For many years the go-to guide-book for The Wonderland Trail was Discovering the Wonders of the Wonderland Trail: Encircling Mount Rainier. It, along with a map or two, and you were ready to go.
Bette’s book took me on my many Wonderland adventures and is still on my guidebook shelf. I have recommended this book to 100′s, if not 1000′s, of hikers over the years personally and through my blogs and I will continue to. What you get is lore, history and a writing style of an old “friend”, it is a warm and inviting book. But I suppose it was bound to happen, after many years new books were finally written. With the changes in the park after the storms of 2006 it was needed, as was the changes in the permitting system. But also…lets be honest, books are changing rapidly. Readers “expect” full color photos and preferably a portable version (which isn’t a bad thing really!)
I was excited that during 2012 two new guidebooks came out, with high hopes for both. I cracked open both at the same time to compare style, features and how in-depth each one is. Both were published by long-established guidebook firms as well.
I was disappointed with One Best Hike: Mount Rainier’s Wonderland Trail, after reading it over.
Why? If anything it is me, and my own style. Over the years I have developed a definite way of hiking. It doesn’t mean my way is right. Or wrong. I think what stuck in me was the author’s distaste for electronics, be it a cell phone, an iPod or a GPS unit, or even Kindles. It is repeated numerous times through the book you need to leave them home. Why? If someone wants to carry all this gear, who does it affect outside of them? In most cases no one else! Maybe this comes from my days of letting my oldest carry his DS Lite video setup, to my torrid affair with my Nokia Lumina smart phone (seriously – it is my camera, my GPS, my Kindle reading app, my mp3 player and more…). Apparently, according to page 86, I am not this: “Most rational people just leave the electronic devices at home, seeing little reason to carry around what effectively acts as a paperweight” and this humdinger “Remember, one reason people go to the backcountry is for a break from the rat race.“. Pfffttttttt o_O Some of us are just out to be in the wilds to breathe fresh air and hike, and maybe have our GPS attached to our pack to record mileage. We have no agenda beyond fun. Lest me also mention that alcohol & beer are not needed as well. OK, they are not needed, but a hot toddy in camp can be quite the treat. Oh how I hate the cliché of “Hike your own hike”, but it applies here. And as a fair warning: if you like tarp tents and down bags, just keep walking down the virtual book aisle and don’t open. This book will work for some folks. It doesn’t for me. In the end I walked away from the book. I couldn’t get past the things that didn’t set with me.
I will say in favor the book is the smallest of the three and the lightest, if you like to carry a printed book with you.
And for the love of whatever, if you do take his advice, please do not leave your electronic devices in your car while you hike! Last summer there were a number of break ins at WL trailheads, where they were looking for phones, laptops, wallets and other ID pieces to sell. You are dealing with meth-heads who are only thinking about drugs, so don’t reward them!!
I first met the author of the other Wonderland Trail book, Tami, when she worked as the Outreach for the local REI in Issaquah, Wa, many years back, and wasn’t shocked when she announced she was writing a book on the Wonderland. Her book is mellow, laid back and had me thinking of Bette’s book, written for a new generation. That might be the best way to describe it.
And maybe not being fair, but her book is visually appealing as well, being a bigger book and boasting lush full-color photos on many pages, as well as stylized color topo maps. This is a book to pore over in February as you dream of the permit you hope to snag. This isn’t a book to bring along on the hike due to its weight/size, it is one worth keeping and sharing.
I truly enjoyed the park history she shares, gleaned from various folks with knowledge of the history of the park. As much of a Rainier-history-nerd as I am, I learned many new tidbits as I read. A few of which I’ll be checking out on my next set of hikes.
A helpful feature is in the back, is an itinerary planner. She lists campsites for trips ranging from 7 to 13 days, including alternative routes (such as Spray/Seattle Parks), listing the miles per day. But more important, listing this from each trailhead one could start at, for both clockwise and counter-clockwise. And to truly make on cry, a camp-to-camp elevation gain and loss. Cause, you know, it ain’t flat along the ridgeline
And I’ll leave you with this: someday, if you happen to be in the section of Seattle Park that is subalpine, just before the tundra…..wander around a bit. You might find a hidden treasure of your own, an old trail. All I can say is I once spent a night out there with my oldest son, and I have meant to go back again.