I try to go on at least one big backpacking trip each year, but for some reason I have not been camping or backpacking since the pandemic started. I think that last summer I was simply so focused on staying isolated that it was incompatible with outdoor recreation. Remember that last year we weren’t sure for a while how the virus was transmitted, and we didn’t know that being outdoors was pretty safe if you stayed away from groups of people.
Last week I went backpacking for the first time since 2019, and it was wonderful to be in the mountains again.
Pedro and I drove north three and a half hours to the Randle Forest Service to pick up a Northwest Forest Pass so we could drop his car off at the Berry Patch Trailhead (see above), then we went over to the Walupt Lake Campground (see above) Monday afternoon. It’s an area in southwestern Washington state, south of Mt. Rainier and north of Mt. Adams. Two million years ago it was dominated by a huge volcano about 12,000 feet high (3700 m) but now we can hike on the eroded parts, dominated by peaks right around 8,000 feet. It is some of the prettiest mountain country I have ever seen, and that’s saying a lot since I’ve hiked through California’s Trinity Alps and the Enchantments Wilderness outside of Seattle. Goat Rocks is named for the mountain goats, of course, which I have still never spotted out there. *sigh*
After the USFS stop, we went to one of the two restaurants in Randle, Washington, and ate a bit and ordered a pizza to go. The drive to the campground was another hour away. We found our reserved spot at the campground with ease, and settled in. We were both filled with anticipation for the trip and eagerness to begin enjoying things, so after we set up the tent we walked over to the lake. The sun was beginning to set, and the beach was beautiful, making us both immediately want to eat dinner there. We went back and got the still-warm pizza (it was hot out, so no surprise there), and carried it and drinks down to the shore and enjoyed the sunset with our supper.
We finally walked back to our campsite tucked away in the trees with no view of the lake, but thankfully somewhat protected from nearly all the other campsites. Let me clarify: we were protected from viewing other campsites, but not from hearing them. We attempted to sleep to the dulcet tones of an 11-year-old with a harmonica in the campsite adjacent to ours. He was not playing it so much as having it in his mouth while he breathed in and out. At about 10pm I dug through my gear and found earplugs and was able to sleep. Pedro didn’t use earplugs and simply tried to endure it. He said it continued for some time after I fell asleep. The noise kept him awake for a while, but he finally was exhausted enough to fall asleep. What kind of parents think that’s ok?
The next morning we packed up a little slow, me out of habit and Pedro learning. He has camped, but had never been backpacking before, and was unfamiliar with how I used my stove, how to take down the tent, how to pack up the mattresses, etc. Soon enough we had moved the Jeep to a parking area for the trailhead, and then went to the lake to get water.
The first day was the worst. Neither of us accustomed to the hard work of hiking with so much weight. Our packs were probably near 40 pounds (18 kg) each, when the water bladders were full. I know people pride themselves on less weight, but I value quality food and drink in the mountains, and it always adds more weight. We carried a bottle of wine and half a bottle of whiskey, as well as salmon, a wheel of cheese, oranges, avocados, eggs, etc.
The only direction we went Tuesday was up. But we were still so excited to be on the trail, that when it hit midday and we spotted a side trail to climb to the summit of Nannie Peak, we both wanted to climb it. First we stopped for a snack and ate the oranges to get some delicious fresh food into us and to reduce some weight. Within seconds of stopping, we were swarmed by biting flies. Clouds of deer flies, which slice the skin when they bite, and less numerous but twice the size and more obnoxious horse flies, which also slice the skin. They drove us crazy, and became a permanent nuisance that week.
We clambered back down, picked up our packs, and began the climb again. The trailhead is at about 4000 feet elevation (1219m) and we climbed about 1700 feet (518m) that day in only 4.5 miles (7.25km). Nannie Peak was an extra 250 feet and an extra mile added to our day, so our total by evening was 5.5 miles. It was a super short trek, but all uphill and we were dying for a break by late day. I wanted to start us out easy so we were less likely to get injuries or hate life. Also, there was an irresistible lake that was the perfect place to stop for the night.
After the refreshing swim, the restorative meal, and a rest, we set up our tent and sleeping pads and bags and put everything in order, then went for a walk around the lake.
I was too tired to think about wildfire, and fell almost immediately to sleep, even on my flimsy little air mattress. Pedro, who is much more fit than I am, was neither physically nor mentally exhausted, and reported that he fell asleep hours after I did.