The Wonderland Trail was supposed to be our big backpacking trip of the summer. 10 days. Lots of elevation gain and lots of elevation loss around Mt. Rainier. It was kind of the true test of what we were made of backpack wise. Heavy packs, lots of walking. Good times.
The Monday of our first day we woke up to rain. While not unheard of in the Pacific Northwest.......after a week of sunshine we were not pleased. We loaded the car up anyway and headed for Mt. Rainier. We decided to begin our adventure at Longmire. It is a popular place so we figured our car would be safe there. We had a plan of how we wanted to attack the mountain. It involved on average between eight to ten miles of hiking a day. The entire trail is 93 miles. Not easy but not epic distance wise. When we went in for our permit (this year there was no reservations it is on a first come first serve basis) we were told our plan wouldn't work. There are only so many people allowed at each camping area so the ranger adjusted our plan and gave us our permit and we should have said no thank you but we were excited and optimistic.
Our permit called for us to hike 13 miles the first day, 10 miles the second and third day and then it got easier with 6 to 8 miles the rest of the time. The 13 miles on the first day broke us. Maybe if it hadn't been raining the entire time, maybe if the trail had been cleared all the way through, maybe if we weren't climbing up a huge mountain in dense vegetation, maybe if our packs weren't so heavy then maybe I wouldn't have thrown a fit around mile 9 and Dustin wouldn't have gotten sick. The first day was miserable. Cold and wet, the trail was washed out in parts requiring a mix of heaving yourself over boulders and trees and trying not to slide down steep embankments. I hated it. HATED IT. This was not fun. Backpacking should be fun. This was voluntary torture.
After nine hours of hiking we finally got to our camp (this was after several discussions about quitting brought on by hiking next to roads and crossing roads and generally being in places that we could have just driven too, that was pretty discouraging. I did not read about that aspect of the trail, the fact that part of it runs next to the main park road) and had to do the tedious part of trying to put up camp without getting everything soaked. It was day 1 and I was over it.
The next day I woke up, it was sunny and I was fine. Funny how good weather can pull you out of a funk. I have learned that if I start to hate backpacking I just need to wait a good solid 8 hours filled with sleep and usually I feel better.....usually. Unfortunately D did not feel better. The day before he had handled my melt down with grace, probably because he is legally bound to me through the institution of marriage, but hiking that far was hard for him too. We had just been ignoring the fact that he is in fact ill with something chronic and debilitating. He can push through most anything, the will is strong in that one, but physical activity at this level was taking a toll. Most of the backpacking we had done up until this point had a moderate level of difficulty. Now we were climbing mountains, freaking high and difficult mountains. The exertion level was through the roof.
We finally got everything packed up and started hiking again around 10 a.m. A bit of a late start but D was exhausted. And we climbed and climbed and climbed. But at least it wasn't raining.
After about three hours D was feeling horrible. But the only thing to do is keep going. At this point we were finally away from that stupid road, but that meant we were also kind of stuck out there. When D gets too exhausted he feels physically ill. So he was having a not so great time.
The views on this day were incredible. Finally out of the suffocating forest and up among the pines. I was fine, actually having a lot of fun. I was also pretty worried about D. He is the stronger one of us both who knows what to do on the trail, if he isn't feeling good alarm bells start going off in my head. Not a good situation.
We got to the Indian Bar area for a break, which is a beautiful area, and still had a huge mountain full of snow to get over. About a five mile (vertical) trek to our next campsite. We rested for awhile and then set off, and turned right back around. D wasn't gonna make it. I was tired but I wasn't dry heaving tired so we decided Indian Bar for the night was the best and safest option. The only problem is there are only so many campsites but we were in luck. On campsite had a downed tree over it. No one would be assigned to that spot so we set up camp for the night.
The next morning we woke up, again I was fine, and D was still exhausted. But we pushed on. We figured if we could get to our next assigned campsite, about a nine mile hike with about 4 of those miles downhill, we would be back on track. So we climbed up and up and up. Poor D was dying. And then we had several miles of snow to navigate. Snow makes finding the trail a bit tricky. Luckily the direction we were going was pretty clearly marked with those who had hike through before us.
After several hours of hiking/ sliding through the snow we finally got through a super steep and snow covered pass (there was some nervous breathing through that one) and made our way down towards the Summerland Meadow, the place we were supposed to camp the night before. I was feeling super proud and smug. I had navigated all that snow without any major catastrophe and only one slide down in the snow. And then the minute my feet touched rock. Boom. I went down hard. I had slipped on some slick rocks and since my shoes were wet from snow it was just a bit of a disaster. I feel so hard my hiking pole went flying and I slammed my right forearm hard into the rock.
I just kind of sat there for a minute seething. I was pissed. I had made it all this way and then when it is finally clear THIS is when I fall. I finally got back up and then realized my right hand didn't work. I couldn't close my hand. That seemed bad. I had a pretty big knot forming on my right forearm. There was nothing to do but keep going down towards the meadow. I put both poles in my left hand and very carefully hiked the rest of the way down.
We rested in the meadow for a bit, me cradling my non-working arm, D trying his best to find the energy to hike the rest of the five miles to our next camping spot. We were a bit of a mess. D finally called it. We were going to stay in Summerland for the night. We pitched our tent in the biggest site and hoped that either no one would show for this site or that they would be nice enough to let us stay. While we were setting up camp something popped in my arm and my hand worked again. Hurrah. It still hurt but at least I was back to two functional hands.
About two hours after we pitched our tent some hikers showed up and gave us the boot. They were nice enough but it is still a lot of work to break camp and move. But fair is fair, they had the permit. We asked two ladies who were camping in the group site if we could pitch our tent near them and they agreed. They were super nice and friendly which was lucky because if they hadn't agreed I am not sure what we would of done. That night in the tent we realized we were going too slow, at this rate we could not catch up with our permit itinerary and would run out of food before we made it around the mountain. Even worse than that, D was done. He had felt really bad for two days in a row and resting and eating were not helping. If it isn't fun, then why are we out here. We decided to call it. We checked out the map and realized the next day was our best chance to get back to our car. We texted our friend (weirdly and luckily in the right spot we had cell service) and made arrangements for him to come get us at the trail head and deliver us beaten and broken back at our car.
The next morning I let D sleep as long as possible and then we packed up and slowly hiked the four miles to the trail head. We got there about 5 hours before our friend could come get us so we decided to try the good ole fashioned thumb out on the highway method of getting back to our car. And it worked. I couldn't believe it. A nice older couple stopped and let our stinky selves and dirty packs into their car and drove us back to our car. I tried to give them gas money and they wouldn't take it. They just wanted to do nice things for people. It was a hiking miracle. They saved us a cold five hour wait, our friend a several hour drive and had two cute dogs we got to cuddle with on the way back to our car. I will forever be thankful to that couple.
We had made it a third of the way around the mountain before we bailed. We saw some of the most amazing views. I learned I am tougher than I thought (snow crossing, arm bashing), I also learned that I only like backpacking when the weather is good. We learned that D is just not able to do this level of adventure at this time. His body just won't have it. We also learned that the plan of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is not going to happen at this time. Thru hiking is hard, really, really hard. You have to move so many miles per day to get to your end destination before bad weather comes around again. You have to by physically and mentally up to the task. I don't like backpacking enough at this point to do it for six months straight. D's body is not physically able to handle that amount of activity at this time. Dream on hold for now.