Category Archives: Backpacking

Stories of Backpacking trips, or something in that general area

Camping at Veda Lake 02 & 03 September, 2018

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Camping at Veda Lake 02 & 03 September, 2018

Sunday, 02-Sept-2018 through Monday, 03-Sept-2018

 

It’s labor day weekend, and we’re not planning on laboring particularly hard.  In fact, our goal is to basically labor not at all.  The car’s going to do the bulk of the laboring.
Specifically, we’re going backpacking!  Sarah’s first post-surgery backpacking trip!  Woo!
It’s a trial run, though, not a full-on trip.  More of a “see how our legs feel, and make sure all the gear still works” kind of trip, instead of a “let’s work ourselves and be exhausted by the end of it” sort of trip.
With that in mind, Sarah was careful about which hike to pick… and found what was absolutely the perfect destination for us: a place called Veda Lake.  It’s a small lake South of Mt. Hood, about a mile away from the trailhead.  The challenge, though, is getting to the trailhead itself – it’s 30min down an extremely rough road – rough enough that the trip reports all warned us that we’d need a tough vehicle and even tougher nerves to make it up.
Sunday
Thankfully, we’re tough cookies, and the Subaru is just as tough a car as we are cookies.  We made it up without any trouble, and found a beautifully empty parking lot waiting for us.  There were cars there, true, but not nearly as many as we’d seen on the drive in – and since it was labor day that was a rather major blessing for us.
The hike in?  It went quickly and easily.
I mean, come on.  It was barely over a mile – we’re out of shape, but thankfully not that far out of shape.  I’ve been working out a fair bit, and Sarah’s been doing a ton of PT, so the hike was pretty clean for us.  The only challenges arose from my backpack – this was the first time I’d taken it out for a real backpacking trip, and it’s definitely a bit different than the one I’ve gotten used to.  I… hesitate to admit to the sheer number of curses I uttered as I was packing it and trying to get it comfortable, but that’s how it goes with a new pack, right?
We walked in, past a few groups walking out, and even passing one going in!  Don’t let that fool you though, the only reason we were able to pass them was because they were a huge team – three humans, four dogs, and one kayak.  Not one of the light ones either… one of those heavy wal-mart kayaks.  They… they were making some life decisions that day.
Anyways, we ended up being thankful for that Kayak, because it slowed the other team down long enough for Sarah, Ollie and I to get one of the best campsites on the lake.  It wasn’t right on the water, but it had a nice fallen tree to eat dinner by, and enough room for us to set up the tent on perfectly level ground beautifully devoid of any roots or rocks.  It was lovely, and we had camp set up quickly enough that we were able to spend some time exploring the lake and playing around in the water before dinner.
One strange thing we found?  Spears.  As in, wooden sticks that had been sharpened, and stabbed into a dead tree in our campsite.  Not in a creepy way, though.  I know that description sounds “children of the forest hunting for your face-meat”, but it was more “some young kids sharpened sticks and threw them at a tree because it’s fun” sort of thing.  So clearly Sarah and I had a spear-throwing competition in the middle of the woods.  I can’t remember who won, but I can promise that Sarah and I both enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.
Dinner?  Simple stuff this time – just mountain house freeze-dried meals and some whiskey and tea.  It was a practice run, remember, so we wanted to go light and simple.  No back country cooking cuisine this time, I’m afraid.  But hey – that’s fine.  We enjoyed ourselves immensely!  Just being outside, watching the sun set and then watching the stars come out… it was beautiful, and an amazing chance to enjoy spending time with each other.
Evening
Random challenge that I didn’t expect to run into?  Getting Ollie to come to bed.  When we camp, Ollie usually runs right into the tent… but for some reason she was on full sentry-duty this time, insistent on guarding the campsite all evening.  She was good, and came when we called her, but she wasn’t super happy about it.  She’d even made a little nest for herself under one of the trees nearby, so that she could overlook the camp and keep watch… cute!
Monday
Monday dawned bright and early – it was perfect, and we were even able to wake up quietly and pleasantly, since Ollie was nicely tired from the day before and wasn’t quite into full spaz mode just yet.  Getting to bed early definitely helped too; we were up and mobile early, having breakfast and enjoying seeing the sun rising over the mountains around us.
Quick side note?  Starbucks instant lattes are delicious… when they’re fresh.  Turns out, they do go bad.  Not like “make you sick” bad, but… definitely less than optimal.
We played around in the lake a little bit, but honestly… it was cold, yo.  Veda Lake is in a depression, with pretty steep hills all around it, so we didn’t get any direct sunlight until we had already packed up and were heading out, sometime around 9:30 or 10:00.
We’d planned on staying most of the day; swimming and catching crawfish and enjoying the solitude of the lake, but that didn’t quite work… so instead we aimed to head back into town early and enjoy the chance to rest, relax, and make a fancy dinner.
Packing went well, hiking went well… the walk out was honestly really pleasant.  The sun had already risen, so it was that perfect kind of weather where it’s warm, but not hot quite yet.  Cool enough that we enjoyed the walking, but not so cold that we wanted to put jackets on.
Ollie, of course, loved the whole event – sprinting forward and backwards, jumping over logs, and sending out the kind of happy energy that makes you wish that you could just run screaming through the woods for hours at a time.  You know, like I did when I was younger and somehow even less sane than I currently am?  Yeah, just like that.
It was a good trip.
**Last side note: Ollie doesn’t like sitting up front at first.  She’s always cranky about coming up, instead of just hanging out in the back seat.  But the problem is that she gets bored in the back seat, and barks at everything that looks interesting as we drive.  Once we drag her into the front seat, she remembers how fun it is to stick your head out the window!**

Winter Camping on Mt. St. Helens

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Thursday and Friday, 07 & 08-Dec, 2017

 

It’s been a while since I’ve gone backpacking.

Busy work, not knowing much about trails in the Northwest, and a broken leg kind of contributed to that… but still.  No excuses.

 

It’s also been a while since I’ve attempted a summit out here… see the previously mentioned reasons.

 

It’s been way too long.  Sarah agreed.  Ollie agreed.  I think.  She might have just been hungry.  Either way, the three of us all agreed, packed up our gear, and took a drive out to Mount Saint Helens.

We had been talking about hiking up St. Helens for a while at this point, but never had the chance to do it; Not only is the mountain very committing (12 miles, with 5700+ ft of elevation gain), but we also have to contend with snow conditions, since the main route is prone to avalanche in some conditions.

 

 

 

 

We prepped the day before, packing and coordinating tons of gear between Sarah, Ollie and myself.  And by that, I mean that Sarah took a significant portion of the gear, while I stayed light and easy.  I mean, I didn’t slouch too much… mine was ~30 lbs, while hers was ~37 lbs, but still.  Those seven pounds don’t seem like a lot until your a few hours into it, and your legs don’t want to move.

 

We actually got into it on Thursday, driving up into Washington and getting our permits – not only a sno-park permit, but also the tree cutting permit!  Did I mention that?  We had an ancillary goal to this hike; we’d learned that you can legally harvest Christmas trees nearby, so after the hike planned on tracking down our own lovely tree!

The process was a bit more complex, of course.  So three stops and an internet search later, we gave up and just bought the permit online before driving into the national park.

 

Walking in was glorious.

Like I mentioned, it had been a while since we’d gone backpacking.  Just the simple act of walking uphill, carrying a pack, over the snow, with the looming mountain above us, was enough to send us into giggles.  We had a blast – stopping every so often to rest and enjoy the view, watching Ollie blast in and out of the tree line, and just enjoying the crisp air and warm sun.

And it was warm – almost unseasonably so, actually.  Sarah called it “summer conditions”, and it did worry us a little.  The warmer it gets, the softer the snow becomes… which might not seem like the worst thing.  But it means more slipping, and more effort to get the same amount of elevation.  At our elevation it wasn’t a major concern, but for our ascent the next day… well, we made sure to keep an eye on conditions.

We finally broke out of the tree line in the early afternoon, a fair bit ahead of the schedule we’d set for ourselves.  Which meant that we had even more time to set camp than expected… which meant that Sarah had time to construct what was undoubtedly the most impressive campsite I’ve ever seen.  A huge platform was excavated from the snow, leveled out and tamped down, with a windbreaker wall built up around the edges.  This thing even had steps leading into the tent.  Seriously, you don’t even know.

And I helped!  By boiling water.  And staying out of the way.  Turns out, snow skills are valuable when camping on snow.  Who knew?

Well, Sarah knew.  I learned quickly, after seeing how excellent the tent site became.

What we didn’t know, was quite how quickly fuel burns up at that elevation and temperature.  Sure, it was warm… but that’s when you’re walking with a pack.  The stove wasn’t walking… and was half-buried in the snow for stability.  Which led to a quite fast burn rate… which led to an empty canister.

We’d run out of fuel – dinner was made, thankfully, though we hadn’t had enough fuel to really boil as much water as we’d planned.  We ate and discussed, coming to two conclusions:

One, that we wished we had hot cocoa.

Two, that we probably had enough water to summit, but it’d be close.

Our plan was simple – start hiking early in the morning, and check in with our water supplies every two hours.  If we ran too low, we’d immediately turn around, ensuring that we had enough water for a well-hydrated return hike.  Not the ideal conditions, but that’s part of adventure, right?  Adapting, and making intelligent and informed decisions.

Our decision and plan made, we headed to bed.  At 5:40 in the afternoon.  It was dark and we were tired.  And we’d be starting in early in the morning…

 

In the morning, we really regretted running out of fuel.  Instant coffee is made to be reconstituted in hot water.  Not cold water.  When you pour it into cold water, you get a gross caffeine paste that wakes you up… half from the caffeine, and half from just how vile it tastes.  We both learned this the hard way, gulping down what we could before packing up and heading onward, breakfast bars in our hands and crampons on our feet.

Note: Sunrise over mountains is ridiculously, incredibly, unbelievably beautiful.  Just FYI.

We’re feeling good, having gotten moving a little bit before dawn, sometime around 5:30 or so.  It’s not until around 10:00 when we’re resting before the final push that our water situation started to get a bit grim, and we had to have the hard decision about whether to push onward or turn around.

In all honesty, we were’t super close to the summit – it was still maybe an hour to go ahead of us.  And that hour or two would have been rough, thanks to the warm weather and significant elevation gain.  In the end, it was a pretty quick conversation before we decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and headed back the way we came.

Descending was much quicker than ascending, thankfully, and a lot less draining on the water supplies.  I even did a bit of glissading (Editors note: That’s when you slide down the mountain on your butt.  Don’t worry, Ben had snow pants on) for the first time since my injury, which was super fun!  Ollie didn’t think so at first, though, and kept trying to catch me and stop me from falling… cute, but also scary since her way of stopping someone is to chomp on their jacket while bracing herself.  After that it was pretty flat anyways though, so we all walked the rest of the way back to camp without incident, continuing to massively enjoy the views as the sun finished illuminating the range around us.

 

 

Once we hit camp, we quickly packed up and headed out.

Wait, that sounds wrong.

Ohh right!  What I meant to say was, we bonked out and took a nap.  My mistake, those two things are so similar, amirite?

After our luxurious nap we pack up again (with Sarah again taking the lions share of the gear.  Thank you!) and start out on the rest of the hike.  It wasn’t short, I’ll admit to that… it seemed to drag on forever, even with the cool views and cool air, but thankfully the path was pretty clear and simple, so the snow didn’t slow us down too much.  It did get a little icy near the end, but nothing necessitating putting the crampons back on, thankfully.

The most excitement of the walk out, aside from dreaming of the snacks we’d left in the car for ourselves, was watching Ollie zip around.  She’d been pretty tuckered out for most of the hike down, but once we got back into treeline she perked right up, and started blasting around like normal.  Which was a bit annoying, since she lost a puppy-boot at one point.  Which, of course, caused us to stop for 20min while we searched her tracks to find the lost shoe.  Bluh.

 

Back at the car, we rested and recharged.  We’d stashed some brisket sandwiches and water for ourselves, and so were well fed and happy after a short break – ready to head off and find our tree!

Funny story though… the forest is pretty big.  I mean, we had a specific zone that we were supposed to harvest from… but that doesn’t narrow it down too much, when that zone is a few hundred acres.  Thankfully, we’d been given a bit of a tip from a ranger we’d run into, and had a pretty good idea that we’d find something good on a specific stretch of backwoods highway.

A stretch that just so happened to pass a really nice overlook of Mt. St. Helens, by the way… an overlook that we drove past just at sunset.  So clearly we stopped for a romantic sunset picnic of more snacks.

After our quick stop, it wasn’t much of a drive to the secret tree spot that we’d learned about.  We weren’t sure we’d recognize it when we got there…. but ohh man were we wrong.  We made a turn, and suddenly a massive forest of Christmas trees opened up in front of us, with giant pine trees towering at least 150ft above them.  It looked like ants walking around the feet of giants… all of which would make glorious trees for our livingroom!

It took a bit of doing, but we finally found the perfect one.  We wanted a tree that spoke to both of us – not something we were okay with, but something that we both knew was right.  Silly, but hush I don’t care we wanted it.  After following a few promising leads, we found it.

Literally.  You have no idea – this tree was actually honestly in a moonbeam.  We turned around a small copse of trees, and saw this single tree in a literal moonbeam, just waiting for us.  We both gasped, looked at each other, and hefted our tools.

Before long, the tree was in the box on the roof, and we were driving home.  We ordered two pizzas on the way, picking them up as we drove.

We then each ate an entire pizza.

Because we’re adults, and can do what we want.

Especially after hiking up and down a mountain, and finding a perfect Christmas tree.

Hiking Three fingered jack

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Three fingered jack hike

27 & 28-June-2016

This is a story… of a trip.  A long trip, taking a long walk up a tall mountain.  

 
Monday, 27-June-2016

As I drove into Portland to pick Sarah up, I mentally reviewed what I knew about the climb that was in store for me the next day.
First, Sarah’s birthday was the next day. I’d taken the day off work, and she’d flown all the way back from Colorado in order for us to spend the day together, doing a tough hike and getting some elevation.
Three Fingered Jack wad the choice; one of the Cascade Volcanos, but not a glaciated peak – so we’re talking Alpine rock climb, instead of a mountaineering summit. The difference being, I’ve learned, that it will be a long hike with a heavy pack full of climbing gear, instead of a long hike with a heavy pack full of ice and snow gear.
Also, this would be my first Alpine ascent, and he first big summit attempt in a while for Sarah and I.  A few hours south of Portland, we’d be sleeping at the trailhead, and starting in pretty early in the day.
The goal was to leave Portland early, but unfortunately we were overcome by events (realizing that Sarah’s altimeter had gotten lost, dinner taking a bit longer to make than planned, etc…) and didn’t end up making it to the trail until a bit after midnight…
But once we were there, nothing else mattered in my mind.
I love being outside. I love the cold air, I love finding a tent site and setting up. And getting to see the stars and the milky way is a singularly glorious treat… all of that and more was out bedroom for the evening. It was late though, and so we didn’t get much of a chance to stargaze – bed was calling for a long day ahead of us.

 
Tuesday, 28-June-2016
We got up at six – a little less than six hours of sleep under our belts. We made a quick breakfast of fancy French vanilla cappuccino (yes yes, it was actually old Army MRE rations. You should have seen Sarah’s face go from “this is good!” To “ohh lord what are you feeding me” when I admitted that I’d been given it 3+ years ago) and tons of fruit. A semi-early breakfast optimized for time, that got a bit derailed when a friendly cowboy (named, accurately, “Cowboy”) came up and struck up a conversation with us about our hike plans, and his goal of spending a week in the back country using his horses and dogs to search for a lost hiker.
Lovely man, and he had our favorite quote of the trip… a not so subtle reminder that we’re living in Oregon. As he headed out, cowboy hat on his head, boots clicking against the pavement, he mentioned to us in his thick cowboy accent, “well you all have a safe hike now. I’m going to smoke a few bowls and then head in myself”.
The first part of the hike was through a burn – a huge forest fire had cut through the area before, so it was a little bit desolate and empty. But it did have two advantages – the first being some amazing views of the mountain, and the second becoming apparent as we went into the cover of the trees… which also provided cover for pools of water, and mosquitoes.
Thousands of mosquitoes.

A constant drone.

All told, when we were home and safe the next day, Sarah and I had over a hundred bites between us… 50 something on Sarah’s legs alone.
But we pushed through, and finally came to the scree field where the main trail and the climbers trails diverged. We’d been hiking on a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail up to that point, but now we cut East, aiming to gain a few thousand feet of elevation in a little over a mile.
A mile of scree – small, pebble sized rock held onto the side of the mountain by… well, absolutely nothing, as we learned. One foot up, eight inches down. Repeated, in a switchback pattern, for a few hours. Wearing a backpack with rope, harness, trad gear and water. Food and first aid gear. Basically – heavy. We walked 13 miles total… with steps to equal 21 miles, according to our pedometers.
The scree didn’t last forever though (thank the Lord), and we finally mounted the main ridge around 2:00. Sarah and my route finding skills found us navigating thin paths around gendarmes (spires of rock blocking our path) and along thin trails overlooking 500+ foot drops. But they were a full two feet wide, and the rock didn’t /always/ break away in our hands, so it was really pleasant overall.
But all good things end, and we were faced with a tough call – start the technical ascent, or turn around. It was already 4:00, and we were exhausted. The next section involved rope and gear; effectively three pitches of technical rock climbing to reach the summit. And non-trivial climbing at that… not difficult, but the rock is weak enough that gear needs to be placed with care, and every hold has to be considered suspect. Not fast terrain.
After deliberation, we turned away. We had been hiking for 8+ hours, and only had 5 or daylight left… spending 2+ hours of that daylight on the climb alone would have been reckless. So we sat up top instead; talking, resting, and checking in with each other about how we’d been doing over the course of Sarah’s road trip.

It was lovely.
The descent was fun. Screeing (skiing down scree) was made safe and pleasant by the use of heavy gaiters. It also turned what had been a 2+ hour ascent into a 15minute descent. We even got to glissade down the snowpack, saving more time (and more importantly, causing giggles and laughs which raised our sightly-deflated spirits).
We hit the car around 9:30. Literally exactly in time to receive a happy birthday call from Sarah’s parents (literally within 10s of turning on the phone) and the start of our return adventure… missed exits, last-minute Dominos, and dinner on a deserted island made up our drive home (basically, took the wrong highway, got dinner at Dominos, ate it on a parking lot median, technically known as an island). We did stop a few times for short naps, to keep the sanity going, but we did make it home to Hood River eventually… tired, sore, and well exercised.