Getting a permit and organizing for food caches.
We woke up in Ritzville, WA at the Days Inn later than I’d hoped, but sleeping in also felt like it was exactly what we needed. We were going to just shoot for Mt. Rainier National Park a couple of days early, and with the hope we’d get there before the Wilderness Information Center closed that night (at 5pm). The plan was to catch a ranger and ask a few questions so I’d be as prepared as I could be to get a walk-up permit on Saturday morning. So we hit the road.
Besides a quick detour for fuel, and a short stop at the – I couldn’t NOT stop – PCT! – we pretty much went straight to Longmire (one of the spots in the park we can get permits), and on the way I started getting teaser views of Mt. Rainier way off in the distance. Once we entered the park the mountain grew closer and bigger and more and more amazing. The views from the drive alone were stunning. We were both already pretty much in love with the place. I was getting so excited that my stomach physically hurt.
After getting our fancy, new annual National Parks pass, and then an hour or two of dodging other weekend tourists and cruising along switchbacks, and even a little road construction, we made it to Longmire. At 4:00pm. They close at 5! I wasn’t expecting much to happen. But it felt good to be there, at least. And then I stepped in, where there was a ranger at the counter ready to help me out. I told him I was hoping to get a permit for the whole trail, opened my notebook to my potential itineraries, and he clicked his computer mouse and said, “let’s see what you’ve got.” I was a little shocked. I really didn’t even think he or I would even entertain the idea of actually seeing if I could grab a permit that night – a Friday. One hour before they closed. But off we went.
I gave him my first few, but all my first night’s options were full. We found one site that was open Saturday night – Nickel Creek, so we started there. Then he said Summerland (which I was stoked for as it was one of my top choices for camps, which comes up again later), then Sunrise, and on we went. Open. Open. Open. I even got Mystic and Klapatche which were another two of my top choices. He wrapped it up and printed it out. I was just in awe. Was I really going to start tomorrow!? This is crazy! And a sweet itinerary to boot!
But… You know how things go when you’re rushed! First of all, you could tell this ranger has done this a few times – definitely not his first rodeo. He was booking the itinerary before I had a chance to think about it – but that was in case someone else in the park at a different ranger station was also trying to put something together. Better to run it through and have to adjust it then miss it all together, I suppose.
He printed out a copy for Adam, and Adam noticed right away, “Why is Sunrise camp on here twice?”
Uh-oh. Sure enough, in the rush of things, I got booked two nights at Sunrise instead of my lovely Summerland camp. Which ended up being full. Along with the other camp near there. But the White River camp was open, and currently my only option. So I said to heck with it – I can do this – and grabbed it. I was really hoping to take this trip easy, keep my mileage nice and low… and now my first three days looked like this:
Day 1: 15 miles
Day 2: 18 miles (dude!)
Day 3: 3 miles (say what!?)
But… Whatever. I had a permit in hand and I was starting a few days early. Awesome! I just had to reset my head to push the first couple of days. The rest of the days seemed pretty normal, so I could chill for the last part of the trip, at least. And I enjoy a challenge – and I enjoy hard hiking – so really, this itinerary kind of started to feel like it was perfectly set up for me. It was meant to be. The mountain loves me. I hope!
It was getting late, so Adam and I bought out the gift shop, adding two new great stickers to our lid, and immediately went into prep mode. We drove a little ways down the road to an Inn, but all the lodging and campgrounds in and near the park were full (again, Friday night – we were originally planning on arriving on Sunday or Monday). The Inn had a picnic table out front, so I took it over. I split my food all up in a way that I thought made sense with my new itinerary, and threw it all in two of my fancy green buckets, labeled them, and with a final “ok” Adam hammered down the cool locking lids. I was ready to roll. Or so I thought.
It was after dark at this point, and our least-stressful option for the night was just to drive an hour to Tacoma and grab a quick room, get up early and head back to the park so I could start with my crazy 15-mile day. So that’s what we did.
What an absolute rollercoaster-in-a-whirlwind kind of day! But it was going to happen. I was going to thru-hike the Wonderland Trail.
The official itinerary:
Day 1 – 15 miles, Longmire to Nickel Creek
Day 2 – 18.6 miles, Nickel Creek to White River
Day 3 – 3.5 miles, White River to Sunrise
Day 4 – 10.6 miles, Sunrise to Mystic
Day 5 – 11.2 miles, Mystic to Eagle’s Roost (Spray Park)
Day 6 – 12 miles, Eagle’s Roost to Golden Lakes
Day 7 – 7.8 miles, Golden Lakes to Klapatche
Day 8 – 11.8 miles, Klapatche to Pyramid Creek
Day 9 – 3 miles, Pyramid Creek to Longmire
Tonight I love my body for being strong, allowing me to do amazing things like this.