This is Mike Groenewegen’s Trip Report from his Double Wonderland Trail adventure in September 2023. Mike is an accomplished ultrarunner with top10 finishes in 200 mile races including a 2nd place at the Tahoe 200. But one of his major running goals for the past few years has been to complete the iconic Wonderland Trail in WA around Mount Rainier (93 miles and 24,000′ of vertical gain), to do it in a completely unsupported manner, AND to do two loops in one go! Mike is an amazing athlete and an amazing human – here is his report.
I have been dreaming about completing the double Wonderland unsupported for the last 3 years after 3 failed attempts.
Fueling the Adventure
A lot has been learned in each attempt, with a lot of that knowledge being centered around carrying more calories and managing the heavy pack. This time I switched to the Ultimate Direction 20L pack from the Black Diamond 15L and used primarily ramen instead of Spring Energy gels. Below is what the pack looked like going in. (In the end I did switch out two of the ramens for four spring energy gels because all of these ramen packs wouldn’t fit in the pack.) I only used two of the Summit Breakfast Scrambles which were in the plastic bags as the stomach couldn’t take any more. Six packs of ramen were remaining. A total of 18,000 calories were consumed by the end.
The FKT rules allow for any direction and starting point around the Wonderland but it felt important to respect the previous double finishers Ras Vaughan and Christof Teuscher who both started at White River Campground going clockwise and then counter-clockwise for the 2nd loop. Ras was the first to complete the double supported in 89 hours (https://fastestknowntime.com/fkt/jason-ras-vaughn-wonderland-trail-wa-2012-09-10) and Christof completed it supported and then doing it self-supported in 80 hours (https://fastestknowntime.com/fkt/christof-teuscher-wonderland-trail-wa-2020-10-04). Special thanks to these both for paving the way on the double and an extra tipped hat to Christof for being the only one to complete the loop 3x.
Everything felt good starting at White River at 7:30am. The pack was heavy but I used Leukotape on the shoulders and the bottom of the back which stuck better than KT tape used a previous time. Stopped to chat with a backpacker after the Panhandle Gap who was hiking the Wonderland for the first time as a retirement gift to himself. He was on his last day of the trip and there was a childlike happiness in his eyes and voice. It was the first of many moments with others on the trail where this journey never felt unsupported.
The pack weighed heavy on the body and mind but the spirits were good. Finished the gels in the first 5 hours and then switched to cold soaking ramen which were being consumed every 3 hours for part of the first loop and then every 2 hours after. Used the bobo bars whenever a break was needed from the ramen. While the ramen was never fun to consume, eventually found a rhythm as how to best take them in where I would soak them for 45 mins in a Talenti cup before consuming them and then needing small bites to finish them by the 2nd loop. Learned to fill the Talenti cup with water for the dry stretches and then dropping the noodles in 45 mins before eating.
It was a big moral boost making it to Indian Henry’s cabin by sunset as I had done during my previous 3 attempts. Took in the pastel colors on Tahoma behind the Ranger’s cabin and remembered why it’s my favorite viewpoint on the trail.
Longmire to Mowich has always broke me when starting from White River with the five big climbs and descents. Made it a point to get to Mowich campground by morning and then after made it a goal to finish the first loop by sunset at White River. When all hope felt lost, I would set the alarm to sleep for 30 mins which usually ended up being 15 min dirt naps in the emergency bivvy. After the nap I would eat while thinking about the support felt and had to repeat the sleep/eat/positive thinking several times that first loop. In total got around 2 hours of sleep over the 77 hours.
Finished the first loop in 35:54 before sunset which was faster than my previous 2 double attempts. Even though there are no fkt unsupported rules about needing to carry all your own trash, I originally had planned to carry all it for both loops but felt uneasy during the first loop naps with the smell of the garbage possibly attracting wildlife. Decided to throw away the garbage at White River for that safety reason. While I respect the true nature of being unsupported, safety is more important to me and I made up for it in other ways by not listening to any music and never messaging anyone outside of the trail other than once to MapShare after the first loop.
Had wondered what it would be like going into the second loop after the previous failed attempts and was surprised to feel a sense of calm. At Carbon River that feeling disappeared upon breaking the Leki pole when it slipped on a boulder which drove me down a deep low that took several hours to climb out of. During the first loop before Longmire, I had dropped the water filter of the bottle into a whirlpool of a river. It sank to the bottom of the pool that was over 6ft deep as it slowly made a circle and I accepted it being gone forever as it headed towards the rapids. It miraculously kept circling before surfacing right where my hand was where I had dropped it. Another time earlier in the first loop I thought I had lost my fork and had accepted needing to eat the noodles with my fingers the remainder of the time before finding it in a pocket. Even though all the big climbs in the 2nd loop were still to come, the gratitude of having the filter and fork overpowered not having poles and got me eventually out of the deep low.
Carried 2 500ml soft flasks which always felt enough for the clockwise loop with the many water refills but for going counter-clockwise I wish I had another bottle for the long climb up to Golden Lakes as there was no water for about 12 miles. It was amazing experiencing Mowich to Longmire when it was light out after all the previous double attempt loops were in the dark. Where everything in the first loop was during the day and night, the second loop was reversed. It felt very special to fully experience the trail like that.
A heavy rainstorm set in upon reaching Emerald Ridge at the 3rd sunset and it would keep coming down through the night. Found a dry patch under a tree to sit by Indian Henry’s cabin in the middle of the night. A passing runner who was doing the loop for his first time joined me and we talked for 15 mins about many small things in the pouring rain that felt like many big things in that moment.
It wasn’t until the 7-mile and 3,000ft climb up to Indian Bar Camp where there was a full focus on trying to finish below Christof’s 80-hour double record. Could have used an extra bottle for this dry stretch and it like the climb up Golden Lakes gave a full appreciation of the difficulty of the loop when experiencing it going the other direction. There were many emotions upon seeing the Panhandle gap knowing the end was close and feeling a tremendous happy/sad about closing this chapter after dreaming about it for 3 years. Made it back to White River campground in 77:01 hours, with a heavy gratitude for the experience.
Massive congrats to Mike for this new FKT! Mike is a long time member of Team RunRun and we’re so proud of him for all the puts into his running and all that he gives back to the community. If his Double Wonderland Trip Report has inspired you and you’re interested in finding a coach to help you with your adventures, you can search 100+ coaches to find the best fit for you.