Rose early to take advantage of the lull in the rain. Ate two granola breakfasts. Left at 8:30 AM... the rain started with a cold wind and mist. The four went ahead, we waited for the father and son. Gave the son my ski poles, think it helped. The terrain was alpine with just rock and snow at this point. After some snow fields, we came to Panhandle Gap and looked out into the fog. Many snow fields later things cleared, revealing dramatic beauty with rock cliffs and hanging snow above. Still no view of Rainier. At the last snow field we left the father and son (not realizing that we had to ascend this snow). Aaron and I went up, to the trail, but later, looking back, we thought we saw them going the wrong way! Much later, they were spotted back on the trail. The descent to Indian Bar was fantastic... the views, clouds and flowers, all astounding! Magenta paintbrush on the left of the trail and orange on the right! Clouds rolling in and out. Green green tundra and pure white snow. The four, along with Nathan were set up at the Indian Bar shelter. A wonderful hut with bunks and Pringles! They were all very nice. But when lunch was over we headed out, up to the long ridge. Soon Nathan caught us, as he was headed to Nickel Creek too. The ridge was long with undulation. Eventually the descent to camp came. The bugs at the junction were ferocious, especially since the sun had started to show. Down, down, but alas, no shelter, but reasonable camp sites. There we ate, sharing food. Nathan had cheese and all went well. Quickly to hang food and use the facilities, I now am ready for sleep.
Aaron's commentary: Very long, tiring day. We got started early, before all the other groups and got a head-start. Doug was really worried about the father and son pair, though, so we stopped when we got to the snowfields to wait for them and let the group of four go by us. Doug loaned the son his ski poles and was a big help to them. There were many snowfields and lots of rain and it took hours to get up the short way to Panhandle Gap. Nathan quickly passed us all by. Not long after we reached the top, Doug and I moved on as we had to get much farther this day than did the father and son pair. The hike down to Indian Bar was beautiful. The day was overcast but the Indian Bar was situated in a simply stunning spot - absolutely incredible! The shelter itself (the "Wonderland Hilton") was a very nice stone cabin walled in on all sides except for the door and with a bunch of bunks and picnic tables inside. The group of four and the father and son pair were wisely staying there for the night - we should have arranged to as well but now it was not in the plans.
We moved on up to a ridge and then ridge-walked for miles till we were above Nickel Creek. Nathan joined us for dinner and we all shared food - we were going to be done soon and gave him some of our extra food and fuel to help him. He was doing the hike on a super-low budget, with an ancient Optimus stove and eating Ramen noodles most nights.
Doug's commentary: Glorious day! In my view, the very best, with harsh weather that stirred the soul and envigorated the body. The dramatic views between the clouds were unparalleled, keeping things mysterious and enchanted. The climb up above Summerland was a thrill, incredibly sustained at high altitude across rock and snowfields. This section of the Wonderland Trail is one of the highest portions (6750 feet) and seems much higher. The group of four was quite experienced in mountaineering and hence proceeded with confidence over the snowfields, as did Nathan, probably the pound-for-pound strongest hiker we met. Aaron and I teamed up with the father and son for safety reasons. I think the snow was new to them and we all proceeded with caution (good stiff boots really helped on the snow as did the ski poles). I believe the father had roughly 85lbs of gear! Much of it was camera equipment (his hobby) and we paused at Panhandle Gap to take pictures. It was the son's twelfth birthday -- what a way to celebrate growth into the beginnings of manhood! The spectacular trail continued down to the Indian Bar shelter, with radiating flowers gracing our path. There we rested and enjoyed the company of Nathan and the group of four. We could have spent an entire blissful day there, but there were many miles yet to go. And so we headed out to Nickel Creek, along a long ridge, after a good climb. But at the start of the ridge, we looked back down upon the valley of Indian Bar and toward the higher reaches of the trail from whence we came. The day had been full and hard to absorb, with a bit of nature's fury and a little peace of heaven on earth. The long ridge walk gave us some time to reflect -- until the nastiest group of insects changed our mood. But Nickel Creek was pleasant with a long day done, shared food and comraderie with Nathan, and a sense of satisfaction.