Wonderland Trail – Day 9

Day 9 – S. Puyallup River to The Longmire Inn

12 miles
2550 Foot Elevation Gain
3950 Foot Elevation Loss

Well it did rain last night, and hard.  I stayed dry and toasty in my tent, but everything was a muddy soggy mess this morning when I packed out.  I had pitched my tent on a hill and dug a trench around it the night before, but I don’t think that I would have stayed dry much longer.  My tent was splattered with mud and soaked through. I had lined the inside of my pack with a trash compactor bag to keep my clothing and bedding dry, but everything else was soaked and filthy.     I had left my backpack and cookset and some other items on the ground, and they were all now caked with mud.  Sigh.

My first thought of the morning was – well, answering the call of nature today is going to be unpleasant.  Every backcountry camp site at Mt. Rainier provides an outdoor commode for such an occasion.  The toilet usually does not have any walls or a door, and this one was no exception.

The Toilet at S. Puyallup River Campground

Thankfully, I made good use of the hiking umbrella that I’m borrowing from my partner, which made the experience less unpleasant than it might have been otherwise.   Although holding onto the umbrella whilst completing my business was a little trickier than I would have thought.

I checked the weather forecast by satellite and saw that it was supposed to continue pouring until the following afternoon, and then dry out a little on Sunday night with a small chance of rain the following week. Ho hum.

As I was about to hike out of camp that morning, I met Kira, who ended up being my travel buddy for the day.  Kira was hiking counter-clockwise, like me, and she was initially planning to hike to Devil’s Dream Camp.  However, her tent was totally soaked through and she had lost both her hat and her raincoat.  She was almost done with her trip, and decided to hike the extra 5.5 miles out to Longmire and to finish a day early.

I was also supposed to camp at Devils Dream that night, and didn’t relish the thought of camping at 5000 feet in a downpour with a soggy tent.  I have a down sleeping bag, and was worried about getting hypothermia if my bag got wet.  So we decided to hike out to Longmire together.  I was really hoping to get a room at the Longmire Inn and dry out there, and if that failed I was considering staying at Cougar Rock Campground, which is a front country campground at a lower elevation.

So we headed off into the misty moisty morning together.  Kira wrapped her tent over her head and pack as she didn’t have a raincoat.  She had difficulty seeing out of her glasses which kept fogging up, so she watched my feet as we hiked. I was sporting a raincoat, rainskirt, snow gaiters, and a hiking umbrella to keep me dry as we walked.

It was nice hiking with a partner for a change.  We passed the time in conversation as we hiked 1400 feet up to Emerald Ridge.  As we neared the top, we were literally hiking on a knife point ridge with a drop on either side which we couldn’t really see down.  I’m guessing the views of Mt. Rainier were spectacular, but we couldn’t see anything as it was socked in.  It was still very beautiful scenery, with the mist clinging to the mountains.

Emerald Ridge

Then we descended 1300 feet down the other side of the ridge to Tahoma Creek.  Another suspension bridge crossed this creek, dangling by cables affixed from one side of the gorge to the other.  The bridge swayed as I walked across it, and it was missing some boards and so required careful footing while traversing it.

Tahoma Creek as seen through the missing boards on the suspension bridge

After I safely made it across, I watched Kira cross the bridge behind me only to see her fall right through the open boards!  Yikes that was scary.  She was worried about getting vertigo, and so hadn’t been looking down as she walked across.  Luckily her backpack strapped to her back stopped her from falling through.

Kira Crossing the Suspension Bridge

It was one of several times that we were glad to be hiking together that day.

After crossing the suspension bridge, we climbed up another 1000 feet to Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground, a rather non-PC name given to another lovely alpine meadow.  As we hiked, we noticed that the streams and creeks were swollen and flowing more vigorously due to the rain.  We stopped at a patrol cabin up top for a quick break and a snack and to sign the log book.  We didn’t stay long, however, as we wanted to keep moving to stay warm.

Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground Patrol Cabin

After another mile we passed by Devils Dream camp, where we were supposed to be camping for the night. The rain was falling hard and puddles had formed in the tent pads at the various campsites.  Staying there for the evening didn’t seem like a very pleasant prospect. Assured that we had made the right decision, we pressed on.

At this point the rain had thoroughly soaked the trail.  Giant puddles had formed on the path, and in some cases rivulets of water gushed down the trail the size of a small stream.  My feet were soaked all the way through and I gave up even trying to avoid stepping in mud puddles.

We hiked down 1300 feet in elevation for the next 2 miles towards Pyramid Creek camp. We were pushing forward at a faster pace than I was used to, lured by the prospect of a hot meal and shelter from the rain, and my feet were feeling it. We crossed over the Pyramid Creek Bridge, thinking that it was our last water crossing of the day, but we were wrong.  Just past the Pyramid Creek Camp we faced our most difficult water crossing of the day, Kautz Creek.

The trail came out of the forest to the creek bed, and then followed the rocky shores of the western bank until coming to a log bridge over the main crossing down the creek. The rains had swollen Kautz Creek so that it spilled over its banks and gushed in little creeklets along the western bank. We picked our way through the muddy torrent several times, using hiking poles to steady our feet and to gauge the water depth.  The water came up past my gaiters almost to my knees at one point.

Crossing Kautz Creek (we walked through that!)

After crossing the creek, it was just another 3 miles to Longmire.  I was exhausted by this point, as it was my most difficult day by far, but glad to push myself and see how far I could go.  We descended 4000 feet in elevation on Saturday, and my knees and feet were really feeling it.

Finally, we crossed over the Nisqually Longmire Road and we knew that civilization was not far behind!

Posing Next to the Hiker Crossing Sign on the Nisqually Longmire Road

At Longmire, Kira finished her journey. I bid her goodbye and thanked her for being a fabulous hiking partner.

Kira Finishes the Wonderland Trail!

I hobbled over to the Longmire Inn, and was relieved to discover that they had a room available for the night. Huzzah!  A giant queen-sized bed with a bathtub just for me. Ahhh……  After luxuriating in the tub for an hour, I hand-washed all my clothes and cleaned the muck off my tent and hung them up to dry on cords that I strung up over the bathtub.  It was messy work.  I did my best to clean up after myself, but left a giant tip for the cleaning staff just the same.

Hanging my Tent to Dry over the Bathtub

And then… dinner at the Longmire Inn Restaurant!  Choosing between all the unbelievable options on the menu was almost overwhelming.  I finally settled on salad topped with boar’s meat sausage, pot roast with mashed potatoes and gravy, and flourless chocolate torte all washed down with 2 glasses of red wine.  What a feast!
While at dinner, I ran into the two hikers that I had previously while resupplying at Mowich Lake.  We shared a table and swapped war stories.  They had been camped at Summerland the night before and hiked all the way to Longmire to finish early and avoid the rain. That’s 24 miles in one day.  Wow.

I was glad to be safe and dry as I fell asleep that night.

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