Wonderland Trail 2 of 3: Mowich Lake to White River

Approaching the Carbon River
Backcountry travel

This is the second of a three-part series about doing a 3-day trail run/hike on the Wonderland Trail. It’s typically done as a week-long backpacking trip, or at the fast end of the spectrum, as a fast ultra run in under 1.5 days. To understand what is involved in a 3-day, here is a primer about day two:

Day 2 of 3 on the Wonderland Trail
Day 2 of 3 on the Wonderland Trail

Mowich Lake to White River

26 Miles, Elevation Gain/Loss +5,871’/-5,900’

Waking up at the Mowich Lake campground, the second morning of a 3-day Wonderland circumnavigation, one is immediately aware of how awesome one’s legs are to have transported them thus far and simultaneously humbled by how far they still have to go. The key at this point is a good breakfast and to start running. The body is wise and if it’s properly prepared the ache and soreness keenly felt in the first few miles of trail disappears into the the rhythm of movement and the beauty of the surroundings.

Mowich to the Carbon River Suspension Bridge via Spray Park or Wonderland Trail

From Mowich to the Carbon River there are two options.

The standard Wonderland Trail skirts the western edge of the lake to Ipsup Pass then down switchbacks toward the Carbon river. At about 4.5 miles there is a “T” into the Northern Loop trail. Stay right and follow this to the Carbon River suspension bridge.

Spray Park
Spray Park

For a more scenic circumnavigation, that is not the the “official” Wonderland trail one can opt for the the Spray Park variation. This trail departs from Mowich and climbs to a series of waterfalls, meadows, early season wildflowers, and big views of Mt. Rainier. Navigating through the park requires some attention as day hikers visiting Spray Park have created trails approaching the Carbon Glacier.

Carbon River to Mystic Lake

Here the first climb of the day begins in earnest. It’s a scenic 4 miles as the Carbon Glacier gets closer and increasingly impressive before the trail turns east and crossing the low point on Old Desolate Ridge. From a wide meadow and impressive mountain views the trail drips to a patrol cabin at Mystic Lake. This is the day 2 mid-way, mid-day swim and lunch stop.

Mystic Lake to Skyscraper Pass

From Mystic Lake the trail makes a short forested descent to the rocky toe of the Winthrop Glacier. The creek emerging from the ice and snow is cold and furious. This can be dangerous crossing, especially early season, caution and good judgment are essential. On the east side of the creek the last big climb of the day rises out of the trees, into sweeping meadows, and the highpoint of the day at Skyscraper Pass.

Approaching Sunrise
Approaching Sunrise

Skyscraper Pass to White River

Skyscraper Pass marks the divide between the West/East faces of the mountain. Berkeley Park and the surrounding views of the Burroughs, Mt, Fremont, and McNeeley Peak are markedly dryer and rock featured. Skyscraper is a popular day hike from the Sunrise parking lot and the 5 miles of trail between here and the White River campground are frequently filled with hikers, some defined alternate trails, and a few social trails. Keeping attentive to the signage and the “keep the mountain on your right” philosophy brings one to the last 2 miles of the day a sharp descent to the White River Campground.

The Wonderland Trail leaves its mark.
The Wonderland Trail leaves its mark.

White River Campground
The White River Campground has made its way onto some popular lists of “best campgrounds in America.” The 112 sites are available on a first-come first-served basis. Mid-week an afternoon arrival will usually result in a site, but during the weekends and high season traffic arriving as early as possible is essential. Those willing to open their mouths and chat with folks who look like they might be packing up are generally the ones to get their name on available sites. Potable water, flushing toilets, and firewood for sale make this a pleasant stay on the journey.

Day 2 recovery at White River Campground
Day 2 recovery at White River Campground

Read more:
Part one: Longmire to Mowich Lake
Part three: White River to Longmire

Sponsored by:
Aspire Adventure Running organizes single and multi-day running adventures in wilderness terrain across Cascadia. They provide logistical and emergency support paired with delicious meals and community for a unique and memorable backcountry running experience. In partnership with Mt. Rainier National Park they organize supported runs on the Wonderland trail. Check out their website for 2019 dates!

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