2004: The Year Of The Thru-Hike
2004. I had never planned a long distance hike before. I had no idea what to expect, how to pack or even how to handle the hike. And what a crazy trip it became….time pressed with minimal vacation time for most of the ones coming,our trip kept getting shorter with more miles added on per day. With no experience of how brutal the elevation gains were I didn’t think 10 miles a day was hard. Well, Mother Nature will always remind you just how hard of a task master she is.
The trip started with Rainrunner, Hoosierdaddy, Olyhiker and me. Later Dicentra would join us at Sunrise. Our permit was for 7 days.
We all met at Longmire. Our first nights camp was Nickel Creek, about 12.75 miles and 3500 ft of gain away. The elevation was broken up into two sections, with the last miles in an airless forest, hot and dry. This section of the Wonderland sadly is the most lacking. Once you finally leave the throngs of day users at Reflection Lakes and quit crossing roads it gets very hot in late day. Nickel Creek isn’t far off the main road either, just a bit from Box Canyon. We had decided to go this way (counter clockwise) to get the worst part out of the way. We knew though that Day 2 would be gorgeous. Sleep didn’t come easy though. We were exhausted from the heat. Nickel Creek is a nice deep forest camp though. A large group camp with privy, two sites below it on the creek and another across the creek. It was at least cool, with plenty of water. The campsites are small though and we had to fit in 4 small shelters as none of us were sharing.
The future though was in front of me: my feet were killing me. I had made a huge mistake and had ill fitting trail runners on with only liner socks. Even on this day I had blisters forming. The downhills were slamming my toes into the toe box.
At the start, crossing Nisqually River:
On the WT:
Hoosierdaddy, Olyhiker & me at Narada Falls:
The next morning came too fast and in the cold darkness we packed up. The climb out of Nickel Creek is in dark forest on a hillside. Not attractive, and very dry. But then…suddenly you are pulling out of treeline into what many would consider some of the prettiest subalpine to be seen. Cowlitz Divide is a backbone that stretches for what feels like forever. The views only get better as you go higher. Behind you Mt. Adams becomes larger, the ridges become too many to count.
And then suddenly you are at the top. And below you is Indian Bar. Photos don’t show it like it is – it is gorgeous. You descend down into the valley to cross Ohanapecosh River on a bridge over the falls. The moraine is massive from the nearly gone glacier that was once there. The trail follows the old moraine as it leaves IB. We spent a couple hours there cooling off in the creek near the river. The stone shelter for groups is indeed cool. The day was cloudless and baking hot. We left IB with wet clothes on and headed up to Panhandle Gap. A very long and very hot exhausting trip. With it being hot though we crossed only a few small snow fields at least. Below Panhandle Gap is a tarn in the alpine zone – looking back Adams is bigger than life, floating in the air. Panhandle Gap was easy to cross due to the low snow. As you pass Meany Crest you pass tiny tarns formed by the receding Meany Glacier. The crossing of Fryingpan Creek was “interesting”. At the time there was a massive log over it. It teetered and rocked as you walked over it. Underneath was a sheet of snow and ice. We came into Summerland never so happy to see camp. HD and Olyhiker were not doing so well from the heat. It was in the low 90’s that day. They were in heat exhaustion and we treated them. Summerland is beautiful but overused, though it does sport the nicest privy on the trail. Our camp was the last one left. It left a lot to desire.
The day brought us about 11 miles and 5200 ft gain. It wasn’t the miles but the elevation and heat that wore you down.
Looking at Rainier from Cowlitz Divide:
Olyhiker above Indian Bar:
Shelter at Indian Bar:
Stream surfing at IB:
Small tarn at 6500 ft:
Rainrunner below Panhandle Gap:
Me crossing near that tarn near Panhandle Gap:
Tarns below Panhandle Gap:
In front of Meany Crest/Glacier:
Crossing Fryingpan Creek:
Filtering water at Summerland:
In camp at Summerland:
We woke up early in the cool air (yes, this is normal. Cold in morning, hot during day.) HD and OH were still not feeling so well. They elected that day to walk the couple miles down the Wonderland Trail to White River Rd. with us, then they hitchhiked a ride up to Sunrise. This allowed them to not get overheated again and have a rest day. Rainrunner and I set out after leaving them. We had to take the detour that year and use the car bridge over the White River and walk the road to White River campground. This hurt quite a bit to road walk and dumbly we turned down a a free ride from a ranger. If I had known how bad my feet were getting I would have – but I was full of pride of walking every real mile. We took a break at the campground to dump garbage and clean up. The trail to Sunrise laid ahead of us: straight up, dry and airless. It was a long hike up but we made it. The view of Rainier was gorgeous as we crested up. We walked into Sunrise to get our food caches and meet up with everyone who had come out to see us. We had a big late lunch at the cafeteria. And walked out into spitting rain to make camp at Sunrise Camp. Not fun. By the time we reached there my feet that had been killing me were literally beyond pain. I took my trail runners off to find I had blisters on blisters. Some had shredded – my toes looked like hamburger. Olyhiker helped me wrap my feet up. I was miserable though. I had never had such bad blisters before and didn’t know how to take care of them. As the sun set I knew I was going home. I couldn’t face anymore of this. My boots were wrong, my socks were a bad choice. I was starving for fat and protein.
That night though was good. The gang was there and we had dinner with beer packed in by Durante. He packed in party cups and chips. Hikerdrew and his hiking party joined us as well – they were thru-hiking also, going in the other direction and we had all met up there at Sunrise.
Rainier from Sunrise:
Dinner at Sunrise above Shadow Lake:
So on Day 4….I left the trail. Dicentra took my place. I limped home feeling very let down from what had been a great trip. I would see every one in a couple days at Mowich Lake to resupply them and pick up Dicentra. In the end it was HD, RR and OH that finished. Brutal and long but well worth it. It was a learning lesson though…and it would teach me more than I thought. 3 days, 35 miles and 11,500 ft in elevation gain taught me a lot.
HD still gives me a bad time about our lunch at Sunrise – I ate about a 1/2 cup of mayo – dipping fries, bruger and onion rings into. It was extremely gross but yet I couldn’t stop. If for anything I learned the lesson on eating well. It was the trip that showed me why I needed to eat well – and it started the trail cooking bug.