Holy Elevation Gain, Batman!

ELEVATION: the height above the level of the sea

Husband and I decided to mark our ninth anniversary with an epic hike on the Wonderland Trail, circumnavigating Mt. Rainier.  Roughly ninety miles of scenic views and challenging terrain to mark nine years of marriage; it seemed like an adventurous metaphor and a great way to mark the occasion.

But, here’s the thing about the Wonderland Trail.  It’s not just the mileage that’s impressive.  It’s the elevation gain.  Each day, we went up and down and up and down and… You get the idea.

Here’s the trail profile that Husband was wise enough to withhold until our packs were in the trunk:

Wonderland Trail Profile

We elected to start at Longmire and hike clockwise.  After starting on the wrong trail, we hiked seven miles uphill in the proper direction to Devil’s Dream.  We arrived at camp with time to spare and managed to get our tent up before the rain came.

The second day we traveled a little over thirteen miles to North Puyallup River with two “ups” (2,940 feet total) and three “downs” (4,300 feet total).  The weather was fantastic and we enjoyed picturesque passage through Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground and along Emerald Ridge.  I managed to avoid throwing up or wetting my pants on the 250-foot long Tahoma Creek suspension bridge and celebrated my victory with a pepperoni stick and some muesli.  We enjoyed a Snickers with a view at Klapatche Park before beginning the long and steep decent to our camp.  The day’s highlights faded slightly with each of the 43 switchbacks down, down, down.

In order to rendezvous with our food drop, 16 miles away, we started hiking with headlamps early the third morning.  We hiked 5 miles to Golden Lakes for breakfast, another six miles to South Mowich River for lunch and naps, and then completed the remaining miles up, up, up to Mowich Lake.

By that point, we had decided that we would enjoy the Wonderland Trail in sections rather than complete it all at once.  So, our food rendezvous transformed into a ride home and we joyfully showered and climbed into a real bed after large doses of water, fresh food and pain killers.

Since we quit after only 36 miles, we’re choosing not to view the hike as a marriage metaphor anymore.  Instead, we are adding it to our list of crazy things we’ve tried and managed to laugh about later.

Like the time I tried to save money by booking a hostel instead of a hotel.  My mistake was obvious as we stood holding our infant child in the lobby while the desk clerk gave us our free drink coupons and joyfully announced that the live band would start at nine o’clock.

Or, the time we joined a church camping trip with a toddler and new baby just three weeks post c-section only to spend large portions of each afternoon hiding out in the air-conditioned local Dairy Queen trying to avoid the 110-degree heat.

But, like most of our crazy ideas, this one wasn’t all bad.  The scenery was stunning, and I learned (and re-learned) a few things along the way:

  1. I’m more flexitarian than vegetarian.  I find it easy to abandon my forks over knives organic eating preferences following extreme physical exertion.  After a long day of hiking, a salt and fat packed pepperoni stick tastes positively delicious.
  2. I love soap.  I can fully embrace the role of Mountain Woman for exactly three days before the siren song of a shower becomes too strong to resist.  I don’t want a baby wipe rub down or a dip in a mountain stream.  I want a shower.  With shampoo.  And soap.  And more shampoo.  And more soap.
  3. Ugly is a matter of perspective.  I have ugly feet on a good day, but my feet are truly grotesque after many miles in hiking boots.  I will richly reward the boot designer who can create a boot that doesn’t blister my freakishly shaped feet.  After a summer of hiking, my feet are a collage of blisters in various stages of forming and fading.  This time I even managed to get blisters on the top of three of my toes.
  4. Underwear is comfortable for ten miles.  After that, all bets are off.  Though based on an admittedly limited sample size, the ten mile threshold appears to apply to both men’s and women’s underwear and does not vary based on style, price, or fabric. 
  5. I picked the perfect mate.  True to our marriage vows, Husband remains my constant friend, faithful partner, adventure buddy and one true love.  Even on the ill-advised adventures. Even when I smell incredibly bad.  Even when the path we travel is bumpy and steep. 

Happy anniversary Husband.  Next year, let’s stay in a hotel and order room service.

For those keeping track of stats, I present the following.  Please make appropriately impressed noises and, if you are local, call me and offer to buy me a beer.

Day 1: Longmire to Devil’s Dream

2,495 feet up

135 feet down

6.7 miles traveled

Day 2: Devil’s Dream to North Puyallup River

2,940 feet up

4,300 feet down

13.5 miles traveled

Day 3: North Puyallup River to Mowich Lake

3,829 feet up

2,600 feet down

15.9 miles traveled

Grand Total

9,264 feet up

7,035 feet down

36.1 miles traveled


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