The Wonderland Trail: Mission Accomplished
After 10 years, a family of five achieves their goal of completing Mount Rainier’s Wonderland Trail together.
In the Sept. 2008 issue of Washington Trails magazine, Colleen Ponto wrote of her family's first attempt to complete the Wonderland Trail together. Five days of heavy rain foiled their attempts, but for the next ten years, they'd try and try again to circumnavigate the mountain as a family. In 2016, they finally did it.
By Colleen Ponto
Completing the Wonderland Trail as a family was a goal my husband and I set in 1997 when our youngest of three children was born. We wanted to complete the 93-mile hike in 2007, when our children were strong enough to help carry all the gear we would need.
When I wrote my article for WTA's magazine in 2008, I described our journey and how after five days of soaking rain we were rescued by a friend. I concluded by saying, “Even though we were proud of what we had done and learned a lot, I felt as though our mission was not accomplished.”
I am ecstatic to now write that on August 7 of this year, with tears of joy filling our eyes as we reached Mowich Lake, we accomplished our mission of completing the entire Wonderland Trail as a family in one hike, a goal I never let go of.
Determination pays off
For ten years, in what became of an annual ritual, we plotted our trip, faxed our wilderness permit request just after midnight on March 14 , purchased new gear as our children grew, revised our packing list as we learned new tricks and techniques, and dropped off our caches around the mountain before beginning our annual hike.
We've hiked the Wonderland every year since that first attempt in 2007. But for reasons beyond our control (weather or injury, college or jobs) we were unable to complete the trail together until this year. Here's a snapshot of the obstacles the last ten years have thrown us.
- 2007: Longmire to Mowich Lake.
Constant heavy rain. We bailed after 5 days.
- 2008: Mowich Lake to Longmire.
We completed the journey begun the year before.
- 2009: Mowich Lake to Mowich Lake.
I completed the entire trail with our oldest son; the rest of the family could only join for a section.
- 2010: Longmire to Cowlitz Divide.
Unseasonably deep snow at Indian Bar. We bailed and reentered at Mowich Lake, finishing at Longmire.
- 2011: Eagles Roost 2 nights, Summerland 2 nights.
This was a record snow year, and most of the trail at all elevations was still under several feet of snow at the time of our reservation in early July, so we didn't attempt more than this.
- 2012: Box Canyon to Emerald Ridge back to Longmire then back in at Carbon River to Box Canyon
This was another big snow year, so we did sections of the trail as best we could.
- 2013: Frying Pan to Frying Pan.
My husband, two sons, nephew and I completed the entire trail. Our daughter could not take time away from her collegiate gymnastics training.
- 2014: Frying Pan to Frying Pan.
I hiked the entire trail and was joined by others for sections. Our oldest son had moved to Tennessee to start his career.
- 2015: Mowich Lake to Mowich Lake.
Despite this being a record drought year, rain and snow forced us to skip the section between Longmire and Summerland.
- 2016: Mowich Lake to Mowich Lake.
We finally completed the entire trail together!
Valuing a changing landscape
When I reflect on our ten years on the Wonderland Trail three strong feelings emerge. First, I feel a deep sense of awe and reverence for the magic and magnificence of Mount Rainier National Park. This breath-taking sanctuary in our beautiful state offers a place for growth and renewal—for both individuals and families.
I also feel a deep sense of appreciation for our rapidly changing world. From the record snowpack of 2011 to the extreme heat and drought of 2015, signs of our changing climate are profound and clearly evident on Mount Rainier, and my family has seen much of it firsthand on these hikes.
Finally, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for the fabulous park rangers, park staff, and volunteers who manage, maintain, and protect the glorious trails in our spectacular public parks. It is because of their passion, dedication and effort that families like mine can even set—let alone accomplish—a goal such as completing the Wonderland Trail.