Filming the Wonderland Trail: The Experience

Yes, this year it took me 15 days to hike the Wonderland. Of course if you've read the complete account, you know why. But I just want to touch on the experience itself, beyond the technical aspects of filming the trail or the logistical parts, and get to it's core....this was one amazing season of hiking. In truth, probably one of the reasons I did this film project was that it gave me an excuse to go to the park. I got to tell my wife, "Oh, I have to cover A and then do B and I have to get up to C before the snow levels drop." My ever patient spouse went along with these flimsy excuses and indulged me, and I got to skip some days of potentially working on the house to do fair weather hiking. And was it ever fair weather. Not once did I don a pair of gloves, very unusual for me as I tend to get cold hands. Only once did I don a poncho due to brief minutes of squall activity very early as I trotted my way out to the start film point. Only on my last foray, on October 4th, did I wear a jacket through most of the day. As I review the stills and video I amassed, it was unusual to have any clouds in the frames, and I came to welcome this "anomaly" and the variety it bestowed on the usually clear skies. 

the rare clouds over Silver Forest on Sep 13, 2012"williswall" and "hikingqueen", members of NWHikersThe people: one of the niceties of hiking the Wonderland is talking to people on the trail. Of course I got a lot of queries from hikers wondering about my camera setup, even asking if I was filming for Google. But beyond that, I struck up conversations with some very interesting people, including an older couple where he had climbed Liberty Ridge in his younger days, a young couple who could have been models for Patagonia but were so modest and enthusiastic about their hike. Earlier in the year I had corresponded with Esther from Australia, trying to plan her lifelong dream; she actually grew up in Tacoma, had summited Rainier, but had moved to Australia when she was 15, all the while looking forward to that day when she could come back and hike the Wonderland. What a surprise to run into her on the trail! She originally just passed me by, being one of a group of 3, but one of her partners chatted with me about the filming. When Esther heard that "that guy" was filming, she came back up the trail and asked if I were "Willis." Delightful! I also write for NWHikers, a wonderful resource for this area, and had corresponded with a member there on a number of occasions. Imagine my surprise when, one morning just as I started the cameras, someone appears and says "Oh hi Steve!" I finally got to meet "hiking queen" in person, plus another member of NWHikers who was close behind her.

Another memorable moment was running into an acquaintance I hadn't seen in over 15 years. We had flown in the Air Force Reserves together and we happened to meet at Golden Lakes. Indeed, it's a small world after all.

Renewal. That's the best word I can think of to synopsize this hiking experience. I was fit this season, enabling me to cover the sometimes 20 plus miles in a day with relative comfort. One of the benefits of having a light pack and a reserve of endurance and strength is the ability to detach from the physical aspects and just enjoy the surroundings. When one is suffering, one tends to concentrate on the suffering itself; this becomes a block to the other senses. This season I was able to soak in the surroundings, especially when I wasn't concentrating on the filming aspect. Some of my favorite times were the trots to or from the film sections. I enjoyed a fabulous star show one evening as I was trotting the return leg on the West Side road. I couldn't help but stop, turn off the light, and just gaze above. On at least two occasions I managed to finish my hikes at the very edge of darkness, essentially feeling my way along the trail as my eyes adjusted to the waning light. These transition times are special, the senses seem keener, the visuals are so different from the full lit day, the sounds of the forest seem to be processed on a higher plane. I'm completely alone and seem to be part of the surroundings. "Back to nature" may be an overused cliche but the phrase is an attempt to identify something that resounds in our very genes. For me, it becomes reality when I'm alone during transition to night. However, the daytime has a different reward....what I would consider the equivalent to the "runner's high." The best example I have is on my last filming hike on October 4th, taking me over Indian Henry's Hunting Ground and Emerald Ridge. I didn't see anyone on the trail all day. The air was brisk with fall, and above 5000' even had a wintery scent about it. At one point I was struck with the realization that I was glad to be alive, that I was lucky to be there at that moment. Something about being outdoors helps me shed the trappings of modern life and reconnect. Why do I hike? For moments like that.

soaking in the experience: Emerald Ridge October 4, 2012