“We were promptly swallowed up in the surging crowds of ordinary mortals who know not the mountains, the glaciers, the big forests, the roaring cataracts, the thrilling climb, the soul-expanding view, and who never lived for three glorious weeks above the clouds.” – Excerpt from The Mountaineer, volume 8, December 1915.
Most days, Mount Rainier is felt more than seen, her figure shrouded in mist. Thousands each year brave unpredictable northwest weather to ascend this, the most heavily glaciated peak in the contiguous United States. Thousands more set out to hike the famed Wonderland trail. But for every climb and every trail, there are those souls who took great risks to be the first.
Cleared piece by piece by the park’s first rangers, and dotted with patrol cabins, a 130 mile trail was cut around the entire circumference of Mount Rainier. For rangers, this sweeping path was key to fire defense, and the rustic shelters along its length were stocked with both fire-fighting equipment and provisions. These same park rangers were among the very few who braved the trail’s farthest reaches in the dead of winter, when reaching a well-stocked cabin would be the difference between salvation and tragedy. When the trail was finally completed, it was a newly formed outdoors group, still operating today, who would be the first to attempt hiking it in its entirety.
These same park rangers were among the very few who braved the trail’s farthest reaches in the dead of winter, when reaching a well-stocked cabin would be the difference between salvation and tragedy.
Seattle’s own Mountaineers, adventurous men and women, arrived at the foot of Mount Rainier on a clear midsummer day in 1915, with “hobbed” boots and heavy bags calked against the damp. No small club, this was a boisterous crowd of a hundred dedicated hikers, climbers, and nature photographers, all gathered to christen what promised to be an exceptional new trail. Their excitement was palpable as they set out. Over three weeks, the group dedicated themselves to exploring the entire circumference of the “Monarch of the Sound.”
In the years that followed, the trail was made both shorter and higher, edited to prioritize the awe-inspiring vistas discovered by early adventurers. In 1920 it was finally named the Wonderland Trail, in praise of its breathtaking beauty and singular views.
Today, at 93 strenuous miles, it’s still one of the most popular attractions on the mountain. Thousands set foot on the Wonderland Trail each year, but only the truly dedicated will see it all.
We love good stories like this one. It’s just one of several that are inspired by our coffee-loving region.