Wonderland Trail, Day 3: Noticing the Good Things

Wonderland Trail, Day 3: Noticing the Good Things // jessconnell.com

{NOTE: For those readers who don’t know our family, we’re the Connells. Doug’s my husband and I’m Jess. At the time of this trip, we had 7 kids (Ethan-14, Baxter-12, MeiMei-10, Silas-8, Moses-6, Theo-3.5, Luke-18 months), and I was 6 months pregnant with our 8th child. Over the next 3 weeks, I’m publishing journal entries, pictures, & memories from our 12-day family adventure on the Wonderland Trail, one day at a time: Day 1Day 2, and now… Day 3.}


Wonderland Trail, Mt. Rainier
Tuesday, 8/16/2016: Mystic Lake to Sunrise (8.9 miles)
Elevation changes: -1100, +2000, -350, +450, -500


“3:39– 3rd break

Lesson: sometimes pregnant women & heavily-burdened people do well to travel @ the pace of a 3-year-old. (We can’t all be trail runners, all the time.)

Lesson of the morning: “from strength to strength” (feeling empty? it means you need to tank up.)


Whoa. Made it to camp at 6:35pm. Longest mileage so far (8.9 miles) and yet… our shortest day on the trail. I think we’re all becoming stronger, more adroit hikers. The kids seem to be gentler with one another, like they all see & respect one another’s burdens & hard work. <—- That’s encouraging to see.

Some lessons our kids are learning:

  • how to read a map
  • elevations
  • how to read a topographic map
  • set up a tent
  • how to ID safe water sources
  • signs of bears
  • unusual animals: pikas, marmots, mountain goats
  • self-entertainment
  • awe at God’s creation
  • independence
  • how to assess risks
  • that they can do more than they think or even feel like doing
  • how to serve & surprise one another

Thoughts on Doug:

  • He served us all, tirelessly, the first 2 days, when all I could do was fall into camp, fall into bed, fall asleep.
  • He has been patient & kind & tender & concerned for me.
  • He has been so steady. Like when we lived overseas, when I wanted to quit, he listened and stayed encouraging.
  • He cooked all the hot meals, washed all the dishes, stayed up later than all of us to do these things & hang up the bear pole bags.
  • I am so thankful for this amazing, steady, visionary man.
  • Even now, he’s out there, making dinner, while I sit in this cozy tent with the littles and write in this journal.
  • He’s even leading us in memorizing a passage from Proverbs 4
  • He carries the heaviest bag & willingly takes the hardest jobs.
  • I think we’ve only really kissed once since entering the trail but I love him. SO VERY MUCH.”




Theo having a nap at Granite Creek





the closest/clearest photo we got of a mountain goat, walking away from us









  1. We had asked Ranger Paul if we could change our itinerary (when he came by our site on night #2)He said he would try, but encouraged us to set out early. I’m so glad we didn’t lengthen it; this turned out to be a really doable day.
  2. This was, visually, my favorite day.  Skyscraper pass was exquisite. Looking north, we counted 17 layers of peaks and ridges, looking up toward the Olympics and Cascade ranges. Looking south, we had one of the best, closest, views of Mount Rainier that we would have for our entire trip. Berkeley Park made us gasp as we rounded the corner.
  3. We had lunch at Granite Creek. It was a little buggy (flies and mosquitos– they mostly left us alone… just annoying to have them buzzing around), but it was a BEAUTIFUL quiet little spot right on the creek. For over an hour, the kids played and played… we all soaked our weary feet and ankles. We laid out a garbage bag on a patch of moss and Theo took a little 45-minute/hour-long nap in the shade. We also met a sweet couple from Massachusetts who was blown away that our whole family was doing the hike, and they offered us the extra food from their cache since they were shortening their trip.
  4. “From strength to strength”– I referenced this in my journal, but it comes from Psalm 84, a psalm talking about the travelers going to Jerusalem. As I understand it, the meaning is that they would go through the deserty hills, from watering hole to watering hole, renewing their strength at each one. We definitely FELT that lapsing-regaining, lapsing-regaining, lapsing-regaining rhythm of strength throughout this day, and Ethan and I had a few talks about it. How MUCH you feel like you can’t go any farther, and then you rest a little, and eat a little, and get some fresh cold water, and suddenly you feel renewed, even if you felt utterly depleted 15 minutes prior.
  5. Berkeley Park was amazing. A massive lush and green basin, surrounded by ridges. A ground-fed spring where the water was as cold and fresh and delicious as any water we’ve ever tasted. We saw rock marmots running around us, and saw a family of 5 mountain goats. They were the only animal I was soberly concerned about, going into our time on the trail. (Incidentally, the only animal-caused death, ever, at Mt. Rainier Nat’l Park is from a mountain goat who didn’t want to yield the trail to a hiker and attacked him.) So I was glad when Doug pointed them out; they were a good-enough distance away that we had mistaken them for white boulders on a hill. We watched them eat for a while, then they laid down together, and then once we’d rounded the hill they were on, they had hooked around and were headed up into the snow together.
  6. I started mentally taking note of all the things we were seeing in real life that, previously, I’d only learned about in books. I was taught how to identify shale, lava rock, and probably read about glacial silt in school, but had never seen these geological formations in person.  Now we were walking across them, and talking about them as a family. What a better way to learn!
  7. This was the first day I started to feel hopeful that we really could DO this thing. We were all getting better and stronger. We were seeing animals and incredible views. Snow, grass, mountain brooks, shale cascading down a hillside, shady forests, and hiking up above the tree line. We were starting to smile again.
  8. The big kids found a hiking stick for Theo and left it for him, with his name and a big arrow drawn in the sand of the trail. Little kindnesses like this feel so much HUGER out on the trail.
  9. Getting to camp well before dark felt like SUCH an accomplishment. We were all grinning and happy as we leisurely explored, played, wrote in our journals, and took time to enjoy camp before needing to eat dinner and hunker down for bed.






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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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21 Responses

  1. Ellie says:

    Love reading your posts from the trail! So many wonderful pictures to look over in the future and remember the memories attached to them! :)

    • Jess Connell says:

      Thanks! Yes… we’re still sorting through pics, since Robert recovered more for us… it’s been great and surprising to find that there are parts we already would have forgotten if not for the pictures. Crazy how fast the memory starts to fade.

  2. Katie says:

    Our four kids are 5 and under- our hikes are limited to a couple miles at a time right now with no “big kids” to help. But I look forward to the day we can do more like this!!

    • Jess Connell says:

      Yes! Like so many things, it’s hard when it’s all, only, on mom and dad… but keep going! It eventually evens out & they start to be able to (literally and figuratively) carry their own weight. :)

  3. Karla says:

    Theo’s hiking stick….melt my heart ♡

  4. Matt says:

    Love the blog. I would be interested in what the hike was for the kids. How much did they carry? How much did you all carry? I am thinking of doing this next year. I have 6 kids. 3, 7, 7, 8, 11, 12 years old. We are consistently walking 6+ mile days on the weekends now and working on maintaining over the winter for backpacking next year. We still have not been out over night as a family yet but this is all the preparation. I would also be interested in what you packed, how you packed, and re supply points. I know a lot of this is coming in future blogs, but you have my mind thinking about it. Finally, did you feel this was the best time of the summer to do it? If you did it again what would you do differently. I will continue to read and take notes. Thanks for the amazing blog!

    • Jess Connell says:

      Awesome! With kids at those ages, you guys could definitely do it.

      I’ve got an article coming up Saturday (10/8) about staying organized on the trail… the next Saturday (10/15) it will be about gear & how we made it work (esp. weight-wise, as that’s the most challenging part) for our large family… the third one (10/22) will be about planning/caching food on the Wonderland Trail. Stay tuned!

      And yes, we loved this time of year. We initially planned to go in late July, which might have been fine this year, but many years, it’s still got a lot of snow cover, especially in the Panhandle/Ohanapecosh side, and the Spray Park corner. We actually got NO rain (which is very unusual!) and hit only 100 meters or so of snow patches at a time.

      Like you, we’d actually done no overnights anywhere (except for our backyard) before the trip, but it worked out fine for us. We watched a lot of videos (I’ll link to those in future articles) and learned all we could before the trip. It’s really doable and I’d love to hear about it if you guys end up doing it. Stay in touch. ~Jess

    • Jess Connell says:

      Matt– Some of your questions are answered in today’s post:

      Organization ON the Trail: Family Backpacking & Adventure Planning

    • Jess Connell says:

      For you and anyone else reading along–

      http://jessconnell.com/family-geared-wonderland-trail/ (details + packing list here)

  5. Teri says:

    Jess we backpacked the WT as a group of 8 ADULTS 7/26-8/5 this year! Loving your blog and reminiscing about the trail. I see similarities in that, around day#3, we got our rhythm, too. Beyond that-your family rocked it!! Look forward to reading more ?

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