feeling a bit more bold, we made our presence known and barely hesitated as we walked past, wishing the bear a nice afternoon. This one also paid us no attention, munching away.

As the day wore on, our bodies were starting to develop new aches and pains. I was having some knee pain in my good knee (my problem knee was working like a champ), and I was having some off and on joint pain in my feet. Kids were struggling with blisters and feeling the weight of their packs, their young bodies being taxed beyond anything they had previously known. Mom’s feet were doing great, but her back and shoulders were killing her. I gave her some quick back rubs at various resting spots, but her muscles were tender. This long day was taking its toll emotionally as well. Fun and enjoyable was turning into hard and discouraging.

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We reached the Carbon River suspension bridge around 8pm. It was still light out, but being down in a valley, the sun was behind the hills and it was getting steadily darker. Cataract Valley was still about 1.6 miles away, and our pace would crawl as this last stretch was all uphill. We took a short break as everyone crossed the river one at a time (save the younger kids), I re-taped my feet and helped some other people with blisters, and then we started up the hill. As we entered the canopy, darkness closed in around us, and we began using our headlamps as necessary.

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Our 3 year old was getting really tired by this time, and mom’s back was really giving her troubles. She was running low on strength, both physically and mentally. We kept pushing up the trail, but in the growing darkness, it was difficult to judge time and distance. We started picking up the pace, to try to and make it to camp before it got really dark.

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After what seemed like an hour of hiking, we were really feeling the burn, and steadily wearing down while trying to push the pace. We had been straining hard for a good distance with no breaks, and we were hot and sweating from the exertion. The temperature was dropping, and I knew we needed to be careful, as wet and cold is a recipe for hypothermia. We needed to get to camp.

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Our headlamps were now on full time unless we stopped for a break. The tree cover was getting thicker as we climbed, and the last bits of light had disappeared. Most of our attention was fixed directly in front of our feet on the trail so we didn’t trip over roots and rocks.

The sound of water was getting louder in the distance, and I was hoping it was the camp, but as we continued on, the sound came and went. I was starting to wonder if we had somehow missed the turnoff, since our focus was so much on the trail right in front of us. We had to be close, or we had missed it.

I and a few of the older kids pressed ahead, with mom and the younger ones lagging behind. At some point we stopped for a break, breathing heavily, waiting for the others to catch up. We could see our breath. By the time they arrived, mom was sounding anxious and in pain, her back going into spasms, and our 3 year old ready to sit down and fall asleep. Mom was afraid she couldn’t go on without her back locking up, and concerned the youngest would collapse. She was near tears. Her worries were pouring out, and then she started to cry, which cascaded into just about all the kids crying as well. I told them somewhat sternly “You’re wasting your energy by crying. If you cry, it clouds your vision, and you’re going to trip and fall.”

With emotions hanging on a thread, mom and I discussed if we should consider just setting up camp in a flat spot off the trail. We pressed on, looking for a level spot, any spot, even on the trail, but most of all looking for the camp. It couldn’t be far. Or, we were walking deeper into the forest and away from any established camp or water source. As we walked, there just didn’t seem to be any flat spots, and beside the trail the ground was strewn with too many branches and uneven ground to pitch a tent. We continued on, and I took the 3 year old.

A short time later, I looked up, and saw lights in the distance, tents glowing in the dark like big soft light bulbs. “Lights!” I called out with relief, and around me the crying erupted anew, but these were tears of joy. I promptly turned again and said, “No crying. If you cry, you don’t walk.” The crying quickly subsided. We had made it! Oh, the relief. Thank you God.

With new strength we pushed into camp and shed our heavy packs. We had made it! Site #1 was open but had some gnarly roots in the middle of the tent pad. Everyone stopped to wait, while I checked if there were any other open sites. I found #5 open, and it looked much better. So, we all moved over.

The rest of the night was a blur, as we set up camp in a hurry and had cold food for dinner, getting everyone ready for bed, trying to dry off our sweat soaked bodies, and putting on dry clothes. We were exhausted, and morale was very low. Almost everyone hated backpacking at that moment.

Soon, we were all in bed, and sleep came quickly.

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> NEXT: PART 4 – CATARACT VALLEY TO EAGLE’S ROOST

< PREVIOUS: PART 2 – WHITE RIVER TO GRANITE CREEK