Saturday, September 24, 2011

Wonderland Trail in 3 Days?

On July 27, 2010 around 8:45 AM, I completed a longtime goal of summiting Mount Rainier. Prior to that trip I had set far more grandiose plans for the "next trip"; things like climbing Denali or Aconcagua. However, the trip up Rainier was a big wake-up for me. Climbing Rainier was much more difficult than I had imagined it would be. So I decided to scale down plans for my "next trip", but I wasn't sure what would make a great adventure. It was not until late December of 2010 that I really started formulating an ideal of the "next trip", and my inspiration came from a post I found on the blog "Learning To Do". The post was all about running light and fast around the 93 mile Wonderland Trail that circumnavigates Mount Rainier. (Here is a PDF map of the trail and a PDF trail elevation profile from the National Park Service's web site).

I began talking to and emailing friends about my idea. I read the stories of others who had completed the Wonderland Trail in one, two or three days, and emailed some of them asking for advice. The stories definitely did not make it sound easy, but 93 miles split into 3 days, at an average pace of 3mph, that’s just an average of 11 hours a day. It seemed very reasonable. With a light pack I should easily be able to average 3mph. As time went on my enthusiasm for the trip grew and friends began to sign on to the the idea of joining me on this trip (although other, wiser, friends referred to the trip as tbe "Death March").

I sent a seemingly endless flood of emails to friends who would be interested in joining me on this, but as the time for a possible trip approached my wiser friends began to realize the true scope of what I had proposed. The unusually high snow levels on Mount Rainier in 2011 moved our trip back from the traditional time frame of late July/early August until the snow levels could make the trail passable. So the emails continued, and the trip got built up bigger and bigger.

My friend John suggested that everyone who plans on joining me on this trip should have to prove themselves by hiking or trail running 30 miles in one day. I took John's suggestion to heart and signed up for the Grand Ridge 50K in August. During the 50K trail run, I pretty easily managed 5mph over 31 miles with over 5K’ of elevation gain, so 3mph over that same distance during 3 days should be easy, right? Wrong! As I would later discover the Wonderland Trail is a very different path than a nice single track 50K trail run like Grand Ridge. Some of the climbs are far steeper, some of the descents are also steep traveling across loose rocks along a ledge, and crossing rivers (even though all the actual water is crossed on bridges) is not easy...river rocks do not lend themselves to fast travel. Then of course there is the issue of being more worn out each consecutive day, but of our group of four, two of us managed to finish it with a total time on the trail of just over 40 hours over a period of 3 days, that works out to be around 2-1/3 mph (but it sure felt like we were moving faster than that).

Wonderland Trail in 3 days (day 1)

Wonderland Trail in 3 days (day 2)

Wonderland Trail in 3 days (day 3)

All the pictures from the trip


MAHOLLA! said...

Still can't believe you guys did that!! CRAZY!!!

Gorohoff said...

It was fun! Personally I think 10 days of travel with a 80 lbs. pack on your back is far more crazy than 3 days of travel with a 10 lbs. pack on your back, but maybe that's just me.