10 Days Backpacking The Wonderland Trail by Troy Buglio

Troy Buglio is a 2023 FarOut Scout

Day One:

Today is permit day. I’ve had immense anxiety leading up to today, knowing I had holes in my permit that could be challenging to fill while having three other people relying on me. We got to the ranger station around 11:30 and somehow scored the perfect permit! I was amazed at how easy it was to upgrade our less-than-amazing permit with two unbearably long days and two nights with no campground to what I would consider an A+ wonderland permit.

 

Now it’s cache time. Shortly after we received the permit, I got a message from a coach that they have tested positive with COVID after I just spent the week with them. Later, I learned that multiple athletes also came down with symptoms and tested positive for COVID. Of course, we continued around the park towards White River campground, only to realize that the national park road was closed. We would have to backtrack the one-hour drive we had done, thinking we were heading towards our first food drop. Ultimately, this added 100 miles of driving as well as multiple hours to our trip.

A thru-hiker poses by a Wonderland Trail sign
Photo provided by Troy Buglio

After our first drop at Carbon River ranger station, we proceeded towards White River campground, stopping at a local pub near Crystal Mountain. We enjoyed some bar food and beer before our week of walking and eating ramen and dehydrated meals. We are currently in the car driving back towards Ashford to find some dispersed camping near the park entrance.

 

Tomorrow we head out to Longmire to begin our hike, and I notice myself getting sicker as the day goes on. I’m hoping I just have allergies, but I’m worried I may be getting sick. Not only am I worried that feeling ill while hiking will be an unenjoyable experience, but I’m concerned I will get my fellow hikers and friends sick. I’m determined to complete this hike and take advantage of this amazing permit we have obtained. I can’t help but think back to the first time I hiked the Wonderland Trail and how much I mentally and physically need this break from the mundane day-to-day life I have been living since my last adventure.

 

Learn more about FarOut’s Wonderland Trail guide

Day Two:

It’s 5:52 AM, and I was woken up by a light mist. Obviously, I’m the only one with no rain fly, and I slept like crap. I don’t know why I convinced myself I wanted to do this hike sleeping on a foam pad. Well, I do; I was in my head about weight, and I wanted a pad to sit on while hiking 😅. But still, I should have brought my inflatable pad since I knew I was car camping the first night after dropping off the caches. Today will be a short day; we will hike from Longmire to Devils Dream. Grace put 5.8 miles on the spreadsheet. I think we are going to spend most of the day chilling in Ashford.

 

I’m still feeling a tad under the weather, but I woke up feeling better than I expected, which is great considering I was not looking forward to doing this hike while sick. I don’t think I’m in the clear yet, but my anxiety around the idea has settled big time.

 

We started hiking at Longmire at 4:22 PM. Somehow, I had blocked out of my mind what this section of the trail would be like. It’s definitely not my favorite, and memories of the pain from two years ago set in.

 

Nicholas and I approached a dried-up river on our left where Nicholas asked, “why is there no water in that river?” Shortly after, Nicholas started screaming for what I thought was no reason 😅, and in no time, I was violently attacked by a swarm of mystery bugs. I now know why Nicholas was screaming, unfortunately…

 

I have never experienced anything like this; it was like a horsefly multiplied by 20, honestly worse. I can’t even explain it. I feel like I must have been bitten or stung 15 times in the course of 10 seconds. I started screaming, “RUNNN!!!!” as we ran across the dried-up river. After crossing the dried-up riverbed, we waited to warn the two hikers who we had recently exchanged pleasantries with as we passed by.

 

My legs are still stinging hours later. Part of me finds this humorous because I had been so concerned about what the mosquitoes would be like at Devils Dream from what I remember from two years ago and what I’ve read on FarOut from this season. The mosquitoes are no joke.

 

I’m lying in my tent at 9:15 PM, and honestly, the mosquitoes were not great. I’ve been bitten countless times, but I can’t even focus on them because the bites or stings from the mystery bug on my legs are unbearably painful.

 

As I sit here laying on my “FOAM PAD,” I ask myself what stupid insane bug bit me hours ago, and why is it still soooo painful? The only way I can describe this feeling might be something like a bee sting? It feels like someone is pushing a cactus needle into my leg with a gigantic red swollen surrounded area.

two hikers smile in front of a mt. rainier sign on the wonderland trail
Photo provided by Troy Buglio
a trip itenirary for thru-hiking the wonderland trail
Photo provided by Troy Buglio

Day Three:

We woke up in the Devil’s Dream campsite. I’m looking forward to what today’s hike will entail, as I know we get to cross over the suspension bridge, and when we are at higher elevations, we will hopefully get to experience some of the most unique views of Rainier. The hike is just over 13 miles with what feels like never-ending ups and downs. I know it does not seem like much, but WOW did I struggle. I unfortunately came to the realization of how out of shape I am with the combination of likely having COVID. Every incline, I fell so far behind from the group I was hiking with. I’m sure I’m still moving quicker than others on the trail, but geez, I felt like I was dying every time I had to go up. The day consisted of a little more than 4K elevation gain with two fairly steep 2K sections of switchbacks. Not to mention, we hiked the entire day in a cloud, so we had no views of the mountain. Nicholas broke his brand new trekking poles on our final descent into camp. I feel awful because there is no way I would want to finish this hike with one pole (I’m not going to tell him that) 😅, and not only is this his first backpacking trip, it’s one of the first times he has ever hiked over 10 miles in a day, and we have quite a few on this itinerary.

 

The clouds dancing through the trees was its own experience, but every time I got a glimpse of Rainier, it’s like my body and brain refreshed, making what seemed impossible an easy task. This is true even when driving to work in the city. So not getting to see Rainier, especially when I know in my head what the views looked like at each viewpoint from my trip around the mountain, was extremely discouraging.

 

We got to camp at North Puyallup around 6 PM, where we had an early dinner. I had been looking forward to eating my chicken pesto pasta from Peak Refuel all day; this has to be my favorite dehydrated meal of all time. We all passed out while the sun was still up.

 

Day Four:

I woke up around 6:30 AM with coffee on my mind. This was the first time I was able to sleep through the night in three days. The mystery bug bites I got on the way to Devil’s Dream are still causing me an unusual amount of discomfort. They are now extremely itchy but also feel like a deep painful bruise. The couple I spoke to on the trail yesterday said they may have been ground hornets.

 

I’m currently sitting in my tent with water boiling, excited to down this cup of coffee. Everyone else is still asleep, while I take the time to enjoy the morning to myself.

 

Today will be a nice short day, just a long climb of about 2K elevation and 5 miles to Golden Lakes campsite. I am slightly concerned that Grace eluded to me that she was not feeling well last night, as I’m finally starting to feel a little better. Hopefully it’s nothing too bad, as we have one of our longest days tomorrow.

 

Today has been one of the best days when it comes to views yet. The mountain had finally come out!!! She will always provide. We got to camp around 11:45 and set up our tents before heading down to the lake to wash off our disgusting clothes and take a dip in the tiny lake. There really are not many better feelings than a backpacking shower, the feeling of having a clean body especially before a long day like tomorrow.

 

As the day goes on, I’m starting to learn that apparently Grace and “Stranger,” who we met at the ranger station, started to also come down with COVID symptoms. Of course, I would share my misery with my hiking partners 🙄. I feel horrible, but by that point, there is nothing we can change besides to carry on.

 

Luckily, me and Nicholas caught the first sunset of the trip from a viewpoint just outside our campsite. It’s about darn time that the sky cleared up and provided us with that mountain magic!!!!

A hiker smiling and doing a peace sign with his hand on the wonderland trail
Photo provided by Troy Buglio
a hiker sitting on the ground in some shade eating a snack on the wonderland trail
Photo provided by Troy Buglio

Day Five:

I woke up at 2:00 AM to Grace making noises; apparently, it was her dying in the tent because she was so sick… Yikes! I jumped up and screamed “stars!!!!!!” Obviously, I had to pull my camera out and attempt to take photos. The noise woke everyone else up; I clearly was not the hero of the camp the past night.

 

Wow, today was a long day! But for me, it was the best day I’ve had on the trail yet. It was the first time I felt like I could actually move. We woke up at 4:30 AM and left camp by 5:00 AM. I was pretty stoked that I crushed the first 10 miles in about 5 hours. I have not held a pace like that yet, not to mention with the annoying long climb up to Mowich. I literally ran up the hill, I don’t know why when I knew we were going to be hitting close to 17 miles, maybe more with some pack-less side missions.

 

We grabbed our food cache at the ranger station and raided the hiker box 🤤. I was so pumped to pick up my two liters of wine that I had left for the group. I’m still thinking of the refreshing pickle I had waiting for me. After hanging by the lake for a bit, Nicholas was packing up his pack (he seems to always be the last one). It is his first backpacking trip, and obviously the Wonderland Trail packs its challenges.

 

As we start to descend back towards the Spray Park trail, I remember the agony I felt on this challenging detour the last time I opted for this route. Just at the time Nicholas verbalized that his knee was experiencing a pretty intense pain, I turned around to see him limping. I quickly responded, “Well, if you need to tap out, this is the spot to do it,” knowing that he would have a difficult push to the next best place to hop off trail. He quickly dismissed me, as I would expect from him. He is an extremely strong-willed individual, often to his own disadvantage. I trusted him and let him carry on. As we pushed through some of the most challenging terrain and really the best views we have had yet on this trip, Nicholas limped his way through the trail. Little did we know the next 5 miles would take longer than the first ten 😳. We arrived at camp around 7 PM… honestly may have been later; I don’t remember. Quickly pounded down one of the liters of wine!!! Who doesn’t love a little Rosé after a long day of hiking.

 

At our campsite, we apparently have a resident mouse. I clearly don’t care at this point since I’m so exhausted, and my shoulders are ruined from carrying 2 liters of wine plus my overflowing food bag.

 

The little guy showed up and was honestly extremely adorable. But also, I don’t want him anywhere near my food or gear.

 

I’m lying in my sleeping bag now, really for the first time internalizing the pain I currently am in that I ignored while staying back on the trail to make sure Nicholas did not die before camp. I’m also wondering if it was the best idea to hike the most physically and technically challenging day in my Bedrocks.. it likely was, but my ankles are fairly swollen.

 

Day Six:

Ouch, I don’t want to get out of bed, but I’m pumped for Mystic Lake. Hopefully, Nicholas can walk.

 

Today was something, as expected. Tensions were high, as we are all starting to reach our breaking points. I could tell before leaving camp that it was going to be a long day. I also recalled this section of the trail to be fairly challenging… as it was. While hiking, me and Nicholas got into a few screaming fights. This happens from time to time when we are in the city, and I figured it would happen on this trip, since longer backpacking trips often push people to an emotional and physical limit. I do think most of his struggle is coming from his injured knee, but the emotionally taxing toll of being in pain and having to push is extremely challenging, especially when thrown into the wild and not having the comforts a home may provide. I decided to take his food bag, tent poles, and giant phone charger to lighten his pack.

 

Grace and the Stranger have been sick all day; Grace seems horrible. This trip really is proving to be quite the challenge with three of the four hikers being sick at various points of the trail and one hurting their knee, making them nearly unable to walk.

 

I did have an emotional moment when I approached the meadow with Mount Rainier towering in the distance. Ultimately, she is one of the only things that keeps me positive when I’m having a hard day, even if she pops out behind the clouds on my way to work. So being this close and getting to experience her from so many different perspectives really fills me with joy and makes me feel whole.

 

Tensions were extremely high rolling into camp at Mystic Lake, but ultimately it’s a shower, swim, and laundry day. So as soon as we got to the lake and started swimming, everyone started to lighten up. But there was one big problem… THE DARN BUGS were relentless. Flies were swarming all of us and biting ants coming for our toes, really, their persistent existence would drive anyone crazy!

Day Seven:

Today, we are hiking with a mission: we get to go to the Sunrise Visitor Center to buy beer and get some WiFi! I have honestly not been craving the internet as much as I normally do on a hike, likely because most of the trip up to this point has been about surviving the trail and throwing my body up and down never-ending switchbacks.

 

We had a short climb today to the highest point on the trail, where Nick and I met up with Grace and the stranger. From there, we hiked together in the stunningly exposed landscape to the Sunrise campsite.

 

After setting up camp, we walked 1.5 miles to the visitor center, and it was finally beer time!!!! I may or may not have had one too many. It was a good time and a much-needed break.

A view of a lake with Mount Rainier in the background
Photo provided by Troy Buglio

Day Eight:

The hike up to Summerland campsite, I woke up not feeling too great as I slept on a pretty uneven hill with my foam pad. I got up, made some coffee, and broke down my camp. For the first time on this trip, Nicholas was on top of it and managed to pack up in a reasonable time.

 

We hiked down to the White River campsite to pick up our final cache and raid the hiker box. We filled up on some snacks and rehydrated before the nice long flat section of trail through the woods. Right before we started the climb, we broke off, and I finally got some alone hiking time to reflect. I realized I have not been doing the things I love about backpacking, such as practicing photography and enjoying the views. When everyone took off up the hill, I found a nice spot on the side of the trail to enjoy a river flowing by.

 

Once we got to camp, we took a minute to rest before heading up the trail to take stream baths and fill our water. When we were sitting on the side of the trail, a woman named Mary walked up and asked us how long we had been hiking and offered us some smoked salmon. I almost died of excitement!!!!! I screamed, “You have smoked salmon!” and she lit up and said she had never seen anyone get so excited about salmon before. I tend to be quite expressive when I’m excited, so I’m sure she will remember the joy she gave me.

 

Day Nine:

Today was absolutely stunning, everything from the Panhandle Gap all the way through the meadows after passing through the Indian Bar campsite. But the beauty came with one pitfall… it’s literally hotter than hell out today, and most of the day is completely exposed, and we had no water.

 

We should have been more prepared about the journey we would encounter after leaving Indian Bar, but Nicholas had spoken to the ranger and came back and told us we could get water in two miles. Apparently, he was not listening to the ranger because he was too focused on flirting with him, so he misunderstood what he had been told. But this is not on Nicholas, as all four of us have the FarOut app and could have easily known we should have carried more water.

 

Once we got to Nickel Creek, I laid in that freezing river to both wash my body off and cool down from what felt like hiking in hell. We still have 4 miles to camp, but I’m feeling much stronger and ready to push to the destination.

 

I’m currently sitting in Maple Creek, which looks completely washed out and unrecognizable from the last time I completed the Wonderland Trail. But the cool water feels amazing on my feet while I eat my dehydrated meal.

 

Day Ten:

I’m coming back and filling this journal almost two months later since I got off the trail, my creativity died. But today is the day we finish, really all I remember was waking up early and practically running those last few miles back to Longmire. All I could think about was the beer and grilled chicken sandwich I was going to demolish in Ashford. Anyway, until next time…

Related Trail Guide

Mount Rainier is an imposing backdrop to a lush green meadow and stand of evergreens on the Wonderland Trail.

The Wonderland Trail is an adventure of about 90 miles (145 km), encircling Washington State’s Mt. Rainier. The loop is a challenging hike with lots of elevation change, taking travelers from high alpine peaks, to glaciers and glacial valleys, to sub-alpine meadows, to temperate rainforests, to cascading rivers, affording spectacular views of Mt. Rainier all the while. Situated in Mount Rainier National Park, the trail was built in the early 1910s and was designated a National Recreation Trail in the 1980s. As the trail circumnavigates the mountain, hikers will be treated to astonishing views of the different sides of Mt. Rainier, colorful wildflowers, and much more. The trail is ideal for thru-hikers, backpackers, and section-hikers.