35 Years: Introduction

  Stylin' on the Wonderland, 1987

Stylin' on the Wonderland, 1987

I MOVED TO THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST and started hiking in Mt. Rainier National Park in 1983, so 2018 marks 35 years for exploring this gem. In celebration, I am looking forward to places I haven't been, and looking back at experiences and observations over the decades. These posts will include videos, posts, photos and general reminiscing of my time spent on Rainier's flanks and higher. Some of the areas I need to explore in 2018:

TRAILS: Gobblers Knob/Lake George • Eunice Lake/Tolmie Lookout • Natural Bridge • Lake Eleanor • Huckleberry Creek Trail • Palisades • Sourdough Ridge • Crystal Lakes/Peak • Laughingwater-PCT/Naches loop • Silver Falls Loop • Shriner Peak

OTHER: Little Tahoma climb • Curtis Ridge notch (9,000') • Vernal Park/Old Desolate • Tatoosh Traverse • Puyallup Cleaver/ St. Andrews Rock • Mt. Wow • Glacier Island orbit/climb • Van Trump/Wapowety Cleaver • Colonnade (8-9,000') • Chenuis Mountain traverse

A few of these trips will require a partner for more serious glacier travel (Little Tahoma, Glacier Island orbit/climb) and perhaps the Puyallup Cleaver. Otherwise it looks like I can spend my entire summer hitting the list above, especially considering I am still working full time.

  McMurdo Station, Antarctica (USAF, 2000)

McMurdo Station, Antarctica (USAF, 2000)

TO BEGIN, a little background about williswall that should shed light on how and perhaps why I have spent so much time here. When I moved to the greater Seattle area in 1983 it was because of an assignment in the Air Force, flying C-141s. As I drove into the state I thought it would be a shortcut to go through the park, in that age of no GPS or internet with just paper maps in hand. I wasn't even sure where McChord AFB was so headed for "Military Road." As I drove over Cayuse Pass I realized, even then, that Washington State was where I wanted to be. Light faded and my trip through the park in the dark had me stopping for deer and realizing that the twisting roads probably didn't save me any time (I went down SR 123 and entered via Stevens Canyon, exiting the Nisqually entrance). However, even in darkness I connected with this place.

Despite growing up in Maine, I only started day hiking when I was 28 years old, discovering later in life a passion for the outdoors. One day I was hiking from Ipsut Creek and ran into my boss on the trail. He introduced me to some off trail hiking with a jaunt to Curtis Ridge, basking in the sun overlooking the Carbon Glacier and Willis Wall, then hitting Mineral Mountain on our way back. From that point on I would venture into the park, driving the West Side Road to park at the North Puyallup lot, doing day hikes to all areas of the west side. In 1987 I decided to hike the Wonderland Trail (93 miles) and collected all manner of gear with no thought towards weight, ending up hiking the trail with probably a 50 pound pack. During those 7 days of suffering the uphills I gained quite an appreciation for weight, but persevered and was met by my wife and a buddy at Granite Creek camp with a nice meal and a bottle of wine to accompany me on my last few miles to Sunrise.

  Western States 100 (2001)

Western States 100 (2001)

IN THE 90s I ran my first marathon at age 38, eventually finishing over 50 races including Boston 5 times, 50Ks, 50 milers and a few 100s like Western States. I even won my age division a couple of times, once for doing 104 miles in a 24 hour race, and again on a 50 miler (8:18). I also took a mountaineering course on Mt. Baker and climbed a few volcanoes, including Rainier 3 times. But with young kids in the picture my time for these endeavors was limited, which led to trail running to cover distances in shorter times. I liked running the Northern Loop Trail in about 12 hours (35 miles back then) as a trainer, and even pulled off a 36 hour Wonderland over a weekend in 1999. With kid activities increasing as they aged, I stopped training for ultras in 2002 because of the time commitment. However, this background of running, trail running, ultras and limited mountaineering all contributed to the development of my philosophies on fastpacking, hiking, training, mental preparation, suffering and load management, a process that continues to this day and now includes dealing with aging (currently 63 Y/O).

SO WHY WILLIS WALL? After authoring a DVD in 2006 on Kendo for our local Marsten Sensei (Kyoshi 7 Dan), I needed an avenue for marketing, so an LLC was formed. In contemplating a company name, my thoughts wandered to the immense Willis Wall and the time I had spent over the years gazing on this part of the mountain; a quick search showed that williswall.com was available. Willis Wall Multimedia was born.

  Maestro, 1976

Maestro, 1976

I MAJORED IN MUSIC in college, gaining a particular fondness for arranging and writing. I would spend hours at a piano, plinking out parts and writing scores by hand. In fact, I once spent my entire spring break copying individual parts from a 100 page score I had written, barely finishing despite 10 hours a day of toil. How times have changed! Now I can conceive, write, polish, play, and record just about anything that pops to mind utilizing a keyboard and drum controller, inputting directly to computer. I can call on a vast library of virtual instruments or record live instruments, mixing any combination. Some of my music has live guitar (not me), bass, flugelhorn, trumpet, digeridoo, drums and of course vocals. I have also embraced video, an early adopter of helmet cams; I have terabytes of archived video, mostly starting from 2005 when I bought my first high quality camcorder. This melding of music, visual and outdoors (and Kendo) is what puts the "multimedia" in Willis Wall Multimedia.

As I near retirement I consider myself extremely lucky, with a marriage going on 32 years and two incredible independent kids. My health and mechanics are still good; I just ran a half marathon with my daughter and have no detriments to my activities beyond weakening vision and old man aches and pains. In fact, I am ramping up running and biking, looking forward to an awesome 35th year exploring The Mountain. I hope you enjoy these pages.

  Mt. Rainier summit, 2002

Mt. Rainier summit, 2002

Mt. Rainier: High Points

First up is a collection of video (supplemented with a few photos) of various high points I've visited in some of my sojourns into the park. This video is raw; no soundtrack except what's captured on the various cameras. The list (in order of appearance): Curtis Ridge (7500'/7800') • Crescent Gap • below Old Desolate • Tokaloo Rock • Mt. Ruth • PT 8750 (above Mt. Ruth) • Steamboat Prow • Fay Peak • Knapsack Pass • Observation Rock • Ptarmigan Ridge (8670') • Russell Glacier • Pyramid Peak • Success Divide • Success Cleaver • Goat Island Mountain • Panhandle Gap • PT 6970 (above Panhandle Gap) • Banshee Peak • PT 6200 (above Owyhigh Lakes) • Cathedral Gap • Ingraham Glacier • Mt. Rainier Summit • Colonnade

My First Wonderland Trail Hike: 1987

  Only way to get the 50 lb pack on

Only way to get the 50 lb pack on

I'll be frank; I had no idea what I was doing. All I had done up to that point were day hikes. I had contemplated climbing Rainier with RMI but thought that $350 was way too much. Hell, I could buy all the equipment I needed for that much and hike that Wonderland trail I had been using for my forays. With 7 days of vacation in August already planned, I started acquiring what I needed: pack, sleeping bag, pad etc. I planned on borrowing a pup tent from a friend. My flashlight was a D cell and had a big magnet on it so one could put in on a fridge or other metallic surface, surely handy on this trek. My knife was a big double bladed beauty with a burly sheath to hang on my belt. Oh, a poncho sounds good, this heavy duty 3 pounder looks to fill the bill. I don't want to run out of water, I better get this 1.5 liter container, fill it up and not plan on using it, just have it for backup. And this Whisperlite, what a marvel! I better take two full canisters of fuel though, because I have no idea how much it uses or the burn rate. Don't have to worry about clothes, these short shorts and cotton shirts will do nicely, and I can use this first generation Gore-Tex golfing jacket as rain gear, just in case I need a backup for that poncho. I better take these two reflecting tarps, to protect the floor of the tent and to stand or sit on so my tootsies don't get dirty. Don't have a camera, but my in-laws will let me use this SLR, which I can hang off my neck the whole time. I'll load up with all freeze dried food, this seems to be the only stuff backpackers eat. Now I'm ready.

When I actually put all these items together, I had no room left in my external frame pack. Wow, that old school pup tent really takes up some space (must have weighed more than 15 pounds). I couldn't pick up the pack to put it on, so I had to set it on something and back into it. But I'm in good shape so no problem. My wife dropped me off at the Fryingpan Creek parking lot and off I went. The first day was overcast and sometimes drizzly, and my route over Panhandle Gap to my first campsite at Indian Bar (9 miles total) offered no views. I got really lucky though in that I arrived at Indian Bar that afternoon and everyone there, including a ranger, set up in the shelter. The skies opened and a torrent pounded outside for a couple of hours, but we were snug under the shake roof. So were the mice. Luckily Hanta Virus wasn't invented yet. Realizing I lucked out on avoiding the drenching, I settled in to one of the bunks for the evening in my 5 pound Slumberjack.

  Morning at Indian Bar, start of Day 2

Morning at Indian Bar, start of Day 2

Day 2 was uneventful and not too painful, being mostly downhill. My stop for that evening was Maple Creek, a total of 10 miles, and I arrived early afternoon and enjoyed basking in the sun and resting up. I do recall the bugs were out, though, and spent my time in the tent as evening approached.  A couple who were hiking the trail on their honeymoon, obviously very experienced even to my neophyte eyes, came over to marvel at my tent. "Wow, I haven't seen one of these in years!" And this was 1987.

  Vintage pup tent even in 1987

Vintage pup tent even in 1987

Day 3: Seems my math was sketchy, as I was planning on about 13 miles per day, but Maple Creek to Devils Dream was actually 17. It doesn't sound so bad to me today, but that 50 pound pack was taking its toll. I stopped at Longmire for some snacks then set off around 2 for Devils Dream. The climb out of Longmire had my legs shaking. I remember saying to myself as I struggled uphill, "Yeah, and you wanted to climb this mountain? Uh Huh." I pulled into Devils Dream at 6 PM totally spent, and with great difficulty I set up my tent and made dinner. I was startled by 4 or 5 deer that walked through the campsite, my mind initially racing at the origin of that thumping until I gathered up enough courage to look out of the tent. 

  Drying clothes, North Puyallup

Drying clothes, North Puyallup

Day 4 was also cloudy with no views, but thankfully no rain. By this time my shoulders and legs were really feeling the stress of that pack, and I don't remember much of the day except arriving at Klapatche Park (13 mile day) completely spent (emphasis added to emphasize how spent I was). I set up the tent and crawled into my sleeping bag for close to an hour and laid comatose trying to warm up. Someone was quite upset outside as they had a permit for Klapatche but all the sites were full. This was when the West Side Road was open and Klapatche Park was easily accessible. No one fessed up and the party left the camp totally pissed. A short time later someone packed up, probably the culprits, and exited the camp before dark. Perhaps feeling guilty or afraid of being outed by a ranger? Unsure, but I remember thinking, were that me I would politely ask to see everyone's permit in the campsites before giving up. In any event, I gathered the strength to get out of the bag and make dinner....let's see, how 'bout some freeze dried food? I did feel much better after that, and collapsed into my bag for the night.

  Chillin' on the South Mowich River

Chillin' on the South Mowich River

Day 5....had me thinking that I needed to quit. Everything was taking a toll on my young but unprepared body and mind. Although I had avoided outright rain, my boots had been wet from the brush since I started and my feet were starting to macerate. But as I approached Golden Lakes the sun came out so I lounged on a large rock and put my boots in the sun, watching the steam rise in the light as they dried along with my feet. The sunny weather lasted the day and thoughts of exiting the trail diminished. My stop for that night was the South Mowich Camp, for a total distance of 13 miles. By now I was getting into the routine, donning and doffing my pack, making dinner, setting up the tent, and enduring the pain of that load. I was still carrying that liter and a half of water, "just in case." Once again I slept in the shelter with some others, all of us reading the notes that were etched in the logs. I had yet to pull my knife out of the sheath or find a metallic surface to anchor my flashlight.

  Departing Golden Lakes in boot drying sunshine

Departing Golden Lakes in boot drying sunshine

Day 6: Another nice day and I was able to endure the climb up to Mowich Lake knowing that it was the most difficult part of the day. However, I reassessed that thought as I (taking the alternate route) continued climbing up through a socked in Spray Park, once again missing out in the view department. I dipped into the forest past Cataract Creek and came to the turnoff before the suspension bridge, hiking the short distance to the Carbon River Camp. In those days one could still drive to Ipsut Creek and there were plenty of day hikers on that section to the suspension bridge; the trail stayed right of the Carbon River the entire way (it's been closed and rerouted over the Carbon to utilize the Northern Loop Trail since 2006) and led right past the Carbon River Camp to the bridge. Another 13 mile day, the camp looked a bit different from today; I was actually on the trail crew in '99 or 2000 that went in to clear the old growth that got flattened in a localized wind, toppling old growth trees through the camp and surrounding area. Here they sit today, or remnants as cut up "cookies", slowly aging and acting as nurse logs. But then, the Carbon camp was just another woodsy enclave.

  Spray Park just below 6400' (yet another socked in potential vista)

Spray Park just below 6400' (yet another socked in potential vista)

  Lunch at Granite Creek, spouse provided

Lunch at Granite Creek, spouse provided

Day 7: The finisher! It wasn't until writing this post that I realized that my trip was actually 7 days with 6 nights. Over the years I've posted a few times that this first Wonderland trip was 6 days. No internet, digital cameras, InReach, Strava or GPS back then, just my lame memory for recall, and I wasn't much for keeping a log. And after 35 years trips tend to blend together. However, I do remember running into a couple that were running skosh on fuel and by this time I realized that I was carrying way too much. Of everything. I gladly donated the contents of my second canister and put a smile on their faces. For this last 13 mile day the big surprise was being greeted at the Granite Creek camp by my wife and buddy, the one who had lent me the tent. They had packed a bottle of wine and some great food, and Sean actually offered to carry my pack for most of the way back. A fine finish indeed for my first backpacking trip!

END: Well, I didn't actually do the entire Wonderland as I exited at Sunrise. In those days the trail ended at White River and trekkers had to walk the road for two miles to regain the trail before Fryingpan Creek....I couldn't see the point of this at the time, but it escapes me why I didn't plan on exiting at White River. I omitted 6 miles of the trail and turned in 87 vice 93. It wasn't until some time later that the park created the trail section between White River, crossing it and proceeding through a nice wooded section to join up before Fryingpan. If you've ever wondered why there is an offshoot trail from the Wonderland that leads to the road, that is where the trail used to end.

The lessons learned on this first trip launched my search for better gear, better techniques, better footwear, nutrition etc....a process that continues to this day. 28 years later (2015) I waltzed around the mountain in 3 days at age 60 with a total pack weight that was less than that old pup tent, including food and water. Nostalgia is great, but evolution is better. I do kinda wish I had that hair and flat gut, though.

  Last day, headed to Sunrise after being met by spouse and buddy

Last day, headed to Sunrise after being met by spouse and buddy

  Mystic Lake, August 1987

Mystic Lake, August 1987

  Winthrop Glacier, August 1987

Winthrop Glacier, August 1987

  Mt. Rainier's Wonderland Trail profile

Mt. Rainier's Wonderland Trail profile