The West Side of Mt. Rainier

See that mountain, son? That's where your parents are headed.
See that mountain, son? That's where your parents are headed.

The highlight of my vacation was backpacking the West Side of the Wonderland Trail in Mt. Rainier.

I knew I wanted to go backpacking during our vacation. I planned out my daydream trip: four days, three nights, all the best campgrounds on the hardest side of the Mountain. I went to the website to watch the melt rates (it can easily still be iced in the first week in August, scuttling a trip for those of us not up-to-date with our ice axes). I checked the reservations log, which showed that pretty much every campground on the Wonderland Trail was booked solid for our entire vacation. I still dared to hope.

You see (and I almost hesitate to admit this on the internet lest it spur more competition for me), the powers that be reserve 1 camp site per campground a night for last minute, walk up reservations. Longmire, the place to make these reservations, is over 2 hours from Seattle, but less than half an hour from my folk’s house. This is what’s called an unfair advantage.

The day after we landed, after a nice lie-in (well, for us. My poor parents were up all night because SOMEONE WOKE UP for the day after we arrived at home, at about 1:30 am Pacific.) we trekked up to Longmire with an unscheduled week, and a top priority to get some time on Mt. Rainier. I knew what I wanted, but I also knew it was HIGHLY unlikely I’d get my first choice.

I filled out the starting negotiation paperwork:

Day 1 – in at Mowich Lake, camping at Golden Lakes. 9.8 miles
Day 2 – Golden Lakes to Klapatchee Park. 7.8 miles
Day 3 – Klapatchee Park to South Puyallup. 3.8 miles
Day 4 – South Puyallup to Longmire. 11.5 miles

The Ranger took my paperwork and I settled in for the long negotiation.

“Golden Lakes … ok, Klapatchee Park … ok, South Puyallup … ok. Yup. It looks like that will work!”

You could’ve knocked me over with a feather. I felt like I’d won the lottery. I *HAD* won the lottery. Three nights at the best campsites on the West Side — barring Summerland the best in the park?!? On my first try?! I was giddy and fairly floated over the trail to find my parents and tell them the fantastic news.

It was 3 pm. By the next morning, we had to have bought everything we needed (note: all the stores are over an hour away), packed it in our backpacks, driven to Mowich Lake and gotten ourselves on the trail.

Thus began … the epic buying spree of no self-control.

We went to REI, Target, Walgreens and Fred Meyer.

We bought freeze-dried dinners, sock liners, a water filter insert, iodine pills, mosquito head nets, a new backpacking tent, knee braces (3), sunscreen, candy bars, waterproof matches, caffeine pills and squirty cheese. Among other things. It was 11:30 pm before we got home, our bags lying flaccid and empty on the living room floor.

The next morning we rose really, really early and started stripping out packaging, stuffing food and gear into our packs. After the most hurried packing ever for a backpacking trip (and in retrospect, a few key omissions and unnecessary items), we piled ourselves and our boys into the car for the long trip to Mowich. I savored my Maple Bar as we drove through scenic Ohop Valley, the mountain peeking periodically around corners. It was a gorgeous hot, clear day.

We hit the trail head. It took us a while — lots of adjusting of shoes and packs. We poured an exhausted Thane into a baby-backpack on my mom’s back and took a patient but also tired Grey with us a bit down the trail. We swatted flies, not knowing just how much of a prelude to our vacation this would be. We arranged our platypi and tightened our knee-braces.

We were on the trail.

To be continued….

Grey and Thane among the hiking gear
Grey and Thane among the hiking gear

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