Indian Bar Campground to Longmire Parking Lot
We had agreed to wake up early on our last day so we could get back to Longmire in time to get some food outside the park. Regardless of that agreement, it still wasn’t easy to get out of the tent when the cool night air was nipping my nose. But it was all worth it when Kyle spotted a bear way off in the valley and we were greeted by a sun, shining through misty clouds on the way out of camp. Straight out of camp is a small but steep climb to get the blood pumping which I welcomed because I was freezing. I practically sprinted up the steps and by the time we got up to the Cowlitz Ridge, which we would meander along before heading down to Maple Creek, I was finally warm and Kyle was dripping sweat.
The ridge itself, although punctuated by steep ups, makes for a fun change after so many dedicated ascents and descents. It was fun to be up high for a bit, consistently out of the trees, taking glances over our shoulders at the giant looming behind us. Every time we the trail would turn back into the sun we would be greeted by a new cloud configuration and a wash of gold on the slopes below. But eventually we had to leave the ridge and we started our descent in earnest. At break Molly rolled out Josh’s IT band again, something that was becoming somewhat of a routine. I, for the life of me, couldn’t understand why he was still hiking, but he recognized and understood the pain and he is a grown-ass adult so we let him make it own decisions. If he had wanted to bail he could have done so at Steven’s Canyon Road, I’m sure from there a hitch hike to Longmire wouldn’t take long.
But when we got to the road everyone powered one, through Box Canyon and down to Maple Creek Campground. I was still having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that this was our last day. Five days is longer that Kyle and I usually spent out on the PCT but when it’s your only long backpacking trip of the year it just doesn’t feel long enough. I couldn’t believe that already, it would be over.
After a break at Maple Creek we had a very, very long climb up to Reflection Lakes and then a down into Longmire. Josh went ahead so he could hike at his own pace leaving Molly and Kyle and I to chug up the trail. We had been going for twenty minutes in silence and I knew that I wasn’t going to make it without some sort of a distraction. I remembered that when we had attempted to climb Mount Olympus earlier in the season Josh had retold Molly the entire movie of Troy, complete with quotes and scene changes and soundtrack singing – I tried to think of a movie that I was that familiar with. Only one came to mind, Pirates of the Caribbean. I tried to tell it to myself for a little while but I would continually loose my place due to distraction so after restarting for the umpteenth time I suggested I share it out loud – everyone immediately agreed. And so began the four mile, two hour retelling of POTC. Thank god for Molly, she remembered some really important quotes and together we worked through the timeline which is admittedly confusing because they go to the cave where Cortez’s treasure is TWICE. At one point Kyle had to stop and Molly and I didn’t even hear him tell us or notice that he was gone for upwards of twenty minutes. To say the least the top of the climb came before we even knew it and I was shocked at how quickly the time had passed.
We found Josh, again, having his ear chatted off by a stranger and rescued him so we could find a place for break. We were all tired of our snacks at that point, having let the least desirable ones sink to the bottom of our snack bags of the last five days, and were ready for real food. Only five more miles of down left and we would be at Longmire. We would be done. Those five files both flew and crept by and before we knew it we were tumbling into the parking lot, legs tight and painful, feet throbbing, body ready to be done, minds ready to hike forever (or at least mine was).
The Wonderland Trail is hard. And doing it in five days made our days longer and tougher than they were last time. We pushed ourselves to the max considering there are few ways to train for long days other than doing them and Molly and Josh impressed the heck out of me – doing long days repeatedly is more of a mental fete than a physical one and they crushed it. But I can’t help myself, while I was out there I was already planning how I could come back and make it harder, push myself deeper, take it further. Could I hike it in three days? The bottom line is I spent those five days in appreciation – deep appreciation of the beauty of Mount Rainier National Park, yes, but also appreciation of my body. I recognize that the physical ability to do these kinds of adventures isn’t something we will have forever and I want to seize these moments and days and weeks while we still can. I want to pack it in so that when we do slow down and start to smell the roses instead of just steaming on by them I won’t have any regrets.
I listened to this She Explores Podcast about female hikers over the age of fifty. One of the ladies told a story about how she used to fly up mountains and be all about pushing herself but as her body asked her to slow down as she got older her priorities shifted and she started to take more time to stop and enjoy what was around her, to learn the names of plants and animals, to look at birds and trees. I love that idea – that I don’t have to be this intense, driven, mile-thirsty person for the rest of my life but that for now, it’s a great person to be. Because there is plenty of time for slower days later. Right now – I want to run. So Wonderland Trail – hopefully I’ll see you again soon. I can’t wait.