Earlier, I blogged about my first full day on the WLT as my gimpy ass joined Ploss and Franken for their 5th day circumnavigating Mt. Rainier. My second day was somewhat less grueling, somewhat less scenic, significantly more solo and definitely as rewarding.
Day Two: Nickel Creek to Longmire
Slept like a rock in my bivens under clear skies that night sans tarp/Gatewood cape and we broke camp early again, hitting the trail once again about 7:30. I’m pleased to report that while I may have been the last one out of camp, I was only about 30 seconds behind – in the weeks post-Ruckel I had endeavored to persevere and my daily doubles had paid off. We stopped for 20 and some H2O at Nickel Creek itself, both of which turned out to be serious tighteners as I would rock the rest of this second iPod-less day low on water, w/o a working SteriPEN, shall we say fully conscious and utterly alone.
Section 1: Nickel Creek to Maple Creek
The day started off much like the previous one with a relatively flat jaunt to Maple Creek during which we made excellent time. The trail here (as was the case mostly from White River) is in excellent condition, and is particularly wide and rootless. It is however almost exclusively buried in the forest so the scenery was rather…foresty. The exception was just past the first mile as you descend into Box Canyon which includes road access and a visitor center – and more importantly the amazing Box Canyon itself, carved narrowly and deeply into the rock hundreds of feet below.
From here the journey to Maple Creek is again generally wooded, generally flat, and generally pleasant. Take 5 (or stop for 20) at Maple Creek and be sure to fill up on water – it’s going to be awhile before you have such an accessible and favorable source again.
Section 2: Maple Creek to Reflection Lakes
Cue the Rocky music: here, yours truly had his second most difficult time on trail, ever, though it wasn’t so much one single thing like the elevation gain or the often challenging terrain or the sometimes thick brush, or lack of dutchy, clean water, something other than delicious iodine with which to make clean water, or the knowledge of exactly where in the F you are relative to the summit. It was all of the above mashed into one 6 mile soul crushing, soul searching assault on self doubt, f’d knees and the Wonderland Trail. And I freaking won. High five, me; hope I didn’t give too much away.
On paper, this section (and the whole day for that matter) looked like a piece of pie. Sweet cherry pie. At first, the trail wanders alongside Stevens Creek for what seems like forever, making a gradual ascent through thick ferns, brambles and other briar patch items in what must be the closest thing to bushwacking on the entire Wonderland Trail, as far as I know. Then, it just starts going straight up without the niceties of a switchback for mile. After mile. After mile.
Occasionally, you’ll see some are we there yet? sign that says nope, you’re not there yet, cross a road, see a log truck and think, I could probably hitch a ride to Longmire…no! Bad McLovin! You will persevere! Here, let’s stop and fill up with water and use our trusty SteriPEN. SteriPEN? Red light: bad. Mmm, iodine and a 45 minute wait it is. Nevertheless I trodged onward and upward and finally reached beautiful Reflection Lakes.
You’re actually hiking on the side of the highway at this vista, and I shared this viewpoint briefly with a group of tourists from a non-english speaking country doing their best impression of every caricature of their populace imaginable, right through the point they got in their car and drove away, mostly within the painted lines on the road. Mostly. I waved goodbye and headed out to Paradise.
Section 3: Reflection Lakes to Paradise River
I knew – KNEW – that this section was going to be a breeze and for the most part, it actually was. I was making pretty good time until reaching an area devastated by the storm of 2007 not far short of the spur to Paradise. There’s a short but unwelcome uphill detour where a section of the trail was washed out, which leads to a scenic waterfall area I declined to investigate as I was hoping to reach Longmire reasonably close to the same time as Ploss and Franken who were of course on their seventh full day on the trail. Time to double time it. Within an hour I reached Paradise River where a Forest Service crew was busy cleaning up fallen trees and making trail and bridge improvements, which also gave me an opportunity to fill up on water, one last time.
Section 4: Paradise River to Longmire
It’s all downhill from here, and this also marks the last time views of the mountain are available at all – in fact, other than a crossing of the Nisqually River, the trail is confined within the forest for this entire 4+ mile section. I made excellent time. Other than a who? moment of said Nisquallly crossing where you can’t see the confounded bridge as it’s obscured by the world’s biggest car camping slash pile, it was an uneventful speed walk down to Longmire – completing this 14.5 mile section.
I couldn’t have been happier to reach my destination, marking the end of my two days on the Wonderland Trail. Thankfully, I hadn’t kept ironmen Ploss and Franken waiting too long. Props to them for completing the entire trail in 7.5 days! They f’n worked it and, to a much lesser extent, so did I. Two of the best days of my life.