I wonder sometimes that maybe I like the idea of being a hiker more, rather than actually being one… Its incredibly hard b work. This last hike proved all that and more. I have been eyeballing this route for awhile and when our Vegas trip fell through Andy suggested we take two of those days and do our first official backpacking trip on this route. We looked at it as a great trial on our equipment and to get a further feel to hiking a more difficult grueling hike.
Its Mount Rainier and it seems that nobody can get distance correct in this day and age at this park. Gaia app said 15.4 miles before we went, but clocked just over 20 on the app, my phone clocked us at 24 (gps) and our fitbits got us at just over 30 miles. Then the signage on the trail is all over the place, so don’t rely on that for proper mileage either. We hiked somewhere between 20/30 miles in two days. With a low elevation of 3200 feet and a high elevation of 6400 feet.
We arrived at the Carbon River ranger station to get our back country camping permit. We were there bright and early right as they opened at 7:30am. Then started our ride up the very bumpy dirt road to the lake. 11 miles of pure bumpy hell to be precise.
We started our hike at Mowich Lake on the Wonderland Trail towards Ipsut Pass. The trail is pretty easy to the pass, dirt, some stairs and roots. The signs claim it’s a mile away from the lake, but once at the top of the pass the sign says 1.5 miles to Mowich. Its these small mis-readings all over the mountain that have you questioning distance. Anyways, heading down Ipsut. We were wondering if it was going to end… You go down awhile. The trail is narrow, large rocks and sometimes loose rock and gravel are present with a lot of over growth. Watch your footing. Be sure to stop and look back up once and awhile. The pass is no joke. Especially to the knees. We went in August so there were still tons of wild flowers. LOTS of butterflies. I mean hundreds. You keep climbing your way down and you start to get into more forest. The canopy gets a lot thicker. More streams and creeks. Even some waterfalls. There are a few bridges, one was kind of questionable. Was a large log that seemed to have weathered over time and was starting to break in the middle. We opted to ford the creek rather than cross the log.
After we finally made it to somewhat more level ground which came at the Carbon River. The Wonderland Trail had been washed out at this portion and a detour has you crossing the river to the other side. You go across on another log with a handrail. It’s a bit intimidating as the water is rushing below maybe a foot or two and you hear the large boulders hidden by the water rolling along with the water. Andy went first. No fear that guy. Then it was my turn. Watching my feet on the log (which is sturdy) and the water rushing below made me a little dizzy. But I did it. Thankfully… We continued on. Crossing the dried up parts of the river bed. Lots of old washed out log bridges from years past. Make it across and a sign that read we had two miles to go until camp. We planned to stay at the Carbon River Campground. By this time our backs and feet, as well as our knees were spent. Ipsut really took a toll on our bodies. But we kept trekking. The distance from the river to coming up on it again at the Suspension bridge over the Carbon didn’t take too long. Thankfully the trail was pretty flat and dirt covered for the detour. The bridge is 210 feet above the river, again a little intimidating. Especially when you get to the part where the water is rushing and those boulders are crashing below. While crossing be sure to look up river. You can see the carbon glacier. Its absolutely amazing.
I did it. Haha. And we have made it to camp. Time to get this pack off, make camp, water, dinner and try and relax. Relax… right our first time really using any of our gear this ought to be interesting. Least that’s what I was thinking.
Got to the sites we picked #3. Nobody had it claimed so it worked. It was pretty large. Offered two spots that would’ve held a tent. Ours being small we took the higher more secluded option. Took like 5 minutes to get the tent up. We needed more water. I packed 2 liters and a 16oz while Andy only had a liter and a 16oz. That was all pretty consumed by this point. We gathered all our smelly stuff and food and was sure to hang it up on a bear hook before heading to get water. This was our first time purifying water. Thankfully there was a great creek/waterfall at our campsite that provided clear and cold water. After purifying the water and tasting it… it honestly tasted like hose water. Oh well. It was wet and cold. Plus I had electrolyte tablets and powder I added to mine. So it took that taste away, so glad I got those.
Cooking went well. We have a little camp stove, light weight that we use to boil water for some freeze dried mountain house food. We had chicken teriyaki, an apple, meat stick and cliff bar. Mmm hiking food…
After getting water and eating some food. We seek the wonderful hidden gem in the woods. The potty… compositing toilets are at all the back country campsites in the park. So that’s convenient. Especially since the sites are all relatively close together, usually just miles apart. Hit the head, then we decide its bedtime. We both have thin blow up mattresses. Small and compact, very lightweight. They worked out. Then we have 30* sleeping bags. Also lightweight and compact. Which helped with keeping our bag at a lower weight. Anyways. I was worried I would get terrible sleep. But I actually slept amazing. I think it was because I was just so burnt out from the hike that exhaustion just got to me. And the 20mg of melatonin I took, just to help me get some decent sleep for the next day.
Woke up to the morning light as we slept with the doors of the tent open (screens were shut) was pretty warm that night. Wasn’t cold. My sleeping bag was perfect. Got up, hit the potty, made breakfast and tore down camp and got water again. I knew today was going to be hard as our route back was a higher elevation than what we came down the day before. But I wasn’t 100% sure just what I was getting myself into.
We leave our camp at the Carbon and immediately we start our climb. A climb that lasts literally all fricken day. Switch backs galore. We took a break, a potty stop at Cataract Campground. Nice place to stop, great sites. Lots of pika here. After our break we continued on. We got to Mist Park. Absolutely beautiful. At this point we were maybe 2500 up from where we started our day. Had a snack, refreshed our water, dunked our bluffs in the water to cool ourselves down as it was getting warm. The views were getting more open. The sun was out a lot more and we finally came out of the canopy. There were lots of meadows and wildflowers here. Beautiful streams and waterfalls. It was amazing. Also we got a nice treat to some huckleberries. Mmm. So good. I could’ve ate way more than I did. While we were picking and snacking along the way we seen a mountain goat. That was pretty cool. He just did his thing while we did ours.
After this… is when the trail got a bit dicey. Least to me. We got to a point where you kind of lose the trail and the direction to go. We were thankful for GPS. The hills side we climbed was lose flat (almost flagstone type rock) palm size. It would slip as you would step on it, highly recommending using trekking poles. I was super uneasy because it was a bit cliffy and the grade was steep. That section was short lived. Got back to dirt. My kind of trail… But not for long as it would turn back into the flat palm sized rock once again. Thankfully not as steep and not right on the edge of a cliff. So if I were to fall. It wouldn’t of been so bad. Thankfully I didn’t and carried on ok. We were getting closer to the high point here. Had to cross a couple snow fields. That was super refreshing to stop, touch and maybe lay in.
We were getting tired. Having climbed all day our shoulders from the packs and our knees were really feeling it once again. We seemed to be taking more frequent breaks and needing to give the back and knees some time for breaking. But we continued on. Spray Park was just a little distance away. And I think out of this entire journey this was my favorite. The flowers were still out in abundance, the mountain was out in all its glory. It was a beautiful day. The scenery was spot on. But here we were at the top, and what goes up, must come down. It was 3 miles of going down. 3 miles of pounding feet and grueling pain to my knees. My pack started to feel more like 50lbs rather than 25. It was a long 3 miles back to the lake. We stopped so many times. I just dropped my pack each time. And each time it got heavier to put on. And let me tell ya, leaving camp up to Spray Park, even beyond that almost to the lake and back to the truck, this hike didn’t lack stairs. And you know you’re up in the woods. So, not your average well thought out stairs. I’m talking all different heights, made from rock, wood, log, root… so many damn stairs. My knees were dead. Stepping down was agonizing. By the time we had got through Spray Park (we saw a bear here too by the way, but being so tired and burnt Yogi didn’t catch too much of my attention) I was done and over it. I bit off a wee bit more than I could physically handle with this one in 2 days.
So. Funny story we’re hiking down hoping the lake is close, asking other hikers in passing how far until the lake, how long until the lake… The answers varied oh maybe a 1.5 miles. Oh about 3 miles… uhg… never a straight answer. We hiked and hiked and hiked for what seemed to be at the least 2 miles. We get to a sign and it said 2 miles until Mowich lake. I literally cried. My eyes welled up and a tear escaped my eye. I was seriously 100% done with this hike. My knees and shoulders have NEVER felt such pain. Let’s just say that 2 miles took forever. I was so slow to finish this hike because of the pain.
Thankfully the trail was mostly dirt at this point, but all down hill. Seeing I was over the rock and snow fields we had crossed earlier in the day that was almost, too a cry fest. Haha. But I kept trekking. Got to another sign that said we were .3 away. Finally we were almost there. Andy decided to go ahead of me to get his pack to the truck and he said he’d come back for mine as I was actually starting to feel sick to my stomach. Not sure if it was the pain, maybe lack of food, excitement of being done or all the above. But the last .3 of the hike was, you guessed it, stairs. But thankfully they were climbing up, rather than continuing down. I made it to the top. I made it past the campsites and toilets. I seen Andy coming back, he saved me from my pack and I hobbled toward the parking lot. Toward a regular seat, toward my vessel that was going to take me to hot food and my bed. Once the truck was in my line of sight, those tears overcame me again. I was so happy to see that truck.
There were plenty of times I wanted to quit on this hike. There were plenty of times I was pissed off on this hike. Because yes, to date this has been my hardest hike. I’ve never pushed myself to cover that kind of ground and elevation in that time frame. In the end, and writing this today I’m so proud of myself, because I can write this as an accomplishment, something I did… rather than something I tried to do. Even though trying it and maybe not accomplishing it would’ve been a drive to complete it in the future. I feel accomplished knowing that a year ago it would’ve been just that. An attempt. I’ve come so far. I have faught so hard. While it was hard, I did it. And I would do it again.
This hike was a test of our equipment. Yes new packs are a must for both of us as the ones we have don’t ride on our bodies properly. Have learned since, that the weight should be on our hips and not on our shoulders. Have learned that eating more is needed since you burn off so much and at a much faster rate than regular exercise. I also learned a great deal about my physical capabilities. And I said to Andy, maybe we aren’t Wonderland Trail material. But perhaps we are, with the proper equipment and less than 15 miles a day. Then I feel we can. And we will… A year from now I plan to be writing on this blog sharing with all of you our experience out there on the mountain again. We can. And we will. ♡