Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Next Stop: Wonderland

It’s not all rainbows and butterflies when you’re out hiking. Last time Suzanne and I went out for a long backcountry hike (JMT in September 2008), we had 18 days of glorious weather and sunshine. Our latest gear testing trip on the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier National Park brought 5 consecutive days of rain – some drizzle, mostly endless downpours—followed by 3 days of brilliant weather which made our memories of soggy shoes, soaked gloves, and hypothermic temperatures evaporate just as quickly as our clothes drying in the sun. Great weather for gear testing (we brought a new ultralight tent Obi 2P and a new sleeping pad for 2011 called Zor), but not so great for basking in the glory of one of the most scenic trails in the U.S.

The Wonderland Trail is one of those trails that seems to be mentioned in every issue of Backpacker Magazine. It’s all true—you get more bang for your buck than almost any other trail with lush Pac-NW rainforests, alpine meadows, glacier snowfields, raging rivers, frolicking wildlife, all within arm’s reach of The Mountain.

Amidst with so much rain and fog, we actually never saw Rainier for the first 5 days, even though we were within mere miles of the summit. In a way, it made us appreciate the small things that were right in front of us.

The moss on the trees reminded us of billy goats and old men.

The columnar andesite near South Puyallup was awe-inspiring... perhaps climbable when dry??

We were quick learners of indigenous berries.
Salmonberries: look good, taste bad
Huckleberries: look good, taste good
Thimbleberries: look bad, taste good

In a 10 minute pause from the rain, we stopped to pick huckleberries and found these guys doing the same.

When the sun came out on Day 6, it was spectacular.

And when you're sitting pretty, eating snacks with views of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, the Cascades, and the Tatoosh range, life is pretty good.

Back home, we reconvened to talk about our gear decisions and the trip. A couple lessons were reinforced:
  1.  Packcovers are worth every penny you pay and every ounce you carry (thank you Barry from S2S for getting those over to us). 
  2.  Resist wearing your down jacket underneath your raincoat no matter how cold you are.
  3.  Yes, you can still get trench foot. And I’m pretty sure we had it. 
  4.  Weather is always a crapshoot. Sure, we were hit with 5 days of rain, but it could have easily been 8 or 10 days. Or it could have been 8 days of sun. 
  5.  Having gear you can depend on can make or break a trip. The first morning we woke up to our entire campsite being under 4 inches of water and our shoes floating away. Tapping on the floor, I could see the concentric rings of water underneath the floor radiating from under my finger. Not good, but could be much worse if you didn’t have a tent you could depend on.


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