Wonderland Trail: Day 4

Day 4
14.7 miles
Sunrise Walk-in Campground to Indan Bar Campground

Another dry morning. The sun was shining and we didn’t have to get out of our tent until 7am! However, Kyle and I are terrible at sleeping in and at staying in our tent while the sun is out. For the sake of Molly and Josh’s sanity we tried to wait as long as we could before zipping open the doors. Chilaquilles for breakfast, which continue to be one of my favorite trail breakfasts of all time. After a leisurely start to the morning we got going but not without a certain amount of trepidation. Josh’s IT band, which had been acting up the day before, was still tight and unfortunately for him we were starting the day with a descent.

Half way down the switchbacks to White River Campground the tightness in Josh’s IT band got to be too much and he had to stop to roll it out. The problem with ultralight backpacking is that you don’t carry around things like hard sided water bottles.  The Gatorade bottle just wasn’t cutting it! But luckily Kyle found a conveniently shaped log and pulled it onto the trail – Josh groaned as he lowered his thigh down onto it. We all grimaced. I imagined the kind of pain he must be in all the way to the campground.

Once we were at White River we were able to grab water out of the spigot instead of treating it and give Josh a minute to massage his thigh with his trekking pole. Even though we had been warned that the bridges across White River might not be in we found them all sturdy and crossable. On the other side the trail meanders through the woods, not really climbing or descending for a mile or so. Then you reach the base of the climb to Summerland but even this ascent is one of the easier ones in comparison with the rest of the trail. We made our way up to Summerland slowly, letting Josh stop to roll out his thigh occasionally until eventually Josh asked if he could go in front to walk his own pace. We said of course and he took off up the trail at a blistering speed. We were all tired from the day before’s antics so we continued at our steady pace and didn’t see him again until the Summerland campground came into sight. He was sitting along the side of the trail, nodding as a stranger talked his ear off. We saved him and continued on to find a creek for water.

Summerland is so gorgeous – living up to its name. It feels like the Disneyland of the park, with beautiful wildflowers and large boulders for lounging on and sunrays streaming through ramrod straight pine trees, growing in idyllic little islands throughout the meadow. And as you continue on, up towards Panhandle Gap, the highest point on the Wonderland Trail, the landscape trends more towards moonscape. There are less plants as you get higher and more mosses and lichens – rocks colored bright orange and lime green. Snow patches dot the landscape and near them brilliant blue pools of snow-melt ponds glimmer in the sunlight. Josh was probably at Indian Bar right now, having picked back up the pace after break, but Kyle and Molly and I took our time getting up to the gap.

At the gap we were greeted by two more volcanos. Adams looked more rock than ice from our angle and way off in the distance the dark, pointy outline of Mount Hood pierced the bright blue sky. From there we set off into Ohanapecosh Park which waivers from looking alien to looking lush and the whistle of marmots floated by on a breeze. Molly was a little ahead of us because Kyle and I kept stopping to take a million photos. I thanked the permitting gods/the rangers who put our permit together that today was our short day.

Wonderland Trail - 2-58

Eventually you traverse through Ohanapecosh Park and end up on the edge of a giant valley leaving you with one option, to switchback down the ridge to the valley floor below. Because we had done the trail in the opposite direction last time I had forgotten how long and steep this climb was, but now that we were going down my knees reminded me. We hoped that Josh was already in camp and had snagged us an awesome campsite. That’s the number one problem that we discovered with doing long days – when you are always rolling into camp after everyone else you usually end up with the crappiest campsite, which feels almost like salt in a wound when your feet hurt as bad as ours did.

After what felt like an eternity we made it to the river and saw Josh, filling up his water bladders. He directed us to campsite two, where he had left his backpack and warned us that it was something special. I literally gasped as I turned onto the trail towards the site. A little side trail through blueberry bushes laden with ripe fruit led to a large, completely flat (swoon) campsite with a sweeping vista of the valley and the hanging Ohanapecosh glaciers. Most of the campgrounds along the Wonderland Trail aren’t known for incredible views. When they built them they placed them in more sustainable locations but this campsite was something special. Josh said he visited the other four as well and that ours was the best. We settled in and again, I was thankful that this was a shorter day so we would have time to actually enjoy this magical place.

After we had camp set up we grabbed tiny towel and headed down to the river to clean off and soak our aching feet. Sliding my feet into a freezing cold stream or spring is one of the most delicious aches I have ever known. And then keeping them there until they go numb and beyond feels like deep restorative healing. While we sat with our feet in the ice cold creek the sun warmed the rest of our weary bodies and the combination was like heaven on earth. I never wanted to leave. But eventually the sun started to dip behind the valley walls and it was time to head back to camp and layer up before dinner.

Dinner was a lovely affair followed by dessert and a rousing game of Euchre. All the while we were continually distracted by the changing light in the valley and a cloud overhead that never moved but was constantly changing shape. It felt like the perfect last night on trail, one that I will never forget.

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

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