Words by Christy Mahon | Photos by Ted Mahon
As we were organizing our running packs for the day, Abram unfolded a map and laid it out on the table. “It’s about 28 miles and 9,000 feet of climbing,” he said. “It’s actually the short day of the loop.”
That got a chuckle out of us. We were about to start our second day of a three-day trail running adventure circumnavigating Mount Rainier on the 93-mile Wonderland Trail.
Considering it would take us about nine hours to complete this section, we thought it seemed anything but short. But if your goal is to tackle this trail in three days, even the shortest leg of the trip is going to be pretty long.
There are certain adventures in life that grab your attention and don’t let go. For me, running the Wonderland Trail was one of those adventures.
After years spent toeing the line at dozens of trail running ultra races, including five 100 milers, I’ve recently found myself yearning for something a little different. Something without the structure of a race, but one that would still push my body and mind, and still include the long distances that I love. Something that offered the restorative and healing effects of being in the wild and the mountains, and help me escape from the everyday stresses of work and life.
Mount Rainier has always been a special mountain for me. I’ve been fortunate to have climbed and skied it several times through the years. When I first heard of trail running the Wonderland Trail, it was one of those adventures that I just had to add to my list.
Built in 1913, the Wonderland Trail offers 22,000 vertical feet of cruisy trail running around one of our country’s prominent national park treasures. The nearly 100-mile trail lives up to its name with majestic landmarks colorfully identified as Devil’s Dream, Emerald Ridge, Golden Lakes and Summerland. The vast alpine terrain is filled with bears and blueberries and high alpine lakes just off the trail that beg for a quick dip as you go.
The idea of breaking up a beautiful long course over multiple days seemed so appealing. But running for several consecutive days around a mountain as big as Mount Rainier presented some logistical challenges.
Which is where Abram came in. With the mission of helping runners “reach their own personal aspirations,” Abram Dickerson and Aspire Adventure Running organize trail running adventures through the Northwest, from the Cascades to Northern California. From single-day adventures to multiday efforts such as the Wonderland and Lost Coast trails, Abram and his team assist with meals, camping, transportation and other logistics.
So with Aspire’s support we set out on this new adventure. For three days we spent nearly every daylight hour running up and down through countless glacial drainages. We ran through lush green tunnels in the lower “forest-bathing” zones, across huge glacial creek beds, and over high ridge crests and moraines with expansive views of one of the largest mountains in the country.
Heading into the adventure, I wasn’t sure how my body would react to repeated days of 28-34 miles or how this new way of traveling would go, but like in life, with a little preparation anything becomes possible.
As I closed the loop around Mount Rainier on day three, I felt as if I had opened a new door to a different type of adventure. I had realized a new goal: to experience and challenge myself on the world’s most legendary trails and traverses, not against others in a race setting, but rather just for myself.
It was a good reminder that when you don’t know what comes next, just keep moving forward and often the adventure will find you. Taking that first step can be a leap of faith, but once you do and you start down that new path you might be surprised where it takes you.
*If you’re interested in running the Wonderland Trail, or any number of other classic routes in the Pacific Northwest and you could use some support, check out aspireadventurerunning.com