Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday – 21-June-2023 through 23-June-2023
My pack is 40.5lbs.
I want to be clear – this isn’t a bad thing. A surprising thing, to be sure, but still a totally acceptable thing.
See, I bought my backpacking pack for a planned pack weight of 45lbs, so… it’s a bit under, and basically right where I expected it. It’s still interesting to think about, though, as I hear people talking about “base weight of 10lbs”, and carrying around 20lb multi-day packs…
Meh. I like my backpack, and I like what I bring.
What I brought was a beautiful setup for the 2023 Summer Solstice. I’ve wanted to go backpacking over the Solstice for years, but have never quite been able to make it happen… somehow I almost always miss it. Probably because it really feels like the Solstice should be sometime in July or August, not June… it just feels wrong that the longest day of the year is so far before the hot months, you know?
This year, though, I remembered. I planned, and I made sure that I had some good time off so that I could escape out to the woods. I kept a few options of where to go in mind, but they got whittled down as the dates got closer – the snowpack was pretty deep, so the question really became what would be melted out in time. In the end, Green Lakes was my best bet – great views, great sky, and the main parking lot was melted out enough that I could easily make my way there in the Mustang.
Bonus points – It was on the way down to Sacramento, so I could double-up on the trip and visit Mike and Michelle afterward! (Ed Note: See Ben’s next post, dear reader!)
I got going luxuriously late on a Wednesday, grabbing a relaxed breakfast in town before kicking off the drive down to the desert. I gorged on chicken fried steak, had some coffee, and cruised my way out of the humidity and into the dry air of Central Oregon.
I hefted my pack, ate a head of broccoli that I hadn’t finished before leaving (I mean… why let it go bad in the fridge when I could eat it like an apple instead?), and started into the woods.
I was lucky – more lucky than I could have anticipated.
There’s a bridge, maybe a tenth of a mile into the trail. At that bridge, I ran into a ranger – a maintenance guy, to be specific, who was about to dive into reworking that bridge. It’d be closed for the next day or so, he warned me, and that I’d have to use the horse crossing (a river fording) if I wanted to get back before then.
I didn’t plan on it, so I wasn’t worried… but what it meant was that I didn’t see anyone else (except one guy maybe 1/4 mile away) while I was out there!
Anyways, that’s in the future.
I hiked in. The trail went under the snow about 2 miles in, and never came out – I navigated mainly by memory, checking GPS once or twice as needed. There was a bit of a boot path, but… really, it didn’t look like more than a handful of people had come this way since the last snowfall. There were a few trail markers, but… yeah. I was exploring, and having a solid time.
I set up camp, I relaxed, and I did a bit of hiking around. I made dinner, made a little mini-fire (allowed, since I was camped on a snowfield), and enjoyed the Solstice and my own thoughts.
I admit – my thoughts were a bit rough on this trip. They evened out by the second day, but on that first day… it was tough, I’ll tell you what. I can’t quite cleanly explain why (there’s countless little things contributing, of course), but I felt this massive sense of loneliness on that first day out. An empty pit in my stomach, wishing that I wasn’t alone out here…
That’s the advantage of backpacking alone, right? It’s tough, but it’s healthy. To embrace the emotions felt, and let them run their course… letting them be felt and acknowledged, and healed from. Maybe this is what people mean about not bottling up their feelings?
I reflected, I read, and I headed to bed.
Thursday broke bright, warm, and beautiful.
I was feeling quite a bit better as I sipped coffee and ate breakfast… and by the time it was midday I was a few miles into my wanderings for the day.
I didn’t have a goal or summit in mind – just to wander North, and see where the “trail” led me. Not an actual trail of course, since I was basically an arctic explorer in the untouched wilderness at this point, but walking a few feet above where a trail would normally have been.
One neat thing was the red snow that I came across… some sort of algae or fungus, I assumed, though I can’t say I remember seeing it a ton in recent years… I looked it up when I got home, learning quite a bit of interesting things – worth checking out, I’d say!
(Ed Note: Here’s the link for red snow: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20210729-why-snow-in-the-alps-is-turning-red)
I used GPS when needed, and even did a bit of orienteering using my map and compass. I took my time, embraced the emotions, and considered the background to them all.
In all, I hiked ~13 miles that day, probably with a thousand or three feet of elevation gain along for the ride. Nothing crazy… but nothing to scoff at either.
I explored, saw no one (not even mosquitoes, thankfully!), and reflected. I got back to camp, enjoyed the sunset and my dinner, and did a bit more reading.
I slept amazingly.
Friday was my day to hike out… and unfortunately I had a bit of a timeline to keep to. Since I picked Green Lakes, instead of a hike further to the South, there was a fair bit of driving to be done before I made it to Mike and Michelle’s house in Sacramento. A bit over 7 hours, in total, so… best to get a move on, yeah?
I packed up, and packed out. I saw no one until the clock hit 11:00… and then I immediately ran into a parade of Bend Natives – people day hiking, backpacking, everything.
There was a team of two, in the fanciest / newest / most expensive gear, who I’m confident ended up turning around… they asked tons of questions about the snow, obviously feeling ill prepared for a hike on the snow followed by setting up camp… even with their massive packs full of enough gear to lay siege to Antarctica. Smart – just because you have it, doesn’t mean you know how to use it.
There were a dozen or so day hikers, who I expect also turned around before Green Lakes… mainly since they were all wearing trail runner shoes. Which would have been perfect for the 100+ degree weather in Bend, but… maybe not for the 50s that we were experiencing in the mountains.
There was a bachelor party, who asked me for shrooms as they hiked in with their tennis shoes.
There was a whole team of college looking kids, eager with questions and cobbled together gear, who I’m absolutely confident made it all the way up, and probably had an absolute blast while doing so.
A lady and her dog, about my age (the lady, not the dog) who seemed a bit nervous being out alone… but also had all the right gear to make sure she’d be safe. We chatted for a bit longer than I did with the others, as she asked a few detailed questions about the camping situation… I was most jealous of her, versus any of the other teams, as I’m sure she had an amazing time being up in the quiet with her dog.
I got out, back to the car, and the into the river to rinse off the sweat and dust of the trail.
I took a few last photos, had a light snack, and braced myself for the long drive ahead.
A mini treat to those who made it all the way to the end – I brought the drone with me! I just did short flights, when no one was around (which was easy, since no one was ever around), but still got some amazing views before sunset!