May 24, 2017
Trying to get the golden ticket
So, as I mentioned in the first post, I was looking for something a bit epic to mark my fiftieth year. In the second post, I found that epic thing in the The Wonderland Trail, and just needed to get in.
There is a lottery to get a permit to hike the trail. They take applications from March 1st to March 31st and then start drawing names at random in April. If any spots are available after they get through the first batch, they take the ones after April 1st in order they were submitted. The website says that they hold back 30% of the spots to walk-ups, so theoretically you could show up on a random Tuesday in August and try and get in. For a trip of this size and necessary planning though, this would make things much tougher.
The permit is really a permit to stay overnight on the trail, as anyone can day-hike sections. To that end, when you submit your permit application, you send in a planned itinerary of when you will start, how long it will take you, and most importantly, where you will be each night. There are four major trailheads and a few smaller ones where you can start, you can hike either clockwise or counter-clockwise, and the suggested duration is from nine to thirteen days.
With all of these variables, it is fortunate that the people who wrote this great book have created an online trip planner. You can play with all the variables to try and dial in a plan that has you stopping at your desired campsites and having (somewhat) manageable distances each day. After monkeying around with things for several nights after work, I landed on an eleven day trek going counter-clockwise, starting at either Sunrise or Mowich Lake. The eleven days had me averaging about nine miles a day, and it made it easier to hit the campsites I was looking for.
I chose counter-clockwise for a couple of reasons. First, they say that the uphills are a bit steeper going in this direction, and the downhills a bit less so. The downhills seem to put more strain on my back, so I chose the direction with more gradual downhills. The other is that most people choose to go clockwise, so by swimming upstream, I would see a larger number of new faces. So when March came around, I had four different hopeful itineraries, starting at different trailheads, including one going in the opposite direction.
When you fill out your application, you can also check boxes that you are willing to have different campsites, go a different direction, etc. I checked them all to be as flexible as possible, hoping to increase my chances. I also left open the start date to a two-week window. I would have liked to have been even more flexible, but there are a few things on the calendar that limited things. First, because of the huge snowfall this year, certain campsites would not be open until July 31st, and by late August, the second tax season is in full swing. I filled out my first choice itinerary and clicked the button to go to the next page to enter in my second and third choices.
Except there was no next page. Turns out it was a waste of time to have multiple plans, and you only get one chance to throw your name in the pot. The website warned that it could be until mid-May before you heard whether your ticket was golden.
Now, all I could do is wait.