Mowich Lake Campground(0)-S Mowich River Campsite(3.8)
Campsite Elevation: 2,687ft
As I mentioned in the last post, the permits for the Wonderland Trail (a highly sought after permit) are all first come, first serve this year. The ranger told us today that the online lottery system went down this past winter when there had been a power outage, and that is why this summer is so unique with 100% walk-in permits along the Wonderland Trail. This situation has proven to be quite the opportunity for many thru-hikers who don’t mind pulling bigger mile days on challenging elevation. The permits for the Wonderland Trail require that backpackers choose their campsites ahead of time, so it’s easier to obtain a walk-in permit if the hiker has the ability and willingness to hike larger mile days. It opens up more possibilities in campsite choices when the hiker can hike further.
I’ve had a handful of friends already do the WT this summer with a wide range of strategies and results for getting a permit. All had the same general opinion, which included terms like cluster fuck, shit show, and dumpster fire…so, basically really random. Buck-30 flew in to Portland fresh off the Great Divide Trail yesterday afternoon, and we decided to drive directly up to Mt Rainier National Park (3hrs) so that we could spend the night somewhere and be in line by 4:30am for permits as soon as the ranger station opened in the morning. This was not ideal, but it worked for a couple of my friends recently.
I had been home in Portland for a rushed 40hrs catching up on things and planning the upcoming trips. I was multi-tasking as usual with my brain thinking of everything all at once. Once we got an hour into the trip up to Rainier, we stopped to eat dinner. Buck-30 commented on how empty my pack looked (we both have a Gossamer Gear Mariposa) in the car. He asked if it had my food in it yet. It was at that moment that I realized that my sleeping bag was still laying at home in the living room. Shit! Ugh! I did it again! I left another item behind and this is not one I can camp without. We had to turn around and go back to Portland for the night. I’m such an idiot! By that time, it was just too late to consider driving up to get in line at 4am. I knew others who walked up midday and still scored a permit, so we decided to get a good night of rest in real beds and drive up to Rainier relaxed in the morning.
On the drive up, we had another moment of my idiocy. We stopped for gas, and I caught a glance of my hiking shoes in the backseat. I realized they had no inserts in them! I have two pairs of hiking shoes from the high trails this summer, and I grabbed the least worn pair, which I wore at the beginning of the summer. Well, I forgot that I had moved my inserts out to my current shoes. Yep, just classic. Buck-30 had a new pair of shoes in the car and some very thin inserts in his old shoes that I was able to cut down and put in my shoes. It will be interesting to see how it works out. It’s only 100mi, but my inserts (Lynco) are quite thick, and with how worn my current shoes are, I feel like I’m wearing slippers. I can feel every rock and stick I step on and my feet are sensitive to it. I’ve never been one that can hardly even walk barefoot in the house without pain, and this feels like I’m walking barefoot on the trail. It’s sure to be an interesting experiment to see if my feet take to it and toughen up a bit. Yep, not a good start for me and remembering gear…
So, back to the permit process. We got to the Longmire Ranger station around 10:30am (it opens at 7:30am), and to our surprise, we got a permit! There wasn’t a crowd and we were able to just walk up and work out a plan. The ranger was awesome and knew his stuff and was really efficient. We told him we were willing to put in big mile days if we had to in order to make it happen, and as soon as we said that, it opened up all the possibilities. There was a list printed out of the next few days and all the unavailable campsites around the mountain. We just needed to figure out which sites were available and see if we could make an itinerary that worked with that. Fortunately, it worked out!
We didn’t get an ideal schedule, but we didn’t mind at all. We got a permit! Technically, we are out here for 6 nights and 7 days, but our hike in today is 4mi and our hike out the last day is 5mi. We will be going counterclockwise around the mountain. We have one killer long day tomorrow, but the rest are totally relaxed. One day is actually 3mi. Yep, there weren’t any choices and we just hike 3mi from one campsite to the next mid hike. In order to start today, we needed to drive to Mowich trailhead about 2.5hrs away, which we didn’t mind at all. Again, we were just in shock that we got a permit and could even start today.
As we drove today, we had views of Mt Rainier, which we will see in detail at all angles as we hike around the mountain. I held off from taking photos because I knew I’d be seeing it all week, but then I was bummed to not get a view to take a photo of the mountain on the hike in.
It was a nice start with just 3.8mi of downhill 2,256ft to the S Mowich River Campsite. It was basically forested switchbacks. I knew this trail would have a lot of forested hiking and I’m looking forward to that. I’ve missed the forest.
This hike will have a lot of elevation loss and gain. Since we are going around the mountain, we will be hiking up over every ridge and then dipping down to every major river cutting down the mountain. The rivers have quite a bit of glacial silt and mud in them. In my dreams, they are chocolate milk!
The campsites here, like many national parks, are quite minimal. There are a handful of sites at each campsite and each site is pretty small just fitting two tents, maybe three if you squeezed depending on the site. We didn’t have much of a choice in what we got, but it seems most sites are quite wooded and it doesn’t really matter.
We have the river running nearby for white noise, and we are a good distance from the other campers, so it will be a perfect night for sleeping. A successful start to the Wonderland Trail.