Next week I’ll be hiking the Wonderland Trail!
For those of you who aren’t familiar, the Wonderland Trail is a 93-mile hiking route that circles Mount Rainier. The trail is famous for both beauty and difficulty. Over our 9-day trek we’ll be gaining something like 22,000 feet of elevation, so just a little more than one ascent of Denali.
The Wonderland Trail has been on my list for several years now, and I am elated to have a chance to throw myself at it. We leave on Friday, and I can hardly wait.
The Wonderland Trail is incredibly popular, so to help keep it pristine and let you have some solitude, Mount Rainier National Park has instituted a lottery system for back-country permits. You apply in mid-March with a proposed itinerary and a list of what changes you’d be willing to accept, and if you’re lucky you hear back a couple of months later from the park rangers with a final route plan.
Coming up with a route is somewhat complex, but there are a ton of resources on the internet that will help you. One of the most useful was the Wonderland Trail Itinerary Planner, which is very fancy and interactive.
Getting a permit is far from a sure thing! I’ve applied for the last 4 years, and this is the first year I’ve gotten one. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have gotten one this year – between a low employment load and everything else being closed due to COVID, an outdoorsy hobby to sink a bunch of time into has been just what I’ve needed.
So what does it take to spend 9 days on the trail?
9 days off food and supplies is a lot! A good estimate is 2000 calories per day plus 100 calories per mile, which works out to about 27,000 calories for the whole trip, or about 3000 per day. That’s enough calories that you need to be intentional about eating. Hiking hungry is no fun, and once you’re in a calorie hole it’s hard to climb out.
That much food is heavy, and it probably won’t even fit in your pack. So instead of carrying it all with you, you leave caches for yourself along the trail. That way you only need to carry 3 or 4 days worth of food at a time. Plus you can stow a spare T-shirt and a fresh pair of socks in each cache.
Of course it’s not just food – you need to cache any kind of consumables, like fuel, toilet paper and sunscreen.
Tomorrow I’ll spend the day driving around the mountain and dropping off caches at ranger stations. Hooray for being both the party leader and unemployed.
I’ve also been working on dropping pack weight. Ultra-light tent, tiny water filter, and dropping comfort items I don’t need. I should be able to get my dry pack weight to about 26 lbs, which is pretty comfortable.
What’s the best way to train for a 90-mile hike? By hiking, of course! I’ve spent 23 days and 8 nights on the trail so far this year, totaling more than 200 miles.
Of course, 200 miles of trail has produced some pretty good photos.
With no office to bike commute to, I’ve taken up running in between hikes. I’ve added on a light regime of body-weight resistance training. Sometimes I do yoga (I should do more of this).
My number one goal with this training was to drop weight. Weight has some issues as a fitness goal, both scientifically and socially, but in this case it felt appropriate. That much hiking, particularly downhill, is really hard on your joints. If you could take 15 pounds out of your backpack you would be elated, so why not take it off your middle instead? I cut sweets (mostly) back in the spring, stopped drinking in mid July, and have eaten a LOT of salads. Plus cooking at home more due to COVID makes portion control much easier. The result is I have lost 15 pounds since April, about 8% of my body weight. I feel great, my pants sag noticeably when I forget a belt, and I am ready to take on those hills.
COVID has made this a very strange hiking season. On the one hand, the wilderness is the only thing that’s open and safe, so it’s been remarkably crowded. Finding a campsite or even a sliver of solitude can be a challenge, though it’s no where near as bad as that hike I did in Korea. On the other hand, none of my friends have anything else to do, so it’s always easy to find a hiking buddy.
Tomorrow I lay in the caches, and Friday we hit the trail. It’s been a lot of work to get to this point, and I am ready.