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The Wonderland Trail: Mission Accomplished

Posted by Anna Roth at Sep 29, 2016 04:20 PM |

After 10 years, a family of five achieves their goal of completing Mount Rainier’s Wonderland Trail together.

In the Sept. 2008 issue of Washington Trails magazine, Colleen Ponto wrote of her family's first attempt to complete the Wonderland Trail together. Five days of heavy rain foiled their attempts, but for the next ten years, they'd try and try again to circumnavigate the mountain as a family. In 2016, they finally did it.

By Colleen Ponto

Completing the Wonderland Trail as a family was a goal my husband and I set in 1997 when our youngest of three children was born. We wanted to complete the 93-mile hike in 2007, when our children were strong enough to help carry all the gear we would need.

Pontos on various vacations Colleen Ponto
The Ponto family has explored the Wonderland Trail for the last ten years, seeking to complete it in its entirety, but making many memories along the way. Photos courtesy Colleen Ponto.

When I wrote my article for WTA's magazine in 2008, I described our journey and how after five days of soaking rain we were rescued by a friend. I concluded by saying, “Even though we were proud of what we had done and learned a lot, I felt as though our mission was not accomplished.”

I am ecstatic to now write that on August 7 of this year, with tears of joy filling our eyes as we reached Mowich Lake, we accomplished our mission of completing the entire Wonderland Trail as a family in one hike, a goal I never let go of.

Ponto Kids 2016 Colleen Ponto
The Ponto children from the 2016 hike around the Wonderland. Photo courtesy Colleen Ponto.

Determination pays off

For ten years, in what became of an annual ritual, we plotted our trip, faxed our wilderness permit request just after midnight on March 14 , purchased new gear as our children grew, revised our packing list as we learned new tricks and techniques, and dropped off our caches around the mountain before beginning our annual hike.

We've hiked the Wonderland every year since that first attempt in 2007. But for reasons beyond our control (weather or injury, college or jobs) we were unable to complete the trail together until this year. Here's a snapshot of the obstacles the last ten years have thrown us.

Pontos at end of hike Colleen Ponto
The Ponto family at the end of their 2008 trip on the Wonderland. They were rained out, but not discouraged. Photo courtesy Colleen Ponto.
  • 2007: Longmire to Mowich Lake.
    Constant heavy rain. We bailed after 5 days.
  • 2008: Mowich Lake to Longmire.
    We completed the journey begun the year before.
  • 2009: Mowich Lake to Mowich Lake.
    I completed the entire trail with our oldest son; the rest of the family could only join for a section.
  • 2010: Longmire to Cowlitz Divide.
    Unseasonably deep snow at Indian Bar. We bailed and reentered at Mowich Lake, finishing at Longmire.
  • 2011: Eagles Roost 2 nights, Summerland 2 nights.
    This was a record snow year, and most of the trail at all elevations was still under several feet of snow at the time of our reservation in early July, so we didn't attempt more than this.
  • 2012: Box Canyon to Emerald Ridge back to Longmire then back in at Carbon River to Box Canyon
    This was another big snow year, so we did sections of the trail as best we could.
  • 2013: Frying Pan to Frying Pan.
    My husband, two sons, nephew and I completed the entire trail. Our daughter could not take time away from her collegiate gymnastics training.
  • 2014: Frying Pan to Frying Pan.
    I hiked the entire trail and was joined by others for sections. Our oldest son had moved to Tennessee to start his career.
  • 2015: Mowich Lake to Mowich Lake.
    Despite this being a record drought year, rain and snow forced us to skip the section between Longmire and Summerland.
  • 2016: Mowich Lake to Mowich Lake.
    We finally completed the entire trail together!

Ponto family 2016 trip Colleen Ponto
The happy Ponto family, completing a goal 10 years in the making. Photo by Colleen Ponto.

Valuing a changing landscape

When I reflect on our ten years on the Wonderland Trail three strong feelings emerge. First, I feel a deep sense of awe and reverence for the magic and magnificence of Mount Rainier National Park. This breath-taking sanctuary in our beautiful state offers a place for growth and renewal—for both individuals and families.

I also feel a deep sense of appreciation for our rapidly changing world. From the record snowpack of 2011 to the extreme heat and drought of 2015, signs of our changing climate are profound and clearly evident on Mount Rainier, and my family has seen much of it firsthand on these hikes.

Carbon Glacier comparison colleen ponto
The Carbon Glacier, photographed in 2008, compared to the Carbon Glacier in 2016. The locations of the photographer are slightly different, but the change in the glacier is evident. Photos courtesy Colleen Ponto.

Finally, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for the fabulous park rangers, park staff, and volunteers who manage, maintain, and protect the glorious trails in our spectacular public parks. It is because of their passion, dedication and effort that families like mine can even set—let alone accomplish—a goal such as completing the Wonderland Trail.



Congratulations and thank you for sharing your story!

Posted by:

hikingwithlittledogs on Oct 09, 2016 11:07 AM


Such a beautiful and touching story. Congratulations!

Posted by:

Mr. Blue Sky on Oct 10, 2016 03:49 PM


Thanks for sharing your inspiring story. Congratulations!

Posted by:

Lenore on Oct 10, 2016 07:16 PM

Posted by:

Porters Mom on May 15, 2017 05:36 PM