Wonderland Trail, Day 6: The 15-Hour Hike

Wonderland Trail, Day 6: The 15-Hour Hike // 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. I’m publishing journal entries, pictures, & memories from our 12-day family adventure on the Wonderland Trail, one day at a time: Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5, and now… Day 6.}



Ethan, carrying Theo– such a hero when it came to crossings where bigger steps were required!

Wonderland Trail, Mt. Rainier
Friday, 8/19/2016: Summerland to Nickel Creek (11.3 miles)
Elevation changes: +600, -100, +100, -1500, +500, -50, +150, -800, +150, -2000


“Michael L. showed up late Thursday night– (8:45 pm?) — literally just after Doug had zipped up the tent & we’d kissed for the first time– haha! :) We got him settled in, had a crazy long night of sleep… full moon… icy cold winds… kids out in that shelter… our tent rainfly flapping around– but WOW what a place! The views were phenomenal!

Woke up at 5:30, packed up quick.

Friday, we trekked up to Panhandle Gap, did not see elk.

Ethan & I got in a huge yelling fight (ugh!) — {unnecessary details omitted}  :( So much for not yelling. :(

Michael L. was SUCH a blessing to us all… he first hiked w/ Doug & Moses & others… and Doug said Mosey has never hiked so fast! :)

Then pretty soon, Michael became Theo’s favorite hiking buddy– carrying him across streams, leading him across snowfields, & even giving him a piggyback the last 1/2-mile to Indian Bar (where we had a snack).

The descent from Indian Bar to Nickel Creek was long. But we arrived @ 8:15 pm– after sunset, but before dark. Hooray! Total success for our hardest day. 11.4 miles.”


Up and up and up some more, on our way to Panhandle Gap


Theo hated snowfields, but LOVED going up them with our friend Michael :)


Garbage bag sleds!


Our first peek over Panhandle Gap, looking south toward Mt. Adams. (Panhandle Gap is the highest elevation on the Wonderland Trail)


Bluebonnets are Texas’ state flower, and dear to our hearts (since Doug & I are both born-and-raised-Texans), so it felt especially thrilling to find huge swaths of them growing on the hillsides of Mt. Rainier.


MeiMei (8) & Theo (3.5) with Mt. Adams behind them



Two hard-working brothers– Ethan (14) & Baxter (12)


Silas (8) and Moses (6) making the trek uphill from Indian Bar. Tough… sunny… and beautiful.


  1. Some sketchy places in the trail on this day. A bouldered hill, with holes beneath… several, lengthy snowfields… paid lots of careful attention to getting Theo through these parts. We were all very thankful Michael was with us.
  2. Ethan and I fought hard… and worked through our fight. It’s a difficult memory, but difficult memories are part of real life. I don’t want to hold up the good of our trip without also reckoning with the hard things.
  3. Stopped for our first snack next to a small, snowy hill. The kids had fun sliding on their garbage bags (we’d brought garbage bags for each backpack as rain protection… but it never rained).
  4. As we went up our longest and steepest snow field, Moses (6) slipped/fell down a long way. And was fine. We all laughed hysterically when it was clear he was safe. Neither Doug or I was sure if he did it on purpose or not. :) It caused the rest of us, who hadn’t already gone before him, to make our way back down, and go up the snow/ice-covered hill a different, less-risky way.
  5. The views along the Cowlitz divide are breathtaking. The whole walk is along the top of that ridge, with other ridges/ranges echoing out as far as we could see. Mount Adams directly in front of us was a completely different shape from the way it appears in the area of our home, in SW Washington.
  6. It was special to see our kids serving each other. Getting each other’s water bottles filled up, carrying Theo on their backs, offering to run back from camp to carry Moses’ pack for him, etc.

Random thought: it was really nice of God to arrange for our hardest day on the itinerary to be day 6– once we’d built up stamina, strength, and skill in doing campsite-things like tearing down/setting up the tent, etc.  AND when our friend would be with us to help motivate (all) the kids to move FAST.

Even though it took us 15 hours to go 11.4 miles (long by some hikers’ standards), we got through that day way faster than we would have if it would have come in the first few days. 

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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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5 Responses

  1. Elaine says:

    I am enjoying your blog a lot. We live in Graham just outside of the West entrance to Rainier and are there all of the time. You have inspired me to get my kids around that trail sooner than later. My husband and I did it in 2014 and it was the time of our lives. The kids love to hike but get weary and it is really hard to stay patient with them and keep them engaged. So we usually go out to the trail every other time with them. I keep checking daily to see if there is another day. I am loving it.

    • Jess Connell says:

      Awesome to hear from you, Elaine!

      FYI: I’m posting this series on a M, Tu, Th, Fri schedule (not Wednesdays, cause that’s the day I release my podcast.) Saturdays are my practical how-we-did-it articles, so be sure to check those out (not sure how old your kids are, but there’ll be some coming up about preparing kids for hiking, and one especially geared toward hiking with 3-6 year olds).

      I’d definitely encourage you to get out there and do it! Our kids were just talking tonight about how they “definitely” want to do it again. I was surprised to hear Theo (the 3.5 year old) say that he wants to do it again, and then the others echoed… we’re thinking the summer of 2018, maybe?, as I’ll have a nursing infant next summer and our current little guy will only be 2 & 1/2 so we’d have to carry both of them… we’ll see.

      But it was encouraging to me that we’re only– what?– less than 2 months out from the trail, and they’re already warmed back up to it and definitely want to do it again. :) Made me happy. :)

      Thanks for stopping to add your comment.

  2. Elaine says:

    That is so wonderful to hear. My kids are 11, 7, and 3. So they are capable. It just needs to happen. They have hiked up to 8 miles on day hikes. We just need to get them out more and bring them on our shorter backpacking trips. Thanks for letting me know your schedule and keep up the hard and good work of the Lord!

  1. October 13, 2016

    […] adventure on the Wonderland Trail, one day at a time: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, and now… Day […]

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