It has taken a minute to process the eleven days my mom and I spent trudging through some of the most glorious wilderness I have traveled in America. Realistically, I think I am still distilling thoughts and memories so there will be more to come. We filled the trip with a lifetime of memories. Below is a thought or memory from each day that left a mark.
28 July 18—Cache Day
“Wait, you mean we got the permit? This thing is actually happening?” –Mom
Well yes, mom, as a matter of fact, it is happening. It was not until she said that to me, trying to hold back tears that I realized she never believed we were getting on the trail. We had invested time, money, food, and lots of effort into getting this trip off the ground. While she was reading guidebooks and trip reports from people who lack ambition, she convinced herself that how I planned the trip would never work; she forgot that her guide was me.
Sunrise to Mystic Camp
Whitacker creek crossing—A torrent of a swollen chocolate-brown glacial river that was splashing over the last third of a rail-less log crossing.
The creek was enraged by glacial runoff, with no other crossing point nearby. The log bridge was missing its handrail and water was flowing over the last six feet of the log. A misstep here would mean no less than serious injury. Mom and I had a quick discussion and decided to go for the crossing. I went first, loosened the belts that held my backpack snug and stepped onto the log. Halfway across I heard the rumble of boulders pin-balling through the creek. I carefully smeared my boot onto the wet part of the log, hoping for friction and took the last steps across. While I was never too worried about my own crossing, looking back at Mom stepping onto the log gave me serious pause. This was a class V creek crossing with serious consequences, and Mom’s first major crossing. Hindsight being what it is I wish we would have taken more time to consider the crossing a little longer.
Later in the trip we learned, with considerable dismay, that a man died in the same place when he lost his footing the day after we forded Whitacker Creek. We never crossed paths, but I am sure he was a great man. His family has set up a GoFund Me page to support his wife and six children. If you are able, I encourage you to make a contribution
Mystic Camp to Cataract Valley
"Oop. Excuse me, Mom fell.” I had paused to talk with a couple doing the wonderland in the opposite direction as mom and I when I looked back to see Mom face down in the trail.
I hurried back up the trail, taking mental stock of my minimal first aid kit. Within a few paces I heard her laughing straight into the grass. She was fine. A little strike to her pride was the only injury, which she tried to regain by telling the couple watching the comedy that “there are some wonderful smelling wildflowers up the trail.” I have no doubt they stopped to give them a sniff.
Cataract Valley to S. Mowich River
So, there we were, in the snowfields climbing into Spray Park, and Mom inhaled a fly.
Unknown to mom, as she gracelessly hacked it up, another hiker was waiting to pass. Just as she finished clearing it, I turned and encouraged the hiker to pass us. Coincidence? I think not.
S. Mowich River to Golden Lakes Camp
“Hey! If you’re a person say hello!” -no answer- well shit.
We made camp early, so I went on an off trail expedition to get a view of Mt. Rainier. I was in the final 75 feet of climbing to the crest of the ridge. Just as I entered a thick band of brush I heard what could have been a freight train crashing through the trees. I yelled. It did not reply so I yelled even louder and it turned away just out of sight. It ran up the ridge and lingered around so I backed out and watched some Pika for a while. Some places we just are not meant to go. Sasquatch? A Mountain Lion? Bear? A Hermit? No idea how close to being mauled I was. When I read the trail log a family had seen a mother bear and her cubs the day before around where I had been. It was probably a bear.
Golden Lakes Camp to Klapatche Park
This adventure might have turned Mom into a twelve-year-old.
Today we had a discussion about shifting roles. How there comes a point when the kid becomes the teacher. It might be a taste of what happens later in life. I went through adolescence believing that adults have it all together and know all there is to know. WE all know how wrong that is. Just a couple examples from today: on one occasion a nice older man told us the secret of Salmon Berries. They look like poorly ripened raspberries, but they are very tasty. Any chance she got, mom feasted on the orange-colored berries. Another time, she says “hey have you ever tried this stretch?” Only to look into her tent to see her rolling on her back with her feet in her hands. I literally did that as a twelve year old. But really, maybe that’s a good sign that she is letting loose. I still feel responsible for keeping us on schedule, supplied with water, and fed with food—She clearly has better things occupying her time, and I am perfectly okay with that.
Klapatche Park to Devils Dream
Things started getting weird on the trail today. The weather was bad and Mom was a little demoralized. She found solace in encouraging plants to grow—even the dead ones.
Trips like these always get a little weird. Today was one of our tougher days in terms of trail and we were cloaked in heavy fog all day long. Those put together had Mom feeling down so she motivated the plants. I guess there are stranger ways to find motivation?
Devils Dream to Cougar Rock
This morning a guy from one of the other groups in camp goes for his morning visit to the john. Normal enough except he carried a sheathed knife that was as long as my leg.
After my run in with the bear earlier in the week, maybe I should also have a giant knife to carry. But also, who wants to carry a sword around the mountain? That seems a little crazy. I will continue to bet on my voice being enough to break a bear charge.
Cougar Rock to Nickel Creek
“Well, you’re really experiencing this place, aren’t you,” said an older gentleman who stopped to talk with me near a road crossing. I could see the marvel in his eyes over something he would never do.
This gentleman, Gene, I believe was his name, was from Sacramento. Gene and his wife were spending a day in all the national parks between his home and his son’s in Northern Washington. The contrast between Gene and I was stark. But, there was one unifying theme. We were both in awe of our nation’s national parks. There is a lot to be said for the different ways the parks can be enjoyed and by who. Just one more example of why protecting public lands is of the utmost importance.
Nickel Creek to Indian Bar
We sat in the waning warmth at Indian Bar. There were seven of us, all introduced today. Perched on rocks and logs, we shared camping tips, adventure stories, little hopes, big dreams, and far-fetched fears.
After spending the last twelve days within earshot of Mom, it was nice to interact with other people. In this group were lawyers, teachers, animators, artists, students, and naturalists. All of us taking the time to enjoy the company of the others. We were all a little trail-worn, dusty, and sweaty but comfortable in a way that anyone sharing an experience like Wonderland understands.
Indian Bar to Summerland
“Hey, Y'all! Isn’t this place just gorgeous?” Meet Katie. Katie is a park biologist from Kentucky studying toads in the park. I have seen very few love as full and genuine as Katie does toads.
We crossed paths while Mom and I took a lazy break at the top of a ridge with a stunning view. Katie was trail running on her day off, scouting for a place to study toads. She shared some cool information about the area and left us in a cloud of dust. Later in the day I was filtering water near camp when she came back down the trail. She had run out of water and needed some filtered. It took a few minutes to make enough water, and in that time I learned more than I ever thought I needed to know about toads. It was as authentic as any exchange could be.
Summerland out to Sunrise
Woke up at 0515 and packed camp. The three of us in the campsite quietly went about the routine we had established over the past week and a half, knowing it was the last time for a bit.
Routines are comforting, they are the enemy of inconvenience and change. This routine was one that I knew I would miss. I took longer than usual, stopping to take pictures of the rising light casting through the mountains, and making sure to pack everything just right in my backpack. With just nine miles until we completed the infamous Wonderland Trail I wanted to savor each and every step.
In eleven days my mom and I walked the circumference of Mount Rainier. Ninety-three miles, to be exact. It was a trip she did not know she needed to take, or she believed she would finish. Not to mention, I think there were few who believed she would finish it either. She stepped way beyond her comfort zone, and known abilities, on a side of the country she had never been before. That makes me proud to be her son. I think it redefined her “bucket list” and gave us both a large dose of the other. By the time we were leaving the trail, Mom was asking about what her next backpacking trip should be. That is major cool.
Would I change a thing about the trip? Not a chance. Would I suggest Wonderland? All day long. Now, don't get me wrong, this whole trip was not complete sunshine and rainbows. New backpacking partners mean extra patience and clear communication. There are many unpleasant truths about sharing the trail with another person (mostly constant burps in Mom's case). But boy, let me tell you, all the pleasant truths make up for all the bad stuff a million times over.