WONDERLAND TRAIL, Day 1, Mowich Lake – Cataract Valley, 8/4/2012
When I first learned that I would have to switch my vacation from beginning of July to beginning of August due to some scheduling difficulties in our office, I frowned. Four more weeks of waiting for the much needed time off seemed agonizing at first but soon the smile returned to my face. That’s when I realized that those extra weeks will allow for more snow melt and will open a whole lot of new areas to go backpacking. The Wonderland Trail immediately came to mind.
Between learning more about the loop, supply shopping, and trying to decide on a back-up plan should we not be able to obtain a permit, the time flew and there we were on afternoon of August 3rd driving South, little worried how things will turn out. Let’s admit it. The chances of walking to Longmire Ranger Station on Friday afternoon securing a permit for the Wonderland Trail starting on weekend during the peak season are not that good.
Somehow, and I still find it hard to believe, the luck was on our side. Within 10 minutes we had a permit in our hand for exactly the route we wanted, except for Klepatchee Park Camp, which was the only one fully booked for the night we wanted to stay so we settled for a longer day and a stay at the next camp instead.
Starting from Mowich Lake trailhead allowed us to conveniently stash our food caches, one we left directly in Longmire, the other was dropped off at White River Ranger Station on our way.
The next morning we set out for the adventure. It was 8:22 a.m. when we left the trailhead, and the sun was already beating down on Earth, bringing drops of sweat to our foreheads even on the first downhill part of our route. The destination for the day was Cataract Camp via Spray Park where we intended to spend most of the afternoon.
The trail soon took us to the beautiful stretch of Spray Park. In vast amount avalanche lilies carpeted the meadows here, occasional lupine and paintbrushes added to the color palette. Not much snow remained on the trail making for an easy pleasurable walk in this wildflower heaven.
In one of the meadows we spotted a smaller black bear. Not bothered with out presence, he strolled to a creek to take few sips of water, and then lay on a snow patch at the far side of the meadow and rested there, cooling off, while we stretch our camera’s zoom to maximum to take a semi-decent photo.
The landscape character changed as Seattle Park blended with Spray Park. Now rockier with vegetation of tiny alpine flowers our surrounding was, and above all of the rugged beauty Mt. Rainier rose to the sky.
We spend considerable amount of time here. Dropping our packs, and free of the weight we roamed towards Echo and Observation rocks with views of Mt. Baker, Glacier Peak, and Mt Stuart behind our back, and that was just to name a few. The day was clear and the views astonishing. Here we met our friend Amanda who was exploring the area on a day hike trip, and ample of other hikers and backpacker, many of whom we exchanged few words with.
When the sun dropped towards the horizon, it was time to leave this breathtaking area behind, and drop down the valley to our first camp – Cataract Valley. And drop it was. First we practiced few standing glissades on a long snow patch, later we found ourselves back on a firm ground, and down, and down we went until all the views disappeared and then we walked into the world of evergreens which swallowed us for the reminder of the day.
Cataract Valley camp nested in the trees was nice and peaceful, already inhabited by several other parties when we arrived; but still we had a choice from 2 sites. Water source, a creek running right through the camp, was a 2 minute walk. We set up camp, and as the darkness started to take over, we lay in our bivies watching the most amazing star display above our heads, immensely happy and filled with excitement for the journey ahead.