Return to the mountains

This map of the wilderness area is on the eastern edge of the Walupt Lake Campground. I highlighted in white the route that we planned to follow.

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*

U.S. Forest Service mascot Smokey The Bear, carved from a log and erected in front of the Randle Forest Service building. Pedro said it reminded him of a shy child pose.

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.

Pedro goofing around in the Karate Kid pose.
Walupt Lake was beautiful that evening. All the campers contently stayed at the westernmost tip and did not venture out much from there, leaving the entirety of the rest of the lake to people like us who were ready to go for a walk around the shores.
Alright, I exaggerated. Not ALL of the people stayed at the campground beach. There was one stand up paddle board that passed us, and one fisherman in a rowboat.
I liked the look of this old dead tree in the setting sun.
We stayed on the beach till it got dark. It was warm and romantic out there. We didn’t meet any people on the beach.

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.

Our first glimpse of the gorgeous lake in the morning sun.
I showed Pedro how to pump filtered water for our water bladders.
And finally, it was real. We were on a trail and entering the Goat Rocks Wilderness in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest.

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 ditched our packs under some trees and climbed rocky Nannie Peak, which you can see here.
Looking north from Nannie Peak we spotted Mt. Rainier for the first time.
Standing from the rocky top of Nannie Peak, we had a great view of Mt. Adams. There was a first glimpse of a blue haze floating in front of the mountain that looked distinctly like smoke and not clouds.
To the southwest we could see Mt. St. Helens, her flat top recognizable (top left of photo). I think that the mountain is more brown than it should be this time of year. I would have expected more snow.

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.

Pedro ahead of me on the trail.
A tiny lake near Nannie Peak that we admired and then walked on by.
A field of fireweed.
We had barely found a camp spot and dropped our packs when we got into the water. I hadn’t brought a suit, but my sports bra and shorts worked. It was hot and I knew they would dry by the next day.
I began sautƩing scallions for our dinner.
I made something like a shepherd’s pie, only with fish. When the onions were cooked I used instant milk powder and flour and made a sauce, then added fresh salmon from my Yakama Indian friends in Lyle who always give me fish. We spooned the fish and onions over the potatoes, then topped it with a crumble of French fried onions and parmesan cheese. Yummo.

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.

Sheep Lake was small, but big enough for lots of campers to each have their own space and still feel like we had escaped civilization.
On the right you can see a trail zig-zagging down to the water line from someone’s campsite.
You can see our orange tent on the banks above Sheep Lake.
Walking around the lake, we noticed the light was getting more orange. Not a good sign. As the sun set, we could see that clearly we were under smoke from wildfires.

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.

8 thoughts on “Return to the mountains

    1. I’m glad you were able to enjoy it with us. šŸ™‚ Yes, the flies were a menace. Luckily, I had reviewed AllTrails prior to the trip and saw recent trip reports. Every single one of the recent reports mentioned “bugs,” so I researched and got the best rated insect repellent before we went. It actually worked! Then we also learned to keep our jackets unpacked, and throw those on with the hoods every time we stopped for lunch or a snack. Yes, it was a good trip. Today I’ll post day two.

    1. Oh, I’m so glad you liked that one, Derrick. I almost didn’t include the dead tree since it was more artsy and less about showing the place. Thank you for coming along with us. ā¤

  1. Beautiful. It’s like being up there with you. Especially wonderful since I can’t go with you and show you our Alps. I’d take a dip too, that’s for sure. And I loved hearing that the first day was the worst. It’s best when it only improves.

    1. Yes, I agree about making the first day the worst. Then your body sort of gets ready for it the next day, but it’s not so bad, and that helps keep spirits up, ha ha. I’m glad to hear that it felt like you were coming along with me. šŸ™‚

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