Total Miles: 34.4
The scattered rain drops landing on my face as I slept came as somewhat of a surprise. The thought of rain was a fairly distant one in the forecast, but nonetheless there they were, falling through not only the netting of my hammock but the nearly 100 feet of cedar fronds directly above me courtesy of the two 3-foot diameter trees I was hanging between. It was enough to roust me into action, spending a few minutes to pitch my tarp over the hammock, by the end of which it had all come to an end. Oh well, I guess I could’ve used the practice.
After yesterday’s mountain goat marathon, today was intended to be a much gentler day as the Wonderland Trail turned west along the southern side of the mountain where it was a gradual ascent followed by a gradual descent to Longmire and the promise of a cold drink and a snack at the National Park Inn. Distinct from the wild high alpine we’d spent much of yesterday traversing, today was a lowland stroll through brushy sections of would-be berry bushes along the course of a creek with a couple of waterfalls along the way for good measure.
Only an hour or two into the pleasant morning miles, I started feeling the telltale signs of an oncoming migraine but decided to wait it out for a bit in the hopes that it would sort itself out with enough electrolytes and snacks. Wishful thinking. Before long, it was clear that strategy wasn’t paying dividends and it was time to take my medication which comes with both an upside and a downside—though it’s almost sure to bring relief, it’s also almost nearly as sure to bring a temporary wave of fatigue that doesn’t exactly make for fun hiking. I call it the power outage, and true to form there I was an hour later reduced to a shuffle of perhaps a mile an hour pace. The hot sun was no friend either, but at the top of the ascent was a nice cool break spot in the shade among a few patches of snow that also had the benefit of the quintessential view of the mountain from the shore of Reflection Lakes. Not unlike the glassy lake before us, it was hard to ignore the parallel that trails like this are their own mirror of sorts, reflecting back the truest representation of those who tread upon it, stripped free of distraction and the trappings of modern life at home, a distillation of personality and character.
By the time we started the gradual descent towards Longmire, I slowly began to feel the life returning to me, spurred on by a few dips of my bandana into the cold water of Paradise Creek that flowed beside us. Rounding one bend, we were delivered from the trees and out onto one of the many open plains where braided rivers, opaque and colored the shade of chocolate milk from the amount of silt they carry, drain the glaciers high above that are their source.
Not two miles further, we arrived at Longmire, a popular visitor center in the southwest corner of the park that was also the start/finish point on my previous two thru-hikes of the Wonderland. Fond memories of enjoying a spot on the porch of the National Park Inn with both Footloose in 2006 and Emily in 2013 make it all the more fun to return here for a midday treat of soda and snacks from the nearby gift shop.
Pulling yourself away from such an oasis, particularly in the middle of the day, always feels like a field of gravity that is hard to escape but there were more miles to be done. Up and over Rampart Ridge, we were greeted for the first time by hordes of mosquitoes that fortunately lasted only for a brief stretch but one long enough for Emily to enlist her bandana into duty as a headscarf/mosquito net that also had the side benefit of being devastatingly attractive.
Fearing that the bugs might return en masse once we stepped back into the forest, we had dinner on a sandy patch next to Kautz Creek before heading a half mile up the trail and settling into our camp for the night.