It's hard to believe that an entire computer system could be taken out with no backup, but that is apparently what happened this year at Mt. Rainier NPS. Read all about it here. The bottom line, all permits for 2016 will be walk up. For locals this may not be a big deal, but for those non Washingtonians who have vacation planned and are flying into the state to hike the Wonderland, it throws a big monkey wrench in there and creates a whole lot of uncertainty. From the NPS website:
Permits must be obtained in person at the Longmire Wilderness Information Center (7:30 am - 5:00 pm), White River Wilderness Information Center (7:30 am - 5:00 pm), or the Carbon River Ranger Station (hours vary, call in advance). Remember to bring:
- An emergency contact phone number
- The license plate number of any vehicle being left behind in the park
- The make, model, and color of the vehicle
There is no fee for a first-come, first-served permit.
What about caching food? Do I try to get a permit the day before and then drop off a food cache, drive to the other side of the mountain and start my hike there? How long will the Park Service store the food? Do the caches need specific pick up dates? Lots of questions arise from this scenario when one can't count on reserved sites on specific dates for advance planning. One can only guess about lines at opening times; perhaps people will abandon Wonderland plans this year and go somewhere else, dramatically dropping thru hiker numbers? Or perhaps long lines will necessitate hours long waits just to talk to a ranger? From my experience doing only walk up permits, frustration can creep in as the people before you chat and waffle on where they want to stay, asking endless questions that point to a lack of planning. One thing is for sure, if you plan on going through this process make sure you have multiple options written down so you can go to plan B or C and so on.
This could be a bonanza year for fit hikers that can cover long distances, allowing for myriad possibilities on the walk ups, especially if not caching food. The walk up scenario certainly better fits this demographic versus people who were planning on 10 to 14 day hikes and the attendant logistics, not to mention the vagaries of where to stay if backcountry camps are unavailable for a planned 10 mile day max.
Because of my familiarity with the park, future posts will present some itineraries that better suit this walk up permit only system. For example, shorter loop hikes that require only one or two night stays, like the "Eastern Loop Trail." There are innumerable ways to explore Mt. Rainier National Park without resorting to a 10 day Wonderland Trail hike. I'll present some shorter jaunts in the following list but stay tuned for more suggestions on how to take advantage of this park hiccup for 2016.
Mt. Rainier Grand Tour: