In 1992, my husband Andy and I camped for 4 nights at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state. It was our first trip to this spectacular park—a magnificent wilderness that ironically, Andy was indifferent to visiting. While hiking one day, we spotted a sign for the Wonderland Trail—a ~100-mile loop that circumnavigates the mountain. For the next 6 months, Andy thought of little else. It was as if that sign, and the trail that led away from it into the woods, had cast a spell upon his soul.
Out of the blue, my tech-centric husband began reading books on backpacking and outfitting himself with gear needed for a long backcountry trek. In June of 1993, he announced that he was going back to Rainier to hike the Wonderland Trail solo. Last month, I joined him on his 24th visit to that beguiling mountain. If you don’t have time to read further, check out the video of our latest trip, which is at the end of this post.
An Obsession is Born
When Andy first decided, nearly 3 decades ago, that he was going back to Rainier, neither of us could fully believe that he’d be “doing-this-dog” by himself. Prior to 1993, he’d never come close to attempting such a journey. But, off he went at the end of that summer, and home he came, two weeks later, grinning like a drunken convert, imbibed with a spiritual awakening imparted by his guru.
And so began Andy’s obsession with The Mountain. In 1994, he completed the Wonderland loop again and I joined him for a portion of the route. In 1995, we did the entire route together. In 1997, we returned for a shorter trek, known as the Northern Figure 8. In 1998, we went back again for another 100-mile gauntlet on the Wonderland. Are you noticing a pattern yet?
Little did I know, Andy was just warming up. The birth of our children put an end to my Wonderlanding, but Andy continued to go almost every summer. Over the years, obtaining a permit for the entire loop became increasingly difficult. But, when a full Wonderland wasn’t possible, Andy usually found other trajectories inside the park that satisfied his annual withdrawal symptoms.
Last year, I began thinking that I would like to return to The Mountain, but the pandemic kept me away. (Although, Andy drove out to Rainier from Michigan, hiked for 10 days, and drove home. Of course he did.)
This year, however, I finally went back after a 23-year absence. I was more than a little worried before hitting the trail. I hadn’t backpacked once in all of that time. I remembered the route being difficult when I was in my mid-30s. I feared that I’d blow out a knee or slip and break something. However, I wanted to give it a try and so I met Andy for the last 38 miles of this year’s 100-mile pilgrimage.
It was nice to be back. It was almost like I’d never left. The landscape was totally familiar, kept alive in my memory by hundreds of photos (make that thousands) and stories that Andy has shared with me over the last quarter-century. I walked along at a fraction of my former pace and was exhausted at the end of every day. In the morning, however, I felt rejuvenated and eager to rediscover the next leg of our route.
I decided to commemorate my experience by creating a video with this year’s crop of pics/vids. Perhaps after watching, you’ll understand a bit better why someone might return year after year to the same indescribably beautiful piece of our planet. This summer marked Andy’s 20th loop on the Wonderland Trail.