Wonderland Trail, Day 7: Should We Quit Early?

Wonderland Trail, Day 7: Should We Quit Early?

{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 5Day 6, and now… Day 7.}



Wonderland Trail, Mt. Rainier
Saturday, 8/19/2016: Nickel Creek to Paradise (10.4?/9.9? miles)
Elevation changes: -500, +2000, -1000


“Today we’ll pass some portions of road… a trash can to empty our trash (diapers!)… and Maple Creek. I’m hoping we can at least snack there– it looks beautiful and shallow. We’ll also pass Reflection Lakes. Something like a 9-11 mile day… I’m not sure cause the maps aren’t super clear. Hopefully another good, if long, day. Super glad Michael L. is with us for these long days. He’ll be here thru tomorrow.

Turned out to be a 9.9 mile day. Hard. tiring. With a wonderful break @ Maple Creek and an amazing dip in a pool at Martha Falls. Soooo refreshing. Still, I kept feeling like “maybe we should quit.” Cut out at Longmire, etc.

Talked to Doug about it 2x– especially hard for me cause I am pregnant… so I think my blood sugar tanks fast than everyone else & I go from feeling fine to feeling on edge and completely hopeless. We talked to the kids about it, between Louise Lake & Reflection Lakes, and said for them to think about which option they’d like, and we’d discuss again at dinner.

Lo and behold, it was Ethan who 1st talked me into staying– “we’ve worked so hard, planned so much, given up writing retreat & debate camp… we only have 1 more hard day, then 3 easy ones– let’s not quit now.” Then MeiMei said whatever we do, we should do as a family. Then Moses said he loves rubbing my feet and would do it every night for the rest of the trip. WOW!! These kids. Theo said he wanted to go home, but then once we made it to camp, he said he wanted to do the biggest bridge and get to play at more lakes and rivers.

So…. we decided, together, over mac & cheese & tuna, to keep going and finish strong. They also like these benefits:

  • eat lots of candy :)
  • get Wonderland Trail patches on their packs
  • go out for celebration dinner after
  • do the “Indiana Jones” bridge
  • get to say we’ve done the whole Wonderland Trail.

I’m amazed. I think they’ve all come to embrace it in their own ways. The big boys are hoping for a Northern Loop trip with Doug next year… it’s so neat to see them take on this vision and journey as their own.

My feet hurt. — moleskin & footrubs

I’ll have snacks with me so I don’t tank-out so fast.

but WOW. We’re really gonna do this thing.

What we need to do at Longmire:

  • pick up our food cache
  • sort it — snacks, B, L, D, consumables
  • sort into bags– D: snacks, E: dinner+cookpot, B: lunches, S: breakfasts, Mo: consumables
  • Any extra food to giveaway box
  • Charge batteries
  • Buy more tylenol/excedrin
  • Ditch all trash
  • Not stay too long

{Note added after–} We did all but the last.” 


(my spot was the tousled spot, there to the left, between Luke & Theo)



(Doug’s spot, between MeiMei & Ethan)





whittling blueberry skewers with her pocket knife



getting ready to soak tired feet


following pink trail markers Rangers had tied up, to get through a part where the trail had been washed out


just before we dipped in the pool downstream from Martha Falls!




A lady we met at Martha Falls, Sun, kindly offered us water bottles (replacing the ones we’d lost!). At 68 years old, she was out doing a day hike by herself. We visited some, on the mile-or-so hike up to the road, and she shared about the importance of staying active in your older years, and not giving in to the pull of the couch/TV combo. Thanks, Sun!!





A rock marmot, unfazed by our family as we walked past


  1. Taking nearly 2 hours at Martha Falls made me feel human. The kids got to be silly; Luke got to get out and walk around. We dunked our bodies in a pool; the boys worked on building a dam to raise the water level.
  2. We were literally climbing through trees and brambles for about a mile of the trail near Maple Creek. The trail had washed out, and thankfully, Park Rangers had tied up pink markers for hikers to follow through the brush. It was tricky for all of us, but particularly tricky for me to remember that Luke’s face was back behind me and to crawl/lean down through places and leave enough room for him to get through un-scraped, too!
  3. Reading that list made me remember: by about day 6, Doug and I were using Excedrin for our joints. Doing the Wonderland Trail is no joke. The uphills are hard on the lungs and body in general… but the downhills were often torturous for my knees, ankles, and joints. Even with trekking poles helping alleviate and distribute the weight (which are AWESOME and we HIGHLY recommend them! These are the ones the kids & I used.), from days 6-12, I took one Excedrin at the start of the day, and another in early afternoon. For me, it took the edge off the joint aches.
  4. The Reflection Lakes area was pretty, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I anticipated. It was *weird* to suddenly be around noisy, gawking crowds (with trash on the ground!), after so much solitude, natural beauty, and quiet.
  5. Looking back, we’re all so glad we didn’t quit. But it seemed like a real, and worth-considering, possibility to me at the time. I do think the blood sugar thing was a big factor in my thinking– when my energy levels dropped, I felt fatalistic and could only see the worst… (“I yelled at Ethan… Theo is so little… are the kids hating it?… we aren’t getting to stop and play enough…”).
  6. The hard moments were HARD. But the good moments were GREAT. Glacier water is so refreshing– for drinking and playing and soaking tired ankles. The mushrooms are so varied and colorful– cartoonish, even! The mountain is startling from every angle. The times of singing, talking about life, telling stories, and pointing out what we were seeing to one another were precious and rich. Seeing our kids step up and take on new responsibilities (on their own, because they wanted to!) was encouraging.

Stopping for our Snickers snack at Reflection Lakes






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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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18 Responses

  1. Tracy Grossmann says:

    This post so warms my heart! The fight to do it together? The best part about family! Love love the hard choices and the perseverance to push forward despite the exhaustion, the weariness, and the easy out.
    Thanks for sharing, Jess!

    • Jess Connell says:

      Thanks for reading along and for that encouragement. I was so blown away… I really thought they would all want to bail, once we asked. It had been so hard. They amazed and encouraged me and strengthened my resolve at a time when it was weak.

      Prior to this, I’m not sure we’ve ever made a major family decision together like this… they weren’t old enough, or the decisions were Doug & I’s alone to make. But this was one of those moments that was a pivot point for our family, where we weighed it out together and came out on the other side stronger. I’m really thankful for each of their perspectives and the way they changed mine.

  2. Catie says:

    This is so awesome! I’m sure it was SO HARD, but you’ll look back and be so glad you did it. I know your kids will, too. :)

    • Jess Connell says:

      Yes, they all just yesterday were talking about how they want to do it again. (Theo–3.5– was the first one to say so! …then the others joined in and echoed him.) They’re already so glad we did, and want to do it again. I’m amazed at their adventurous spirits & eagerness to do such a hard thing again.

      This trip has changed us as a family, and as individuals, in ways I could not have known or seen beforehand.

  3. Melissa says:

    You know, Jess, I would never in a million years do what you all just did (or at least I say that now), but I love reading about it! Ever since our 5th kid was born (7 weeks ago…) I keep getting people amazed that we have done such a crazy thing as have a 5th kid while living in Nicaragua… or having a 5th kid at all. I am starting to understand this whole ‘gawking crowds’ deal. I’m glad to read your story of your family’s hard thing even though it’s different from our hard thing because it makes me feel less alone that you’re out there doing hard things and they’re very worthwhile even though they’re still hard!

    • Jess Connell says:

      It’s funny, I felt the exact same way when our friends came and told us about their time on the Wonderland (“I would never in a million years do what you all just did”). They (the Crawfords) stayed with us their first night off the trail, and I didn’t quite know what to think. I had so many questions…

      “but what about showers?”
      “aren’t you concerned about safety?”
      “what if something happened while you’re out on the trail?”
      “but how did you carry it all?”
      “did the kids want to or is it miserable for them?”

      And then a year later, there were were on the trail. :) Not saying that will be your story, but it was ours… :)

      And yes, reading about hard things, even if they’re different hard things, helps me persevere too. This summer I spent a lot of time reading a book about pioneer women making their way across the Oregon Trail… their hardships… the children they had along with them… the tough things they encountered… and it helped me put my own hard things in a bigger, more global, more lengthy perspective (and– incidentally– was one of the things that helped me get over things like “but what about not taking baths/showers while on the trail?”).

      It is encouraging to see other people persevering, and I’m glad our story is doing that for you. Thanks for stopping by and letting me know you’re enjoying reading along.

  4. Elaine says:

    The Northern loop is fantastic. We did it summer of 2016 in 3 days and it was awesome. This year we went back to do it in 2 days and there were 130+ trees down along the trail, so we didn’t get to.

    We also have the same feeling of annoyance when you are hit with the busyness when you have been out of it for a while.

    • Jess Connell says:


      We considered doing it instead of the Wonderland, but read about the downed trees, and a bridge out on one of the major rivers (one report said you had to wade through in at least hip-high water– which would have been over some of our kids’ heads!), so we decided against it.

      I’m glad we opted to do the whole Wonderland, but I would like to see the Northern Loop at some point, if it gets cleared enough for us to pass with kiddos. Seems like we could take a bit more leisurely pace.

  5. Elaine says:

    Sorry, summer of 2015.

  6. Elaine says:

    I believe it is passable but I didn’t hear if the bridge was put back in. Bridges get washed out every year all over the trails in the park. I am super thankful for maintenance crews. We had to cross the South Mowich river with no bridge. It’s really scary.
    My hubs says Yellowstone Cliffs camp is a good one, we stayed at Dick Creek (which only has 2 camps) snag a spot there if you can. We stayed at Fire Creek, it was ok. Kind of an unscenic spot but it’s a nice hike in. You will love it and love all the blueberries as you come up to Windy Gap!! We saw a bear in a tree there. So fun!

    • Jess Connell says:

      Wow, cool!!

      Even though we were only in one tent, the ranger who did our permitting told us our group (b/c we had 9 people) had to have the group site. We’ll have to look and see which of those backcountry sites have group sites. There were several sites we wanted to stay at (Maple Creek is one) that didn’t have a group site, and thus we had to change our plans.

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