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Hiking The Wonderland Trail: The Complete Guide To Mount Rainier's Premier Trail

Author : Tami Asars
Published : 2012-08-01

Fall is on its way, deciduous forests will soon be shedding their colors, snows will be falling. It's probably getting too late to plan a complete hike of the 93-mile Wonderland Trail that loops Mount Rainier National Park, but it's the perfect time to begin planning for next year!

Tami Asars is here to help you, too, with her book, Hiking the Wonderland Trail: The Complete Guide To Mount Rainier's Premier Trail.

Such a book is a great aid to planning and completing this particular long-distance hike because the 93-mile Wonderland Trail is no ordinary walk in the woods. That's obvious from the trail fact that you'll gain, and lose, about 22,000 vertical feet as you circle the dormant volcano. Some days while you're cursing the trail's steep switchbacks will be sunny and mild, others will leave you searching your way in a dense, damp fog, perhaps with a chilly drizzle on your shoulders.

"There's almost nothing more difficult than trying to stay dry when backpacking in consecutive days of rain, and the Wonderland is famous for throwing down the challenge," writes Ms. Asars, who has completed the hike nine times, either in sections or big, go-the-distance gulps. "One time, after five days of deluge, we considered building a canoe out of downed wood to paddle the trail back to Longmire. Thankfully, the skies brightened and we came away with a great story, a couple of rust spots on our elbows, and a few mushrooms growing in our hair."

That's an example of the attitude and outlook the author carried with her as she assembled this book that hits all the bases you need to cover in preparing for your own circumnavigation of Rainier: permitting, food and fuel caching, gear (good quality rain gear!), even training for this long-distance adventure.

Not only does she provide tips on hiking the Wonderland clockwise, but she also looks at it from a counter-clockwise approach, something helpful when it comes to choosing campsites. And when it comes to measuring your ability.

"Many Wonderland Trail travelers will tell you that clockwise is the easiest, but 'easy' is not a word I use to describe this trail. So perhaps the clockwise direction might best be described as the lesser of two evils. The reason? Because the majority of hills you'll encounter going clockwise are a gentler grade going up and a steeper grade going down. The steeper descents tend to push your ankles and knees to wobble and creak a bit more, while the steep ascents get the ol' ticker talking," she points out. "When someone asks you the hiker-babble question of whether you prefer uphills or downhills, what is your answer? If your answer is downhills, then clockwise would likely be your preference. If going downhill wrecks havoc on your knees and ankles, you may find yourself electing for the counterclockwise direction."

Once she's done away with the mandatory tips, Ms. Asars gets down to the details of the trail. She accomplishes this with chapters that break down the 93 miles into chunks -- the West Side, the North Side, the East Side, and the South Side. Within each she details sections, such as Longmire to Mowich or Olallie Creek to Indian Bar. Each section opens with the distance between the starting and end point, high point along the way, and elevation gain or loss for the day.

In these chapters Ms. Asars sets the landscape for you, tosses in some history, and practically takes you by the hand at times.

"Cross a swift waterway on a sturdy bridge and take a snack break if needed at the waterfall on the other side," she writes in describing the section from Mystic Camp to Sunrise Camp. "Garda Falls is directly above you, falling 200-300 feet. The waterfall was named after a beautiful, young photographer from Tacoma named Garda Fogg. No doubt whoever named it had a crush.

"The climbing begins again and you head away from Winthrop Glacier. Trees and brush give way to a few last good glacier views. Watch your footing on the loose stones here. Ducking back into the forest, the way turns steep and alternates between dense forest and brushy creeks and marshes as you continue your uphill quest. Cross Granite Creek on a small footbridge and arrive at Granite Creek Camp, 4.6 miles from Mystic Lake."

Complementing this book -- which sadly is a bit too big and hefty to stick in your pack to refer to along the way, unless you're a packhorse -- are gorgeous full-color photographs (most by the author) and maps (including a downright ugly elevational profile of the route!).

If tackling the entire 93 miles seems too much for you, or you don't have the time, Ms. Asars provides a "Wonderland Sampler" that explains how to approach the trail as a "section hiker." Here she also tosses in suggestions on where to hike if you're most interested in high suspension bridges, waterfalls, glaciers, snowfields, or views.

Backing up all this content are appendices that offer details on how to navigate the loop in 7-13 days or the more typically 10-12 days, counterclockwise itineraries, charts with elevational gains/losses, camps, and, of course, resources such as shuttles, lodging, permitting, food and fuel caches, and recommended reading.

This book should be at the top of your reading list.


According to the park website, obtaining reservations at enough consecutive designated camps to complete a circuit of the Wonderland Trail has been impossible all this summer:

This fall might actually be an excellent time to hike the Wonderland. The bugs and crowds are gone and the weather is glorious:

I agree, spring (if one does not mind crossing snow) and fall are the best of times.

If one prefers a midsummer wander along the Wonderland, get some maps (Green Trail Maps #269S is good for planning) this book and print up the forms. Then enjoy a winter of planning and get the reservation request in at the earliest...

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