Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground

It’s Friday already. The days are flying this calendar year, or maybe I’m just having a different awareness. I was just talking about this yesterday. How time is really racing by. Years go by in a flash and suddenly I come through the fog of time and I’m sixty. Sixty. Every year full of story and accomplishment and longing. Eagerly scratching things off my life list, I am also becoming aware of the things that won’t likely get that check mark. 

The Wonderland Trail is a good example. 

I can say with some new certainty that I won’t ever backpack this whole trail. It is a multi-day backpack around the entire perimeter of the mountain. A sacred circle. My friend shared yesterday that mile for mile, the Wonderland Trail is more difficult than the Pacific Crest Trail. I will never backpack the whole thing but I am still determined that I could day-hike a number of sections enough to get a feel for it. Yesterday was a beautiful section leading to Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground. It’s not a hike I would do alone and I was beyond grateful for a companion on this journey. 

The hike begins near Longmire in the Paradise area. To Devil’s Dream Camp it is over 5 miles up. To Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground, over 6 and to the iconic patrol cabin, it is over 7. We logged over 14 miles yesterday with over 3200 ft of vertical gain. 

Those are likely just numbers to you, but here is something to ponder: For those who know where I live in Auburn, it is a distance the equivalent of stepping out my front door and walking to IKEA. (You can do this for your own reference by exploring landmarks near you (14 miles away) on Google maps) The elevation gain is like walking up the Columbia Tower in Seattle, MORE than three times. Seriously. Imagine the equivalent of more than three Columbia Towers stacked one atop the other. And taking the stairs. It’s impressive!

I met my friend Gretchen through a Mount Rainier trip report on WTA (Washington Trails Association). We’ve been friends for nearly six years and hiked many of the same trails but never together. This one has long been on my list, but the length and width of it made me more than hesitant to try it alone. When I heard Gretchen was considering revisiting this storied place, we decided to team up. She references this hike in a new book that will be published in October. It held a personal significance to both her and her mother and I was honored and grateful to be able to join her on this trip. 

Here is our day:

I rose at 3AM, out the door before 4AM. I arrived early to the mountain so I took a short side trip up to Reflection Lake. So glad I did. The colors rising in the east were spectacular. I didn’t linger, instead letting the color lace through the trees. A stunning beginning. We met up at Longmire and drove to a small turnout near the entrance to the Wonderland Trail. At 6:45AM we began our trek. 

We knew much from previous trip reports. It’s a slog. As if the distance and elevation weren’t challenge enough, there were reports of bugs, a heat advisory, a red flag warning and a couple treacherous water crossings. It’s hard to really know the mind of another hiker, so we opted to go on faith that we could cross. The previous reporter had turned around in favor of an alternate trail. 

There is a moderate elevation gain as you begin the forest walk and a lovely wooden boardwalk above the forest floor. It was hard for me to fathom what was to come. Shortly after the boardwalk the trail begins to climb and it was relentless. It takes me awhile to get my lungs adjusted so I was happy to fall a bit behind. 

After climbing for a good distance you reach a ridge and begin a steep descent towards Kautz Creek. I remember noting that at the end of the hike this was going to be tough on the return but I put it out of my mind and enjoyed the trip down. Arriving at the water it was apparent that with the late snow melt, the creek was running high. And fast. Oh my. 

We spent a lot of time here pondering several less than stellar options. While Gretchen explored upstream, I opted for a crossing that I knew I could make, but not without wading into the raging water. My feet sank into the soft mud below as I tried to find something solid to stand on battered by the rushing water. Success! I was soaked to my calves, but safely across. Gtetchen chose her own path. Can you feel the joy?!

There were three more challenging crossings before reaching the other side. Navigating rock and water, there were small red flags and stone cairns to guide the way. Whew! We were pretty proud of ourselves after making it across. Can you say badass?!

The reward was short as the trail again began to climb up the other side. It was on this side that the bugs became an annoyance. Mosquitos and biting black flies. Ugh. I lasted as long as I could with bug spray but opted for my new mosquito netting. Thank Goddess for that! By Devil’s Dream Camp they were ferocious. Another mile until we would reach Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground. We missed the peak wildflowers but there were still many to enjoy as we reached the meadow. Two meadows and then a half mile climb to the meadow where the iconic cabin sits. It is other-wordly. 

We had some lunch and lingered for a short while. The water crossing added quite a lot to our hiking time and we knew we would have to tackle it again on the way back. The mountain was in view but the sky stayed a muted shade of white-gray. The forecast had called for temps in the mid eighties so I was grateful not to endure blazing hot sun. 

The return trip was as expected. At the water crossing we ran into a young woman I’d guess was in her twenties. She was on her fifth and final day of doing the entire trail. Oh, to be young and strong like that. The water looks different going back and we were again left to ponder the safest way across. It was apparent where there had once been a log foot bridge, now dropping off in the middle of the creek. Gretchen guided us all safely on the first crossing and we managed to make it back to the other side, crossing three more times, this raging creek. No one slipped. No one fell. No one drowned. A good outcome, methinks.

More upshit before we reached the ridge on the other side and we could count on a moderate downhill back to our cars. I have never been so happy to see that winding road through the woods. I was exhausted and seeing that white stripe and the small lot we had left over 11 hours earlier was like nirvana. Basecamp Grill for burgers and beverages was the perfect finish. 

Hallelujah and all that. Another new hike for Hike-a-Thon and my longest, hardest hike to date. Sunrise to sunset. My kind of day!

” I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in … “
-John Muir

There is even more to the story below. Did I mention that Gretchen has done this hike twice now? And she just turned 70. My (s)hero!

Summer of 70: An Epic Hike Reprised

19 Comments on “Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground

  1. This journey was phenomenal you two! Way to go! I know how scary water crossings can be and I’m relieved to hear that both of you got across both directions with no slips or injuries. It was a very hard hike and you have earned all that pride you felt and I hope that burger was doubly delicious. Meals at the end of a hike tend to be friggin amazing, ha ha. Your photos of the place are spectacular. Wow. So much green and flowers and water and the cabin set right in the middle of it. So perfect.

    Your thoughts about not ever completing the entire trail are sobering. I know that as I age, more and more of these realizations will come to mind for me. For example, your water crossing reminded me that when I was in my first decade of hiking, I always did water crossings barefoot with my boots dangling around my neck, balancing my 40-pound pack as I tried not to step on sharp rocks, going “Ow! Ow! Ow!” all the way across. I hate wet boots. But in the past years I value sure footing more than dry boots, and I know I’m in danger of falling if I try it barefoot. I hope that I age with grace. It seems in your post that you have made peace with the limitation of this particular hike, and I will aim for that kind of peace.

    • Oh yes, it was a wonderful day! I seem to fatigue more quickly these days, but the water crossings were so exhilarating it gave me the boost I needed to get to the finish line. I am guessing there will still be some surprises in my hiking life, but yes, I’ve made peace with this 93 miler. I love places with stories and places you have to work for. This one hit all the notes.
      I hope I can get this WP glitch sorted out so I know for sure who I’m responding to!

  2. This is one of my favorite hikes at MRNP. I did it once in 2019 and although very tough I enjoyed it immensely. Your post brought back the good memories and makes me want to attempt this trail again. Enjoyed all the great photographs and excellent narrative.
    Here’s the post from my blog recapping my 2019 hike: https://photomomlinda.blogspot.com/2019/11/indian-henrys-hunting-ground.html

    P.S. I’ll be sixty next February, so I’m right behind you. 🙂

    • Great trip report! As beautiful as it was in the meadow, I doubt that this is one I’ll do again. Very grateful for shade and a great companion for this one. I’ve been researching a few others but this was my longest hike to date and I’m so glad I got to do it. Water crossings were crazy! Thanks for writing and sharing your adventure.

  3. Though I read Gretchen’s post first, and then her 5 years ago post, I still couldn’t believe it as I read yours. So very impressive, but do I have to start WORRYING about you two? I think you egg each other on! But I can see it was worth it to get there, what glorious pics, and it looks like you have a camera again/still? I hope your recovery is speedy. Also I mis-read one sentence as “3200 ft of vertical pain”. 🙂

    • Oh, I wouldn’t worry about either of us! I think we are quite sensible and I know I wouldn’t have done it alone. LOL about egging each on … I felt like it was more encouragement! All pics were from phones! And you are not wrong about “vertical pain” !! I’m so proud of us!

  4. Rockstars, the both of you! Thanks for sharing your adventure with us. Awesome photos, too.

    • Thanks so much, Dawn! It was an epic day for sure. I think for women especially, days like these can be so empowering. I’m fortunate and grateful.

  5. Did you mention I am 70? Three times? 🤣 My dad’s dream was to hike the Wonderland Trail. I regret that I didn’t start ten years ago, when I returned to the PNW, to hike sections of it. Woulda had to be in day trips though, my backpacking days were already over. I could point out that this was nothing like hiking from Auburn to IKEA other than in distance! My boots and pack are still in the car. I suppose I should get them out. Thank you for being my badass hiking buddy on this trip.

    • Haha, yes the reference was strictly for distance. You’re lucky to have such rich history. My family never camped or hiked so when I really got serious a dozen years ago, I had so much to learn. I just cleaned my boots and cleared out my pack. Thanks for the constant inspiration to push the boundaries. I’m better for knowing you.

  6. This is from my little blog. Not much, but every single day.

  7. This retired 70 year old teacher does not have your hiking prowess. However I can still teach random strangers how to find out who their elected officials are. Washington State: leg.wa.gov (find my district – enter home address)
    United States League of Women Voters – Vote411.org (Works in all 50 states!)
    I want everyone to have a voice.

    Badass hikers need badass socks. I have some for both you and Gretchen. Let me know when you head to Nisqually again and I will bring the socks. I loved your analogy about the 14 mile hike. It would be the same distance as stepping out your front door and walking to IKEA. For me that hike would be walking from my house to the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge. (I would have to take a taxi back home if I made it all that distance.)

    • That’s awesome, Keitha. I don’t think I mentioned that Gretchen turned 70 this year. My (s)hero for sure. A true badass! I’ll keep you posted about Nisqually.

  8. Hallelujah!!!! OMG my heart was in my mouth, just seeing the pictures of the rushing water and ‘hearing’ your description of all the could-have-been treachery the two of you faced, and OVERCAME!!!! Hats off, Ladies! BADASSES FOR SURE!

    • Thanks, Mare. It was an amazing achievement for sure. Grateful for such a badass accomplice! And all this at 70. She’s unbelievable really. And I’m feeling pretty proud of myself too!

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