Turns out there isn’t anyone else at Longmire at 3:30am. I sat under the dim parking lot lights waiting for Kyle to get back from the bathroom. He was nauseous. Kyle is almost always nauseous for early morning adventures. It’s like his body is resenting being drug out of bed before the sun is up. I stared up at the sky. No stars, just misty clouds hanging low overhead. I had planned on waiting for Kyle to get back to the car before I went to the bathroom but an emergency poop had me running across the parking lot. Look at that – first paragraph of many detailing our three day trip on the Wonderland Trail and I am already talking about poops. This is going to be a good one.
This adventure started the way many other adventures do: on a different adventure. It actually started last summer when we were hiking the Wonderland Trail with our friends Molly and Josh. On one of our lazier mornings we were laying in our tent, letting the sun rise, and I turned to Kyle and asked him if he wanted to come back out and hike the Wonderland Trail in three days. Of course he said yes. He really can’t say no to my crazy ideas. You may remember that last summer we did the trail in five days. While we were hiking I was getting the feeling that it would be “fun” to turn it into even more of a challenge. Three days seemed both doable but also miserable. Just my cup of tea. So we applied for permits, got them, recruited my mom to support us and now we were about to start the thing. There is always that moment right before you are going to start something. A moment of excitement and trepidation.
After both Kyle and I had taken a very early morning poo we walked over to the trailhead and stared up at a familiar sign. This would be our third time hiking the Wonderland Trail. We snapped an obligatory morning photo and set off up the trail – veering to the left when the trail split to head clockwise on the Wonderland. Kyle was quiet because he was close to vomiting, the woods were quiet because of the fog and the dark, I was quiet because I didn’t really have another option. I would have liked to talk so we could scare away the hordes of bears and cougars no doubt lurking just outside the pool of light my headlamp was casting but instead I just put my head down and accepted death, if it should come for me that morning.
A couple of miles in Kyle had another emergency poop and I turned off my headlamp while he was gone to get a sense of how dark the woods really were. My eyes adjusted slightly but I really couldn’t see anything unless I looked up and saw the slight variance in black of the sky and the trees. I flicked my headlamp back on. Thank god for headlamps. Kyle was back and we set off again, climbing steadily towards Indian Henry.
By the time we broke out into the first of many alpine meadows that surround Indian Henry things were starting to lighten up. Thick clouds still rested in the tree tops so we couldn’t see anything beyond the shadows of heather and bear grass but it was nice to be out in the open. We climbed through different levels of meadows and as we did the sun rose rapidly (somewhere behind all those clouds) and we were able to see more and more of our surroundings. Finally we were at the top of our first climb, happy to discover we had done seven miles in a little over two hours – we were making great time! Now it was time to go down, and then up again, and then down again.
That’s what the Wonderland Trail is, a series of ups and downs. There really is no respite from the continual climbing and descending. By our first snack break Kyle was feeling better and we were both able to force some food into our bodies. It wasn’t the first time were eating something that day – part of putting in these huge miles and only stopping every three hours to get more water and eat something more substantial was constant snacking. We were both wearing our fastpacks which have a lot of convenient pockets on the shoulder straps, perfect for carrying bars and corn nuts and M&Ms. While we hiked there was a continuous rustle of wrappers as we scarfed down half a bar here and a gu or shot block there. But we did stop for breaks every three hours to eat cheese, salami, burritos and trail mix – plus we needed to get more water.
One of our biggest goals for this hike was to be more efficient than we were on the Timberline Trail. We both recognized that on that training hike our timing had suffered from the fact that we never got water while we were breaking. Instead we would take a break and then, thirty minutes later, one of us would run out of water and we would have to stop again. Not on the Wonderland Trail though! We were efficient machines. Stopping, starting and water getting with a fluid grace.
By early morning we had passed through a cloudy Emerald Ridge (although the wildflowers were abundant) and were making the climb up to Klapatche and starting to see sun beams breaking through the clouds and shooting through the trees. This gave us a little boost of energy and we powered uphill to the top of the ridge where we could see a white cloud ocean, spreading out below us. The tops of nearby peaks poked above the inversion and we stopped to stare frequently. We also stopped to delight in all the wildflowers on a regular basis. This was the first time on the Wonderland Trail that we had ever seen wildflowers and it was a real treat.
We stopped for our second break at St Andrews Lake, the same spot where we had gathered water last year before staying at Klapatche. The lake is home to a million tiny red swimming bugs which we drank in copious amounts last year and when we were all sick for a week afterwards we wondered if they were to blame… We decided to tempt fate again and get water at St Andrews but this time we were much more careful and only ended up drinking one or two tiny red bugs. The lake was a beautiful place for a break and the clouds drifted by in thin wafts, allowing us to catch glimpses of the mountain.
After Klapatche it’s back down to North Puyallup and then up to Golden Ponds. Both Kyle and I had remembered the climb to Golden Ponds being quite pleasant so we were not pleased when it turned out to be way longer and steeper than we remembered. That is the problem with remembering things you did first-thing in the morning on fresh legs vs doing them half way through a 34 mile day. Finally we made it to the meadows at the top of the climb and Kyle saw a bear, which sprinted off of the trail as soon as it heard us and I only got to see the rustling of trees as we jogged on by.
At Golden Ponds we took another break and while I was off getting water a woman who follows us on Instagram recognized Kyle and introduced herself. We had a really fun time chatting with Brennan during this break and even meeting some of the people she stayed with at South Mowich the night before. It was extra cool to meet her because she and I had actually corresponded before her trip and I had given her some advice on how to get a walk up permit. I was stoked to see she got one – whether that was due to the advice I gave her or not. Upon learning what we were up to one of the gentlemen we had just met stared at us without words before shaking his head and announcing, “Well you are cats of a different breed!” That we are.
After we left her and Golden Ponds it was a long way down hill to South Mowich camp before our final climb to Mowich Lake. We were making great time and the long downhill was easier on the lungs although it was cold and damp. At the bottom we rested up for a second before filling our front pockets with snacks for the final climb and turning on a podcast. We both remembered the final climb up to Mowich being a beast but in the end it wasn’t that bad and before we knew it we were pulling over the final steps and into the parking lot. It was 5:30pm – we had told my mom, aunt and uncle that we probably wouldn’t make it to camp until 8:00pm. We hoped they weren’t still out hiking.
Mowich was a busy place but we spotted our tents right away. We walked over and dropped our stuff, no sign of them there. We turned towards the parking lot and noticed a subaru that looked like it could be my mom’s, plus there was someone in it. We walked closer and sure enough it was her. She jumped with surprise when we knocked on the window – shocked to see us so soon. We were also still in a state of shock that we were already there, but it felt good to have pushed and gotten there so quickly.
First things first we stretched and had a protein shake. Then it was time for a dip in the lake which was so cold and refreshing. Fog hung so low over the lake we couldn’t see the other side and the water was glassy calm. Because the air was so cold the lake water didn’t feel as frigid as it probably does on a hot day. I went in up to my waist and shivered. Kyle went swimming. We dried off and put on fresh clothes. My mom fed us and rubbed our feet with arnica and pretty soon we were in our tent, snuggled down into our sleeping bags. I had opted to bring a zero degree – Kyle was curled up under his forty degree quilt. We were falling asleep by eight because the next morning we had another early start. Day one was done and I already knew, we could do this.