Wonderland Trail: Day 3

Day 3
19.8 miles (allegedly)
Eagle’s Roost Camp to Sunrise Walk-in Camp

I was surprised when we woke up to dry tents. Day two had been so cloudy and cold I had been convinced we would be dealing with wet gear again. But instead we could see blue sky through the thick canopy of trees above us. Also, we hadn’t been crushed by hazard trees so I felt like things were really looking up! We got ready as fast as we could, with both Kyle and I having to control the ants in our pants because we knew that Spray Park was just ahead and if we were lucky we would be getting our first real view of Mount Rainier.

Finally we were heading out of camp and so, to start the day off right, Josh immediately got stung by a hornet. I mean, we hadn’t even made it back to the main trail yet! Nothing like a sprint straight uphill to get your blood pumping first thing in the morning. And the hill continued! It was a climb all the way up to Spray Park and beyond. But the transition from woods to park on this particular part of the trail is truly magical. One second you are walking through a tunnel of trees and then, just like that, you are crossing a log over a babbling creek and standing in the greenest meadow you have ever seen and Mount Rainier is bathed in sunlight, so bright you can hardly look at her, filling up the sky.

We motored through Spray Park – trying to look around while not tripping over all the check steps that took us up, up, up. Eventually you aren’t even in a meadow anymore, you are just walking on rubble that is under the snow for most of the year. And you are even walking on a little snow! And then suddenly the trail decides it has gone up enough (no idea why it stops, you’re not at a special viewpoint or anything) and it starts going down. And you go down for a very long time. At first you go down through more parks and meadows and then eventually you re-enter the trees. And it was freezing cold in the trees.

The tricky thing about the Spray Park alternate, and I said this in my last post, is it was really hard to determine how many miles it was and thus, how many miles we needed to hike that day. By the time we crossed our second suspension bridge and made it back to the Wonderland Trail proper it was clear we had already done more miles than we had been banking on. It was going to be a long day.

After our second suspension bridge we began a very long climb up to Moraine Park and the pass right above it. On our way there we took a break at Dick’s Creek Campsite, which was much more pleasant than the last time we did the Wonderland, and saw someone we had met on the PCT hiking the other direction. They were doing the exact opposite day from us – hiking from Sunrise to Eagle’s Roost! Finally, finally, finally – after what felt like years of climbing we were walking through Moraine Park and exclaiming at all the adorable marmots that were lazing about. Josh told us the entire history of the marmot vs pika war and we listened intently. Mount Rainier hid behind some clouds which seemed pretty par for the course at that point. And then after a short but very steep climb we were at the top of the pass. We all slumped over our trekking poles, sweating and breathing hard. Time to go down!

And down we went, past Mystic Lake which looked perfectly lovely if we hadn’t been only part way through our longest day on trail. At that point we were convinced it was really a 22 mile day not a 19.8 mile day. At the bottom of the descent we crossed Winthrop Creek, a raging river, brown with glacial silt, and then it was back up to Skyscraper Pass. On the way up we passed Elaine Kelly – Kyle and mine’s roommate from a couple of years ago!

Personally the climb from Winthrop Creek up to Skyscraper Pass isn’t a bad one. Yes, it is long as all get out but the trail is so well graded that you can set a pretty steady pace and just chug away at it. Which is exactly what we did until we finally emerged from the trees and onto a sloping ridge that led to a saddle. The clouds were low at that point and at the saddle we could hardly see down into the valley below. But they continued to blow through, allowing golden light to sweep over the valley floor. We rounded the corner from Skyscraper Pass and before us was Sunrise across the way. Sunlight speckled the heather covered slopes. This area of the park is one of my favorites and even though we couldn’t see the mountain high above us the vastness of the landscape, the long view we were getting just below a tenuous cloud, was incredible.

We were planning on grabbing water from a reliable stream before getting to camp since we didn’t know how full the lake next to the Sunrise Campsite would be. We had talked about also doing dinner there but it was too windy and cold to want to stop for longer than a fill-up. Stopping would have meant digging out every layer we had in our packs and putting them on – none of us wanted that. We powered on to camp. A gentle but completely unnecessary climb took us up to Sunrise. We bitched the whole way up, we felt like we had done enough climbing that day and our legs were killing us. Finally at the top, and suddenly surrounded by tourists and day hikers, it was time to go down to camp. Huge rock steps led the way and we limped down them. Josh actually limped down them and insisted that we go ahead as he hobbled into camp.

I was surprised to find a pretty empty campground when we got to the Sunrise Walk-in Camp. It is a super short walk from the visitor’s center, I assumed it would be packed on a holiday weekend, but maybe the iffy weather scared people off. A cloud had followed us out of the valley and up to Sunrise but now it seemed stuck behind the Burrows. We had clear skies for the moment. We found a lovely little campsite up on a hill ringed by scraggly trees. I insisted we squeeze our tent into a little alcove of them because even camping under a couple of sparse branches keeps your warmer and drier from dew (or rain, which is what we were all fearing, but no one was saying). Molly and Josh set up out in the open with our tarp for protection.

Despite the ridiculously long day we had all just endured it felt like the first night where we all wanted to relax in camp. The night before had been so dark and creepy all of us had scuttled off to bed. But this campsite was lovely and the sky was changing colors and we all moved a little more slowly knowing that the next day was our short day and we would get to sleep in a bit. Dinner was a delicious curry with cous cous and a Backpacker Pantry dessert. We had no problem eating it all after our many painful miles. Josh rolled out his IT band, which was what had been giving him problems on the descent. We all stretched on our little Thermarest pads and chatted as the light faded but we still didn’t have enough energy for a game of cards. Instead we all crawled into our tents exhausted, fingers crossed for a dry night.

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As Edward Abbey said, "An indoor life is the next best thing to a premature burial."

2 thoughts on “Wonderland Trail: Day 3

  1. Loving your trail descriptions… I’ll have to checkout Wonderland Trail… sounds great! Thx.

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