Wednesday, April 30, 2014


This hike happened in the Fall of 2005, about the time hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.

For the past two years, my friend, Matt Powell, and I have been planning to hike the Wonderland Trail. Let me clarify. We haven’t been planning for two years, per se; we planned on hiking it two years ago; that fell through. Then, we planned on hiking it last year, and that fell through. Well, I think we’re finally going to do it. Date of departure is September 1st. Matt has actually purchased his plane ticket to get him here to his old stomping grounds, so it looks like it will be a reality this time around. You know what they say about that third time.

Matt is scheduled to arrive Tuesday, August 30th, in the evening. Wednesday will be a full day, as we have several last-minute preparations.

First, we’ll go to the Wilderness Information Center at Longmire, just inside the Nisqually entrance to Mount Rainier National Park (located in its southwest corner) to set up our itinerary for the hike. There are 40 backcountry campsites inside the park (18 along the Wonderland Trail), some of which will have already been completely booked via reservations. We will work with a park employee at Longmire to figure out which sites are available along the trail during our two-week hike. We’ll need to be somewhat flexible, but shouldn’t have any trouble finding places to camp.

Next, we’ll leave some supplies at strategic locations around the park. Although it's possible to carry a two-week supply of food in a large backpack, it's also possible to re-supply at a couple spots around Mount Rainier. This makes for lighter backpacks, easier hiking, and a more enjoyable trip. We'll leave a 5-gallon bucket right there at Longmire which we will use for re-supply 4 or 5 days later [We ended up using other Tupperware-type containers.]. Then, we’ll proceed to Sunrise, on the east side of the park, and drop off another bucket of food, which will be our second and final re-supply on the hike.

Last, we’ll head back to Tacoma, pick up any last-minute items at REI, and go home and prepare our equipment, making sure to pack everything properly and not leave anything out. We’ll leave early the next morning for Mowich Lake, our jumping-off point.

Photos of the Hike

The Wonderland Trail

In the northwestern-most part of the United States (excluding Alaska), in the great state of Washington, sits a breathtaking mountain (even to those of us who have lived here for decades): Mount Rainier. Mount Rainier is the 5th tallest mountain in the lower 48. It also happens to be an active volcano. There are many other mountains found in the Cascade Range that qualify as volcanoes, too, such as Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens. The list numbers over 25 and the mountains stretch all the way up into British Columbia and down into Oregon and California. Mount Rainier is about 40 miles from Tacoma, as the crow flies, and about a 60-mile drive to the Nisqually entrance, located in the southwestern corner. That puts it about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, for those of you who might be coming from out of town to visit it.

The main destinations for visitors are Paradise, on the south side of the mountain, and Sunrise, on the northeast side. There are myriad day hikes starting at either of these locations. Another popular tourist or weekend activity is simply driving around the mountain and enjoying it from every angle. You can stop at numerous pullouts around the park and do a short day hike, or begin a longer hike, lasting an entire day or weekend.

The Wonderland Trail is a 93-mile-long trail that encircles Mount Rainier. Most people hike it in a week-and-a-half, or so, whereas others “hike” it in as little as a day (quite rare, I do believe—that amounts to jogging at almost 4 miles-per-hour for 24 hours!!!), or as much as a couple weeks. Since I am incapable of circumambulating this behemoth in a couple days, and wouldn’t want to kill myself trying, I figured I may as well take my time and enjoy it. We are going to take two weeks, starting on September 1st and ending on September 14th. By the time we’re done, we will have hiked well over 100 miles, including several day hikes that we will intersperse with the Wonderland Trail, itself. We will start at Mowich Lake (located in the northwest corner of the park), hiking counterclockwise (opposite the direction of most hikers), re-supplying at Longmire and Sunrise, and then ending up back at Mowich Lake (hopefully).

Some of possible day hikes we're looking forward to are Mirror Lakes (west side), Pinnacle Peak (south side), and Burroughs Mountain (near Sunrise on the east side). In the Mirror Lakes area (Indian Henry's Hunting Ground), we would like, in particular, to climb to the top of Pyramid Peak and explore Success Divide. We're also looking forward to exploring various aspects of glaciers, of which there are 26 named examples, and which cover some 36 square miles of the park. We'll try not to fall into any crevasses.

Photos of the Hike


Right now, we’re planning what to take, what not to take, what to see, what not to see (most interesting spots at the top of the list, stuff at the bottom of the list eliminated based on time limits), and ideal schedule. The final schedule will be determined only the day before the hike when we talk to the officials.

Unfortunately, crosscountry camping is permitted only for those hiking less than two thirds of the Wonderland Trail. There are two primary ways to camp when hiking in Mount Rainier National Park. First, and most common, is simply to use the backcountry camps scattered throughout the park. These have nice, clean, flat areas in which to pitch your tent, a natural john (i.e., pit toilet), bear poles (for storing food), and a nearby water source. Another option is crosscountry camping, where you can camp off the beaten path. In the past, hikers have abused the rules and now the rest of us get to pay for it. Crosscountry camping requires camping at least ¼ mile from the trail and 100 feet from any water source. Hikers who were hiking the Wonderland Trail in the past apparently were too tired to hike another ¼ mile and so got in the habit of camping right off the main trail or too near water sources. Now, crosscountry camping is allowed only for hikers on shorter hikes. This is a big disappointment as there were a few spots in particular where I wanted to camp (e.g., the plateau just below Pyramid Peak), but now won’t be able to.

Through research on the Internet, reading books, and talking to friends, I am trying to determine what kind of food to take (and how much), how much fuel to take, what clothing to take, and what kind of clothing to leave behind. This question is a tricky one because the weather around Mount Rainier can change rapidly. It can be sunny one moment and begin to rain or snow in short order. If the forecast a few days before we are to leave looks iffy, we'll probably take some heavier clothing and more rain gear. If the forecast is rock solid, we'll probably go lighter with less protection against harsh weather.

To-do list:
  • Buy 2 five-gallon buckets (or similar storage containers) for re-supply
  • Buy freeze dried food ü
  • Buy hot chocolate packets ü
  • Buy instant oatmeal packets—Jay's breakfast ü
  • Buy cream of wheat packets—Matt's breakfast ü
  • Buy 2 additional water bottles ü
  • Titanium cookware ü
  • Fuel canisters ü
  • Test stove ü
  • Get extra lighter
  • Get water filter in good working order ü
Matt's pack-buying experience—08/05/2005 (Matt is carrying all the freeze dried food! [Jay]) After talking with an REI product assistant (Brandon), I decided to order two different packs to try out. I gave him the essential dimensions for choosing a pack, and I told him how long we planned to be out before obtaining new supplies.

Torso Length: 17.5" to 18.5"
Hip Length: 29.5" to 30.0"
Height: 5' 9''
Weight: 130 lb.

Brandon at first suggested I try the REI Mars Pack; he gave me the item number so I could check it out while talking to him.

I then asked him what he thought about the Gregory Whitney Pack. He said that was a good one, and that he was about to suggest a Gregory pack next.

I told him that I was advised to get a pack with easy access pockets on the sides, which this model provides.

I then asked if there were any others he might suggest. He suggested the Gregory Palisade Pack.

He then suggested I buy two of them to try them on, and return the other when I got to Seattle. I asked which two he thought I should check out. He recommended the REI Mars and Gregory Whitney, since the Gregory Palisade did not really have any extra side pockets.

I told him I would take him up on his suggestion. I then asked him which size I should get, taking into account my dimensions. At first, he suggested the REI Mars in LARGE, and the Gregory Whitney in Medium. I then told him my weight, and that I was smaller than average, and I wanted to make sure that he still felt that LARGE was an appropriate size for the first pack. He changed his mind, and suggested I get both in MEDIUM.

I also ordered a large REI Duck's Back Rain Cover and a Medium REI accessory pocket.

Communications between Matt and me, for your edification:

08/03/2005—e-mail to Matt
  • I think I told you that I bought a new sleeping bag. You can use my old one if you want. It’s not bad. Not too big and heavy. It’s synthetic.
  • What are you bringing? What are you planning on buying here? It would be good for me to know. It might help with the planning. Some of what you need, I might be able to get for you ahead of time…like the sleeping bag, a backpack, etc.
  • I’ll plan on having food all lined up before you get here. I’m going to get freeze dried food for our dinners. They’re not cheap, but I think it will be worth it at the end of each long, hard day. What are your preferences? You can see them all on Rei’s website. I’ll probably get a variety for myself, such as beef, chicken, Mexican, and pasta. Are those okay with you?
  • Should I pick up a couple extra water bottles for you? There’s probably no point in bringing those. If I buy a couple extras for you, I’ll probably just keep them. I don’t mind having extras, and you probably don’t want to bother carrying them back with you. Let me know.
  • I just got a couple two-way radios that we can take with us to chat if we’re apart for a bit. Should be fun.
  • I’ve got the tent (REI Half Dome)
  • You might want a small pillow and you will definitely want a sleeping pad. I could probably borrow a pad for you. Let me know.
  • Start making a list of what you have, what you want to buy for yourself there in Florida, what you want to buy for yourself after you get here, and what you want to borrow, or have me borrow for you. That’s something I should get on top of right away.
08/04/2005—Matt's response
  • Your choice of food sounds good to me.
  • I will try to get a list ready this weekend.
  • Your water bottle idea sounds okay with me. I usually buy bottled water here, so I don't really need a water bottle.
  • I plan on buying the backpack and sleeping bag; however, I was told by an experienced hiker that I should try on the backpack, or have one fitted for me, since my frame is smaller than the average man.
  • Also, I was advised that we could take some good food the first night, by freezing it in zip-loc bags. That way, we could have steak, chicken, or spaghetti the first night.
08/08/2005—e-mail to Matt

Got all the freeze dried food, hot chocolate, oatmeal, and a container of lemonade mix last night. I also got titanium cookware, titanium fork/spoon (already have lexan fork/spoon), two water bottles, and fuel (4x). We’ll go to Fred Meyer when you get here and you can pick out whatever cream of wheat you like.

We’ll start with two fuel canisters, and pick up one at each re-supply stop. We’ll also re-supply freeze dried dinners, oatmeal, cream of wheat, and other food.

I was going to get three containers of drink mix (e.g., Cool Aid), but thought that it was silly to carry all that extra weight, even if we could leave one at each re-supply stop. I think we should just leave the one at the first re-supply stop. That way, we can enjoy a little variety in the middle part of the hike.

I already have my water bottles, so the two new ones are yours.

I was thinking about getting a new water filtration system, but decided that it would be a waste of money. I’ve got a good one already (MSR WaterWorks), so we’ll just use that, with iodine tablets for particularly nasty looking water.

Photos of the Hike


Jay's Gear List

  • Shoes
  • Sandals
  • Capilene Socks
  • Capilene Boxers
  • Capilene shirts
  • Waterproof  windbreaker
  • Heavy fleece jacket
  • Zip-off pants
  • Fleece hat
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Cream of wheat
  • Raisins for oatmeal
  • Hot chocolate
  • Cheese, crackers, salami
  • Freeze dried meals
  • Flavored dink mix
  • Backpack
  • Daypack/camera pack
  • Water filter/iodine tablets
  • Water bottles
  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping mat
  • Pillow
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Vaseline
  • Contact lenses
  • Handi wipes
  • Brunton Crux stove
  • Fuel (4 8-oz. canisters)
  • Pan/cup/spoon/fork
  • Pocket knife
  • Headlamp + extra batteries (Petzl Duo--halogen w/4 C-cells)
  • Toilet paper
  • First aid kit
  • Map
  • Compass (Silva 15)
  • Deet
  • Toothbrush & toothpaste
  • Albuterol breather
  • Fingernail clippers
  • Tweezers
  • Rope / twine
  • Tarp
  • Duct tape
  • MP3 player/recorder for voice notes
Camera Equipment 
  • Gitzo G-1227 tripod and Arca Swiss Monoball ballhead
  • Maxxum 5D body w/neckstrap + QR plate
  • Lenses (Sigma 12-24, Minolta f/2.8 50mm Macro, Minolta 70-200mm f/2.8 SSM)
  • 2 4-gigabyte memory cards (Lexar 80X + SanDisk)
  • 5 batteries
  • Cable release (Minolta RC-1000S)
  • Minolta SRT-101 w/28mm lens + QR plate
  • Fujichrome Velvia 100F film
  • Lens cloth
  • Lens brush

This list will undoubtedly change as the hike draws nearer, but it probably isn’t too terribly far off. I’ll adjust it as I go.

Matt's gear list, as of Sunday, August 28th, 2005

Still Need:
  • Water
  • Food
  • Cooking Gear
  • Map
  • Waterproof Matches
  • Insect Repellent
  • Sunscreen
  • Toilet Paper
  • Zip-lock Bags
  • First Aid Kit
  • Patagonia Capilene NVY M's CAP MW Crew 5.1 oz
  • Patagonia Capilene EW STRETCH ZIP-T 9.5 oz
  • Therm-a-Rest Prolite 3 Sleeping Pad 20 oz
  • Therm-a-Rest Prolite 3 Stuff Sack 0.5 oz
  • The North Face Beeline 900 Sleeping Bag 9 oz
  • Gregory Whitney Pack 113 oz
  • REI Duck's Back Rain Cover 8.6 oz
  • Medium REI Accessory Pocket 2.6 oz
  • Leki Super Makalu Anti-Shock Trekking Poles 21.7 oz
  • Garmin GPSMAP 76cs 7.6 oz
  • Garmin Nylon Carrying Case for Garmin 76s 2.6 oz
  • Patagonia Capilene EUC M'S CAP BOXER BRIEF 7.6 oz
  • Patagonia Capilene BLK M'S CAP BOXER BRIEF 7.6 oz
  • Patagonia Capilene BLK M'S CAP BOXER BRIEF 7.6 oz
  • Patagonia Capilene BLK M'S CAP LW T-SHIRT 4.5 oz
  • Patagonia Capilene NFX M'S CAP LW T-SHIRT 4.5 oz
  • Patagonia Capilene ALG M'S CAP LW T-SHIRT 4.5 oz
  • Patagonia Capilene BLK M'S CAP LW ZIP-T 7.0 oz
  • Patagonia Capilene BLK M'S CAP SILKWT BOTTOMS 5.0 oz
  • Patagonia Capilene BLK M'S CAP SILKWT T-SHIRT 4.0 oz
  • Patagonia Capilene LOD M'S RADIANT JKT 21.0 oz
  • Patagonia Capilene TRX CAP SILKWT HIKING CREW LINER 1.5 oz
  • Patagonia Capilene TRX CAP SILKWT HIKING CREW LINER 1.5 oz
  • Patagonia Capilene TRX CAP SILKWT HIKING CREW LINER 1.5 oz
  • Patagonia Capilene TRX CAP SILKWT HIKING CREW LINER 1.5 oz
  • Patagonia Capilene TRX CAP SILKWT HIKING CREW LINER 1.5 oz
  • Patagonia Capilene TRX CAP SILKWT HIKING CREW LINER 1.5 oz
  • Patagonia Capilene PRB CAP MW HIKING CREW SOCKS 2.0 oz
  • Patagonia Capilene CHR CAP MW HIKING CREW SOCKS 2.0 oz
  • Patagonia Capilene SAG CAP MW HIKING CREW SOCKS 2.0 oz
  • Patagonia Capilene LTH CAP EW HIKING CREW SOCKS 4.0 oz
  • Patagonia Capilene BLK CAP EW STR GLOVE LINERS 1.0 oz
  • Patagonia Capilene BLK CAP LW GLOVE LINERS 1.5 oz
  • Mountain Hardwear Convertible Pack Pants ? oz
  • REI Convertible Sahara Pants ? oz
  • Arc'teryz Alpha SL Jacket 12.1 oz
  • Arc'teryx Alpha SL Pant 8.2 oz
  • Mountain Hardwear Dome Perignon Hat BLACK SMALL ? oz
  • Buff Black Polar ? oz
  • Buff National Geographic ? oz
  • Buff Denim Blue ? oz
  • LLBean Cresta Hiker's Boots ? oz
  • Bible
  • REI Camp MultiTowel 8 oz
  • MSR PackTowl Personal Body Towel 4 oz
  • Dr. Bronners Bar Soap 5 oz
  • Campsuds 2 oz
  • Dr. Bronners Mild Liquid Soap 4 oz
  • Q-tips
  • Tweezers
  • Comb
  • Nail Clippers
  • Tooth Brush
  • Tooth Paste
Matt's total weight (gear, sleeping bag, backpack, no food, no water): 20 pounds

Photos of the Hike


My name is Jay Williams, I'm 36, have a BS in Computer Science (Saint Martin's College, 1994), and work for a Software Consulting firm in Seattle called Avanade. I've always enjoyed the outdoors, but have never attempted anything on the scale of a two-week hiking trip. When I was younger, I snow skied, water skied, played volleyball, softball, football (all casually throughout high school), and soccer in eighth grade. When I was a teenager, I tore ligaments in my left knee snow skiing, and that knee has never been the same. That is my biggest concern for this hike.

I got into photography about 7 years ago and am very involved with it. It's probably my longest running hobby (and most expensive hobby, if only by a small margin). I actually even do it on a part-time, professional basis (see my photography website). That explains why I'm taking such a big pile of camera equipment.

I met Matthew Powell back in 1993, a couple years after he joined the Navy (1991) and was stationed in Bremerton Naval Shipyard. He was in the Navy and lived in Washington for 6 years. Matt was a Reactor Operator (with an Electronics Technician rating) on the USS Nimitz, CVN68.

We spent a lot of time together during his stay in Washington, hiking, playing volleyball, walleyball, and doing various and sundry other activities together.

After he was discharged from the Navy (quite honorably, I might add), he went to college at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio, (much closer to his home in Fort Wayne, Indiana) double majoring in Computer Science and math. Matt is a glutton for punishment (I'm hoping he'll agree to be my Sherpa on this hike). He has since worked in both Ohio and Florida (his current home) for Northrop Grumman, famed maker of many military systems and components of systems, such as the A-10 WarthogAegis destroyer, and B-2 Stealth Bomber.

Matt is planning on moving back to Washington some day, and this hike may be just the impetus he needs to get it done.

Photos of the Hike


Cairn A heap of stones piled up as a memorial or as a landmark.
Peak 1 : The top of a hill or mountain ending in a point.
2 : A prominent mountain usually having a well-defined summit.
Valley 1 : An elongate depression of the earth's surface usually between ranges of hills or mountains.
2 : An area drained by a river and its tributaries.
Ridge An elongate crest or a linear series of crests.
Outcropping A coming out of bedrock or of an unconsolidated deposit to the surface of the ground.
Moraine An accumulation of earth and stones carried and finally deposited by a glacier.
Saddle 1 : A ridge connecting two higher elevations.
2 : A pass in a mountain range.
Glacier A large body of ice moving slowly down a slope or valley or spreading outward on a land surface.
Crevasse A deep crevice or fissure as in a glacier or the earth.
Scree An accumulation of loose stones or rocky debris lying on a slope or at the base of a hill or cliff.
Talus 1 : A slope formed especially by an accumulation of rock debris.
2 : Rock debris at the base of a cliff.

Photos of the Hike

Sun & Moon

9/1/2005 0629 1949 0400 1928
9/2/2005 0631 1947 0508 1946
9/3/2005 0632 1945 0616 2001
9/4/2005 0633 1943 0723 2015
9/5/2005 0635 1941 0830 2029
9/6/2005 0636 1939 0938 2044
9/7/2005 0637 1937 1048 2101
9/8/2005 0639 1935 1202 2122
9/9/2005 0640 1933 1318 2149
9/10/2005 0641 1931 1435 2226
9/11/2005 0642 1929 1548 2317
9/12/2005 0644 1927 1650 2425
9/13/2005 0645 1925 1739
9/14/2005 0646 1923 1815 0146

Photos of the Hike