What's the Worst that Could Happen?

14 Days and 93 Miles on the Wonderland Trail
Mount Rainier National Park, Washington - Aug 2005

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Todd and Steph at Squaw Lake
The first day began with a climb up a steep slope known as 'Rampart Ridge'. Seemed rough to us then, but was probably one of the easier climbs looking back. First night's camp was at Devil's Dream Creek near Squaw Lake. Although the water was clear, the banks were very muddy; forcing us to climb out on a log to pump water.

First of Many Falls
This small waterfall flowing along the trail above Tahoma Creek was the first of dozens that we saw on the hike (they are so numerous that most don't have names). Less than a mile further down the trail, my foot caught on a tree root and I ended up inventing a new yoga position that would not have been possible without the aid of a 50 pound pack on my back. The result was a severe sprain to my left knee that proved painful for several days. Thank goodness for aspirin and knee braces.

Bridge at Tahoma Creek
The suspension bridge crossing Tahoma Creek is the largest in the park. The gentle swaying of the bridge in the wind, combined with the 80 foot drop to the raging glacial waters below makes the crossing an emotionally invirgorating experience.

Room with a View
South Puyallop Camp was our first exprience with the 'bare necessity' model of backcountry pit toilet (our previous camps had covered out-houses). This turned out to be one of the better ones as it was located behind some large rocks several hundred yards from camp. Open pit toilets at later camps often gave the user stunning views of the surrounding camp sites (and visa versa).

Sunset at Klapatche Park
Our third day had been plagued by clouds, fog, and occasional drizzle. By the time we reached Klapatche Park Camp, we were cold, wet, tired, and mostly miserable. However the weather broke just before sunset, cheering and warming us with some last minute golden rays and providing a spectacular view of the mountain which had been hidden all day.

Old Burn, New Growth
An old forest fire near Golden Lakes left skeletons of lost trees and rare open views of the mountains and surrounding canyons. It also cleared the way for an explosion of blueberry, salmonberry, and especially huckleberry bushes. Berry bushes were so common along the whole route that you could often just pick-n-eat them as you hiked without stopping or even slowing down. The raspberry-flavored thimble berries were my favorite.

Kim Reading at Mowich Lake
We spent a full day at beautiful Mowich Lake where we picked up our first re-supply cache at the Ranger Patrol cabin and restored our supplies, bodies, and spirits. The water was incredibly clear (and cold). We spent much of the day lounging, swimming, reading, and napping at a little rock outcrop near the patrol cabin.

Carbon Glacier
The mightly Carbon Glacier was one of the most impressive sights along the trail. The glacier is covered with a thick layer of rocks and dust which make the top look like a landslide and the front face (or 'snout') look like grimy old city snow. Below the glacier is the river valley, fed by the glacial melt and filled with boulders, rocks, and debris washed down from above.

Moraine Park
Above Carbon Glacier, we entered a high mountain valley carved by glaciers past and now filled with grasses, wild flowers, pikas, and marmots. Above us, the upper portions of Carbon Glacier cling to the mountain slopes.

Mystic Lake
Guide books had warned that Mystic Lake was thick with bears and bugs, but we saw neither. The water was perfectly still and reflected the rocky slopes of distant Mineral Mountain.

Summerland Sunset
At nearly 6000 feet elevation, Summerland Camp sits just below the tree line and is the last camp before the famous Pan Handle Gap area. A brief storm of clouds and cold wind rolled over us as we entered camp. We could see the clouds flowing around the trees and mountain ridges like ocean waves breaking against the shore.

Lake at Pan Handle Gap
At over 6500 feet elevation, Pan Handle Gap is the highest point on the Wonderland Trail and is famous for it rough moonscape scenery of carved rock, ice fields and glaciers.

Source of the Stream
Along the Pan Handle Gap section of the trail, you can see the freshly melted glacial water flowing out from the base of the glaciers and ice fields to create numerous little streams that splash over the rocky debris fields and wind there way down to the valleys to join the rivers below.

Above Indian Bar
On the other side of Pan Handle Gap, is the second sub-alpine camp known as Indian Bar. The camp is located in the large glacier-carved valley on the right side of the picture. The next morning, brought us to the steep ridge above the camp where we had incredible views of the mountain for most of the day.

Before and After
Dirty, smelly, unshaven... but otherwise no worse for the wear. After two weeks of dehydrated freeze-dried camp food, the bacon cheeseburgers and hot fudge sundaes at the lodge cafe were like gourmet dining. Feel sorry for the other folks that got seated near us though. From left to right: Kim, Erik (the author), Todd, Steph.