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Sports >  Outdoors

Mount Rainier’s new online backcountry, camping reservation system starts March 15

In this September 2012 photo with Mount Rainier in the distance, people hike toward the Tahoma Glacier on the Wonderland Trail at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. (Drew Perine / Associated Press)
In this September 2012 photo with Mount Rainier in the distance, people hike toward the Tahoma Glacier on the Wonderland Trail at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. (Drew Perine / Associated Press)
By Mark Yuasa SEATTLE TIMES

The new online reservation system at Mount Rainier National Park will begin taking requests on Wednesday, and park officials hope to get beyond the system failure that occurred last spring.

That “critical failure” of the park’s wilderness-camping reservation system stemmed from a power outage during a springtime storm that required the park to provide backcountry camping permits the “old-school way” on a first-come, first-served basis for the entire 2016 summer season.

Reservation requests will be accepted beginning at 9 a.m. on March 15 for wilderness camping and climbing permits, including overnight trips on the highly popular Wonderland Trail.

Requests received from March 15-31 will be processed in random order beginning on April 1. All requests received on or after April 1 will be processed in the order received, after March requests are processed.

Applicants will get a confirmation of their electronic submission within one business day.

Once park staff review requests, applicants will be updated via email regarding the status.

No requests will be taken by mail, fax, phone, or other delivery methods. Applicants will also be directed to pay for reservations, once approved, online through a secure government portal.

Those who plan to trek the Wonderland Trail system should be aware that only one trip request per email address will be reviewed, but it allow a person to submit several trip alternatives.

The Wilderness Trip Planner on the park’s website is a good start for those making plans to go in the summer. Updates will be posted.

Expect some camping sites to be temporarily closed due to potentially hazardous trees. The park will make assessments on dangers once the snow melts.

The Wonderland Trail is a difficult 93-mile hike that circles Mount Rainier, and takes hikers on 22,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. The trail has 18 trailside wilderness camps and three non-wilderness campgrounds.

Peak visits to the backcountry usually occur from July through September after most of the snow melts away. With a significant snow coverage this winter in the sub-alpine areas of the trail system, trails may not be mostly snow-free until mid-July.

During an average summer season, the park normally allocates about 1,200 reserved permits for the highly-popular Wonderland Trail system, and also retained about 30 percent of available campsites for walk-ins.

Camping permits are limited based on the number of campsites and to lessen the impacts on fragile ecosystems. Permits are not required for day hikers.

The number of wilderness reservation requests has skyrocketed recently, mainly for Wonderland Trail campsites. Before 2013, the number of requests received during the first two weeks of the reservation period averaged in the hundreds. In 2013, it increased to 1,400, and then climbed in 2014 to 2,000. In 2015, more than 2,600 requests were received by March 31, prompting the park to close reservations at that time.

This is the first step in a phased solution, according to the park, to upgrade the reservation system.

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