The Northern Loop Trail of Mt. Rainier: A Five-Day Backpacking Adventure

Mt Rainier Northern Loop Yellowstone Cliffs Camp

The Northern Loop Trail is a 35-mile, 8500-foot-accumulative-elevation-gain backpack journey through some of Mt. Rainier’s most remote wilderness. Last week, My Love and I took 5 days and 4 nights to hike through some exotic, breathtaking, and challenging scenery. Long days of hiking with elevation gains and losses that seemed to never end, were matched with weather that thankfully cooperated without a drop of rain. (Unless you count the 5 minutes of rain in the middle of one of the nights while we were asleep in our tent.)

Mt Rainier Northern Loop Valley River

Previously, I have backpacked the 93-mile Wonderland Trail which encircles around Mt. Rainier. The Northern Loop utilizes a couple days of this trail, but then ventures north, to campsites where we were the only people there for two of our four nights.

Mt Rainier Northern Loop Mountain Meadow

Mt Rainier Northern Loop Mountain Meadow

Territory in the entire Mt. Rainier National Park is inhabited by black bears, mountain goats, elk, and marmots, none of which we saw during this adventure. We did however see a few pikas, chipmunks, a frog, a tadpole, and fortunately just about no mosquitoes.

Mt Rainier Northern Loop Yellowstone Cliffs

Mt Rainier Northern Loop Yellowstone Cliffs

Sheer rock cliffs are part of the scenery, as are forests of fir, cedar, and pine trees. Water in the form of lakes, waterfalls, roaring rivers, and gently running streams provide plenty of places to relax and take a break from the exercise. Valleys and hills, dried-up river beds, and views of glaciers and snow-covered Mt. Rainier itself make the days filled with beauty. And meadows containing some wildflowers that are still lingering from the summer were up against the changing colors of the autumn leaves on the trees.

Mt Rainier Northern Loop River

A day of hiking would last 6 to 9 hours, anywhere from 5 to 10 miles. Of course this included many stops to enjoy all the varied landscapes. And to eat. Sitting at various locations along the way, lunches sometimes consisted of almond butter or peanut butter on spelt tortillas. Jerky and protein bars made fine side dishes.

Mt Rainier Northern Loop Filtering Water

Mt Rainier Northern Loop Yellowstone Cliffs Bear Pole

In the late afternoon as we arrived in camp, we started the “chores” of camping, getting as much done before the sun set with the shorter autumn days, and continuing in the dark with the light of our headlamps. Setting up the tent, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads; filtering lots of water for cooking and drinking; changing into warmer clothes for the evening.

Mt Rainier Northern Loop Trees

Mt Rainier Northern Loop Trees

Boiling water to cook our freeze-dried food for dinner was part of the evening activities. Examples such as spaghetti with meat sauce, beef stew, beef stroganoff, chicken teriyaki with rice, and macaroni and cheese were all filled with lots of calories to replenish what we burned off during the long days. We each even ate our own 2-serving bag each night! Chores continued with brushing our teeth, and finally hanging all of our food, garbage, and any scented toiletries on a bear pole before finally drifting off to a well-deserved sleep. (Although the bear poles were also to keep the food away from the elusive chipmunks and any other creatures who might want to nibble in the middle of the night.)

Mt Rainier Northern Loop Meadow

Mt Rainier Northern Loop Meadow

We would awaken just before the sun came up to get a start on the morning chores. Taking down the tent, putting away the sleeping bags and pads; boiling more water for the morning’s breakfast of freeze-dried eggs with bacon, and oatmeal flavored with peanut butter and raisins; washing my hair with extra hot water left over from the boiled water; changing back into hiking clothes. We would finally throw on our backpacks (which initially weighed 45 pounds each as we needed to carry 6 days worth of food), and begin hiking once again only to discover new scenery and new adventures not experienced the day before.

Mt Rainier Northern Loop Berkeley Park

Sweet (and adventurous) Travels!

Wonderland Trail: Weighing out the Options

I didn’t know that My Love would show up on the tenth night of our Wonderland Trail backpack trip. He didn’t know that he would show up on the tenth night of our Wonderland Trail backpack trip. Until the day before…

Just two days earlier, Melissa and I had a re-supply day, where My Love Scott, and her love, met us at Mowich Lake to bring our extra food, our changes of clean clothes, and other supplies we had previously set aside for this day.

On this day, and prior to this day, Scott wanted to hike on this 12 night trip. But we have a cat, Norm, whom Scott cares for very much, and whom he prefers not to leave alone for long periods of time (even with visits from caring friends). Definitely not for the 12 nights we were backpacking.


The Wonderland Trail

I know Scott struggled with the desire to be out there in the wilderness. But all along, he supported me in my desire to backpack, and I supported him in his caring of Norm.

On our re-supply day, seven of the 12 nights had passed, and we acknowledged that we had missed each other terribly. And knowing that we had five more nights to go, we made our loving, supportive good-byes.

But then Scott went home, and unbeknownst to me, did some fast, and I mean fast, planning and packing. He got out maps and books, and along with our itinerary, he realized that there was one campground that he could meet us at, and be able to then spend the last three nights/three days on the trail!

During his quick planning time, Normykat (that’s my nickname for him) was a big help, pointing to the possibilities on the map, reading the books, and carefully, together, weighing out the options.


Normykat with books, maps, and pointing paws

For Scott, it could mean taking a side trail to the particular campground we were at. If he were to take the actual Wonderland Trail itself, he would have two days of catching up to do, and that was too much. The side trail, however, was eight miles in, and a good possibility.

Several years earlier, one could actually drive five of those eight miles, but that was no longer an option. The road had been washed out with some storms, so the only way now to navigate this stretch of the road would be to hike…or bike.

So Scott grabbed not only his hiking gear, but his biking gear as well, and on the morning of the tenth day, he drove several hours from our house to the entrance to the road, biked five miles through gravel and rocks and trees, sometimes paralleling a river, with his backpack on his back, then carefully hiding his bike and camouflaging it amongst the trees, and finally hiking the last three miles to show up to our campground that night. Wow, what a day for him!

I was so surprised, and of course, so ecstatic that he showed up. And for the next few days, he was able to be out in the wilderness!


Scott, and Me and Scott

Normykat was alright for those few days. Our friend Vanessa, who also loves Normykat, came over to feed him, pet him, and visit.

And as for that bike left in the woods…well, the day after I completed the entire backpack trip of 60 miles, Scott and I walked the five miles of the washed out road, with my bike at our side, recovered his bike, rode back to the cars, and drove back home.


the camouflage, the recovery, the ride back

Sweet (and adventurous) travels!

Wonderland Trail: A Family That Hikes Together Stays Together

You meet some very interesting people when backpacking on the Wonderland Trail (WT). Not a lot of people, as you would encounter on a day hike in a popular area of Mt. Rainier on a warm summer day. But some people, who are sharing a similar experience as yourself.

When you cross paths with a fellow WT hiker, you usually stop and chat for a few moments and compare notes. What campground did you just come from? Where to next? How many days are you taking to complete the trail? Seen any bears?

Mirror Lake Photo (352 x 450)
Mirror Lake

Most people take 8 to 14 days to circumnavigate Mt. Rainier. But then you run into those hearty-folk who take only 3 or 4 days. The 3-dayers were trail runners. Truly admirable. Fully supported, so they don’t have to carry heavy packs, and in their running shoes rather than hiking boots, they travel 30 to 33 miles a day. Wow!

The 4-dayer was still carrying a pack, but quite a light one, and had a few re-supply days. But still, an impressive 20 to 25 miles per day!!

St Andrews Lake Photo (429 x 450)
St. Andrews Lake

Many couples share the WT experience together. And solo travelers, even solo women, camp and hike on their own! And families, such as the two mothers with their three teenage sons, who were taking three years, doing one-third of the WT at a time.

You also run into “old friends” on the trail. Now how ironic is that! (Not sure how often you run into the same person two years in a row on the WT.) Last year a group of us congregated at the Indian Bar shelter for a night, talking, laughing and staying dry. And lo and behold, this year we ran into one of them this year. Nice to see an old friend, compare WT stories, and catch up on life.

Aurora Lake Morning Photo (300 x 245)Aurora Lake Photo (241 x 300)Aurora Lake Night Photo (300 x 273)
Aurora Lake in the morning, during the day, and in the evening

But there was one particular group of very interesting people that truly amazed me. A dad, a mom, an uncle, a grandfather. And four children. Not teenage children. But young kids, aged 3, 5, 7 and 9. Yes, 3, 5, 7 and 9!! Doing the entire 93-mile WT together!

For the most part, the kids seemed to be enjoying themselves. Well, the three year old was crying a bit at one point while walking, but perked up again once she got to ride on her daddy’s shoulders.

I was lucky enough to witness all the kids in this family having kid-type fun several times. Playing in the streams and rivers, and swimming in a lake. I even found out that for the three oldest children, this was their second year hiking the WT.

Golden Lake Photo (351 x 450)
one of the Golden Lakes

Of course the adults carried most of the weight and supplies, and the family was taking 14 days to complete the hike, but the older kids did their share, too. One of them had the responsibility of carrying all the toilet paper!!

What an awesome, remarkable family. I believe that a family that hikes together stays together!

Sweet Travels!

Wonderland Trail: Camera, Chapstick, and a Bug Net

There are 10 essentials that one should carry while hiking or backpacking: sunglasses/sunscreen, and headlamp with extra batteries. map and compass. extra food/water and extra clothes. first aid kit and pocket knife. fire starter and waterproof matches.

Then there are other necessities: water purification system and emergency shelter. repair kits and insect repellant. signaling devices and sleeping bags.

Spray Park 1a (450 x 338)

Of course, there are your hiking boots and tent. And rain gear and even toilet paper.

During my recent backpacking trip of “the other two-thirds” of the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier, I had all of the above items…and then some…

In the pockets of my zip-type-convertible-pants-into-shorts, I carried three of my own “essentials.” The right pocket contained my all-important camera. It lived there the entire trip. An awesome new compact digital camera with 14.1 mega pixels and 14x optical zoom. With this camera, I took well over 1,000 photos of the fabulous scenery!

Spray Park 2a (450 x 338)

My left pocket contained my SPF 30 chapstick. Definitely well used because we were truly blessed with sunny and quite warm weather most of the days we were out there.

And then for the first four days, my left pocket also carried a bug net to pull over my head. In addition to insect repellant, I wore the bug net at times for extra protection.

Fortunately, the bugs eventually went away, so I was left with my two essentials in my pockets, which then sometimes also contained other various items as the days went on.

Spray Park 3a (450 x 338)

We had an awesome backpacking trip this year. Very, very little rain, warm sunny days, and even mostly warm nights. We met some interesting people, saw some wildlife, the wildflowers in many places were still in bloom, and Mt. Rainier itself was visible every day.

The pictures in this blog were while sitting in a flower-filled area called Spray Park. The first picture is as it was – a “normal’ picture. For the second and third pictures, I was playing with a settings on my camera. First, there was a “color swap” button, where the camera chooses particular colors to change. And second, “color accent,” where the camera selects one color (green, in this case), and then makes everything else black and white. And the last picture, another “normal” picture, was one of the very few times on the entire trip where a light cloud cover blew in and completely blocked out Mt. Rainier (but only momentarily).

Spray Park 4a (450 x 338)

The 10 essentials are certainly very important while out in the wilderness, but so are some personal items that one finds necessary and quite useful to take along.

Sweet Travels!

Wonderland Trail: The Other Two-Thirds

Just about this time last year, my friend Melissa and I hiked one-third, about 30 miles, of the glorious Wonderland Trail around the beautiful Mt. Rainier. The rain we encountered (yes, in August) did not dampen our spirits one bit. The spectacular scenery, the people we met along the way, and the sense of accomplishment all added up to a simply awesome experience.

In fact, Melissa and I enjoyed the trip so much, that even before we were done hiking last year, we started thinking about hiking the entire 93-mile circuit this year. The planning begun very shortly after we got home: reading books, devising itineraries, buying new equipment, exercising nearly everyday.

Mt Rainier 2_edited-1 (450 x 303)

The only way to hike the Wonderland Trail is to obtain a permit. And one way to obtain this permit is to submit itineraries via fax on a specific day at a specific time. And once the “permit season” is open, it is first-come first-serve. Melissa and I had our itineraries all ready to go, and faxed them in, or at least tried to, the minute that we could.

Alas, the fax machine was busy…busy….busy. Twenty minutes later, whew, our fax finally went through. Then we waited. A few months. To see whether we got “accepted.” We figured we would. I mean, 20 minutes within the first second of open permit season should be fine, right?

Not. We got rejected. We couldn’t believe it. Disappointment set in. Now what? All the excitement, planning, reading, buying, exercising – wasted?

Mt Rainier 3_edited-1 (450 x 338)

But wait! Let’s just try again, we thought. So we tried. And faxed some more. Other itineraries, different starting locations, different days, opposite direction, something, anything.

Still, rejection.

Then I had a brilliant idea! If we can’t do the whole trail this year, what about the part that we didn’t do last year? What about the other two-thirds?

So we devised some more itineraries, and faxed away. Rejection number one came in.

Mt Rainier 1_edited-2 (450 x 368)

But, then an acceptance! Yippee! No, wait, a second acceptance! Wow, double yippee! One itinerary within the month of July, and the other within the month of August. We were ecstatic. One way or another, now we were going to hike the Wonderland Trail again; or at least the other two-thirds.

Which itinerary to choose now? Both months had their advantages and disadvantages. We weighed the options carefully, and came to a decision…

August it is!!

Mt Rainer 4_edited-1 (450 x 338)

And, now that August is here, Melissa and are about to embark on an adventure. To be with nature for days on end. To see wildflowers and trees and mountains and rocks and rivers and lakes and waterfalls and meadows and glaciers and wildlife; and fellow hikers. To experience the glory and the beauty of two-thirds of the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier.

For some stories of our trip last year please read the four-part series “The Mt. Rainier WT Indian Bar Shelter Group

Sweet (and glorious) Travels!