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Hiking the Wonderland Trail: Days 4-6

Day 4

Klapatche Park to Golden Lakes

7.8 miles

A light evening rain had come through the night before, but since our bedtime was about 6pm for most of this trip, we had missed it and most of our gear was dry.

After packing up the wet rain fly (only backpackers will know the utter miserableness of a cold, wet rain fly in the morning), we began our descent down to the North Puyallup River, miles of switchbacks of old growth forest allowing occasional views of imposing rock formations high above the valley floor.

We leveled out and continued on until we came upon a clearly man-made rock wall stretching out before us, the width of roughly a car and a half, overgrown but still clear through the forest floor. It was an odd reminder that men have tried to tame this park for over 100 years, but the tall grass and moss in between the cracks in the rocks were a stark reminder that the wilderness of this park is not something to be tamed.

Side note: The West Side Road was an early attempt to connect all four corners of the park by automobile. After multiple washouts, the road was abandoned and is no longer maintained, accessible to only adventurous bikers and hikers with parts allocated to Wonderland Trail campers.

I loved discovering this piece of history in the park! After watching the glacial melt rush by for a bit, we used the log bridge to cross to the other side, viewing the remnants of a concrete and rebar structure at the bottom of the canyon.

After this beautiful valley, it was a long portion of flat forest, followed by a long portion of steady uphill climbing. Ignoring the rumbling in my stomach was getting difficult, but we pushed on, searching for a sunny spot to sit and have lunch.

This search led us to a gorgeous exposed ridge, a 1930s era fire leaving behind sparse tall trees, but low level grasses and shrubs were thriving. The fall hues and fallen trees were incredibly welcoming as we laid down our packs, laid out our sweaty clothes to dry, and enjoyed lunch with a view of the ridges and valleys we had just crossed laid out before us. With only a mile and a half to go before our next camp, and the clock barely past noon, we took our time and enjoyed the backcountry we had ventured into.

Dense clouds kept hiding Mt. Rainier from view, but even just the bottom peaking through was gorgeous.

After our very leisurely lunch stop, we continued on, finding ourselves very quickly in idyllic meadows bursting with berries and fall colors.

These were some of my favorite moments of the entire trip; the sun was shining, the berries were delicious, and the short trek remaining to our camp for the night made us all relaxed and jovial.

I couldn’t believe we didn’t see a bear on this portion! The meadows were overrun with blueberries and seemed picture perfect for a furry friend.

Early in the afternoon, we rounded a corner and saw the first of the Golden Lakes. A picturesque cabin was set back in the trees with “beachfront” property on the lake. We had the group site for this camp, which was set back not far from the lake. With the sun still shining high above, we washed up in the cool water and enjoyed the warm weather, having been repeatedly told that the next day (Friday) would bring the storm we were all dreading.

Day 5

Golden Lake to Eagle’s Roost

12.2 miles (including food cache pick up)

You guys come look! Quick!”

Nikki was either dying or there was something pretty, so we rushed down to the lakeshore early in the morning, completely surprised by the sun’s early rays making clear skies turn pink.

Mt. Rainier had been hiding behind the ranger cabin the entire time, a thin layer of clouds hiding the majestic beauty yesterday.

That gorgeous sight, and the lack of the promised Friday storm, gave us an ample boost of energy to kick off a long mileage day. Not only did we need to make it up to Spray Park, we also needed to make a quick detour to Mowich Lake to pick up our first food cache, which housed enough supplies to carry us to Day 8.

It was sunny the entire day, one of the only bright spots in an otherwise boring day filled with green tunnels and hard uphill climbs.

The mountain gave us tantalizing glimpses, but they were few and far between. This was a tough day with no views to distract from the increasing muscle fatigue. As Nikki said after our trip wrapped up, the halfway point was difficult to swallow; it meant we had to do everything we had just done over again, and that was pretty overwhelming.

We grabbed our food cache, had a mild meltdown over a lack of Cheese It’s, and finished the remaining mile and change we had left, including a very steep uphill which almost brought tears.

Tay and I had planned our Thanksgiving dinner for his day and boy were we glad! A mix of mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberries definitely finished off the day right.

Day 6

Eagle’s Roost to Mystic Camp

11.7 miles

We woke up on the morning of day 6 in complete disbelief: where was this storm?! It was now a day late and making us anxious. We knew we were very lucky getting in almost a week of dry, sunny hiking in late September, but we had brought all our rain gear and were eager to get the wetness over with.

We packed up and made our way 0.1 miles down the trail to our water source. All 3 of us did liquid breakfasts for the trip, but I had made several changes for this adventure after PCT. Here is a recipe for our “Trail PSL”, a delicious and filling version of the fall classic.

Trail PSL

-Half scoop of vanilla protein powder (we use plant-based because our bodies tolerate it better)

-2 packets French Vanilla Carnation Instant Breakfast powder

-1 Starbucks Pumpkin Spice VIA packet

Taylor mixed these together ahead of time in Ziplock bags, which made it easy to pour into our SmartWater bottles and go in the morning.

We looked forward to the days we had these and they were so delicious!

We climbed straight up after breakfast. Switchbacks be damned, this trail wasted no time gaining elevation up onto the Spray Park ridge.

Just as we gained the ridge, a wall of clouds and rain pounded into us, misting us and quickly obscuring our view. The wind was ice cold and we knew the storm had finally arrived.

We were soggily making our way through the endless meadows when we spotted a big black bear eating his way through the bushes about 50 feet to our right. It was my sixth bear sighting this summer, and Nikki’s first ever! It was an exciting moment for everyone!

The plus side of the whipping winds was that the views and sun briefly made appearances before more clouds were driven in.

Spray Park, the views of Mount Rainier, and the valleys and ridges surrounding it, was awe-inspiring. What an incredible area.

It was amazing how quickly a rainbow and some unrivaled views could make us forget the cold and wet, if only for a brief moment.

We spent the morning enjoying the sights before the next wall of water cane rushing in, drenching us to the bone. Even with ponchos and rain jackets, our pants were still soaked. Thankfully my La Sportiva mountaineering boots kept my feet nice and dry until the very end, when I had to get water at Mystic Lake and the wind blew waves over my feet 🙁

Soaking wet, shivering, tired and cold, we arrived at our campsite. We set our tent up in record time, getting naked outside before diving in and changing into our warm clothes. We knew it would probably not be worth the effort, but we fashioned a makeshift clothesline in our tent to at least try and dry things. We cooked in the vestibule and then tried to sleep, my hair still wet and the shivering not quite subsiding. The creaking of a nearby tree, combined with the gale force winds, kept us all up that night.

Overall, we crossed through beautiful terrain but also endured some of the worst conditions possible for thru hiking. We were exhausted and cold, and only had limited dry clothes left. If it rained the next day, we were in trouble.

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