A Path with Heart: A walk for the Wounded, part 3

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112975150612466.jpg’, ‘Photo by Tom Baushke’, ‘Reflection Lake: This beautiful southern view of Mount Rainier is at 4,867 ft. The Wonderland Trail parallels Stevens Canyon Road near Paradise Visitor’s Center for nearly 4 miles. In the time I ate lunch, I fielded 1,000 questions from constant tour bus riders stopping to take a picture.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112975151412466.jpg’, ‘Photo by Tom Baushke’, ‘Seattle Park (6,400 ft.) can be the most challenging and beautiful section of the Wonderland Trail. The rock pile (lower left), called a cairn, marks a general route between 1,500-foot cliffs to the left and Flett Glacier (upper right toward center). It took me 4 hours to cross these snowfields as cairns were buried under a foot of new snow. Mine were the only footprints until I encountered fresh bear tracks.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112975155311325.jpg’, ‘Photo by las hiker’, ‘Spray Park (5,400-6,400 ft.) is a magnificent hike 5 miles from Mowich Lake parking lot at the northwest corner of Mt. Rainier National Park. Day hikers and even rangers lost the trail under a foot of new snow. The last hiker I encountered took this picture, and I continued on through Seattle Park alone.’);

I made it all the way around Mount Rainier! One-hundred miles in nine days! Support for the walk has been amazing. KOMO 4-TV out of Seattle interviewed me over the phone about the walk and the Wounded Warrior Project. I even gained pledges from other hikers I met while walking the Wonderland Trail. Some pledgers were even lawyers, if you can believe it!

The wildlife

My first night’s camp, two elk came storming through the woods, nearly crushing my tent with me in it. I opened my eyes and saw this huge shadow in the moonlight move over my tent. A hind leg brushed the tent roof, and then I heard the two elk splash in the nearby creek, and then all was quiet. I thought they were going to fight over a female, right on top of my chest! I didn’t sleep for a while after that.

Owls hooted to each other at night. Hawks prowled the skies over meadows during the day. Blue jays tried swooping lunch right out of my hands. Marmots whistled their alarms as I passed. Deer looked at me with mild interest. Coyotes yipped across meadows. The closest I got to bears was fresh paw prints in the snow and a hint of their “barnyard” odor.

Weather or not

I lucked out and found shelter the only night I needed it. After walking in rain and sleet all day, thunder and lightning kept me awake at the North Mowich River shelter. A dry refuge in a wet wonderland—or so I thought. The roof had a few wandering leaks, so I had to keep moving my sleeping bag around during the night. Mice sniffled in my ear. I couldn’t tell if thunder was rockslides or mudflows, so I tossed and turned until dawn.

Late the next morning on Sept. 10, the trail faded away under new snow. There were many day hikers that came from the Mowich Lake parking lot, in the northwest corner of the Mount Rainier National Park. Their tracks all ended in a 10-foot diameter circle as they searched for the trail. As I passed them all returning to their cars, I headed uphill to see if I could find the route across the permanent snowfields. Suddenly, the clouds and fog lifted, and the sun came out allowing me to see the shadow of the trail in the snow ahead.

I crossed Spray Park and Seattle Park at 6,400 feet under a foot of new snow—in sandals. Mine were the only footprints. As I descended the other side into Cataract Valley, clouds and fog closed in again behind me. That day’s crossing was for me alone! I was truly walking in a winter wonderland.

Amidst bad weather came sun and deep blue sky! Mount Rainier is a spectacularly beautiful mountain, especially after a fresh coat of snow. Between snowfields and thick forest, I crossed Alpine meadows. Scarlet patches of brush were huckleberry bushes bright with fall colors. Some days I didn’t need to eat lunch as I snacked on sweet ripe berries all day long!

I lost 10 pounds by repeatedly climbing and descending more than a mile in a day. Between the climbing and chilly temperatures, I probably needed to consume 6,000 calories a day. My pack weight would double if I actually tried to carry enough food to maintain my weight.

Most nights, I was asleep in my 20-degree sleeping bag long before dusk. Unless a shelter was available, I always slept in my tent—in case weather blew in during the night. My coldest morning was 28 degrees at Sunrise Walk-in Camp at 6,400 feet.

Timing is everything

Somehow I left my watch back at my car; strangely though I never asked anyone for the time during this nine-day walk. Normally I am very obsessive about keeping track of my progress during the day. But this trip, I awoke at first light, packed up and walked. Evenings, soon after I cooked dehydrated pasta or rice for dinner, the sun set behind Mount Rainier or surrounding mountains so I went to sleep. I loved the simplicity of rising and retiring to the sun every day.

Next week: What have I learned?

If you wish to pledge

Note for the Wounded Warrior Project: More than 2,100 Americans have died in the “War on Terror,” and more than 7,400 have been seriously wounded. I’m walking The Wonderland Trail to support the brave wounded men and women returning from war in Iraq.

If you wish to sponsor my walk, I ask for some amount per mile, e.g., 50 cents per mile (times 100 miles) will amount to a $50 donation, and so on. Please make your checks payable to The Wounded Warrior Project. I’ll send an update after I finish to tell you how it went and, as always, tell you what I’ve learned along the way. After all, I’m seeking donations for 100 miles walked.

If you’d like to make a pledge, please sign up on a sponsor sheet or just drop your donation off at or mail to The Rock River Times, 128 N. Church St., Rockford, IL 61101. Or, send your check directly to The Wounded Warrior Project Headquarters, 324 Washington Ave., Suite 1, Roanoke, VA 24016-4312. You can even donate online at www.woundedwarriorproject.org. Donations are tax-deductible. The WWP’s federal ID number is 20-2370934.

From the Oct. 19-25, 2005, issue

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