100 Years


The Wonderland Trail is 100 years old this year as I take my first steps at 70. 93 miles around the mountain, or 96 miles, depending on the map. Depending, too, on the one who walks. The original trail was longer, 130 miles, and lower in elevation. According to Park archives, it was less scenic, too. The trail system was needed for Park protection of resources, including fire, poaching and trespassing. It was completed in 1915, and was first circumnavigated by a Mountaineers expedition. Elevation gains surpass 22,000 feet, with matching elevation descents. It’s down-up-down-up each day. Thousands of people from all over the world walk this trail every year.

Washington State contains maps of mountains. The State is mountain full. Mountain Rainier, however is always the mountain. When we say, The Mountain is out, we always know that we are talking about Mount Rainier. The Wonderland Trail circles the Mountain.

The naming of the trail emerged from the spontaneous breath of its first hikers, a wonderland, and from these first breaths of wonder came its increasing popularity. When its name became official in 1920, it is not inaccurate to say that The Wonderland Trail was named from below.
To make Ranger patrols more effective, the park also constructed a series of patrol cabins along the trail, simple log structures built with native logs and cedar-shake roofs. Summer residences or temporary shelters.

Even after experiencing the Permit process necessary to enter the Trail, and to receive the necessary camping permits, it is difficult to describe. There are designated camp locations with different numbers of available campsites. Camp Rangers at different locations on the Mountain, work individually with hikers, and collaboratively with each other in making designated nightly campsites for individual parties.

I arrived at the Ranger Station in Longmire before they opened the day before my hike. It looks and sounds like this:

The Ranger looks up from his computer. I start by giving her my name, followed by more information than she wants. She doesn’t ask about my age or condition. She wants to know how many days I have, and where I want to start from. Then she’ll go to work. I have ten days, nine nights. She goes into her computer screen. She has a map with a magic marker. Here, here, and here. She goes around the Mountain. It takes less than five minutes. Later I’ll find out that one can have a maximum of 14 nights to complete the trail. I’ll wish I’d have asked for two more. I’ll be glad I made it out in ten.

Here’s what she gave me starting out at Longmire: Devils Dream, South1 Puyallup River,  Golden Lakes, Mowich Lake, Mystic Lake, Sunrise Camp, Summerland, Nickel Creek and Maple Creek. I get slowed along the way by my own pace, and then by a storm. Rangers on the trail phone in for a couple of changes. I’m given a cancelled campsite at Klapatche Park, and later, after being held up at Mystic Lake in a storm, I’m given White River and Indian Bar. Changes made by chance encounters with Rangers on the Trail is energy-giving. It’s inspirational. It reassures. These changes enabled me to complete the hike

Jim Bodeen
16 September 2015

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