Tuesday, May 24, 2005

My First Backpack

Last weekend, I decided to do a little backpacking in the Olympics. It was my first backpacking trip, and my first trip to the Olympic Peninsula. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I bought myself a backpack and a down sleeping bag, packed up my best raingear, and hit the trail with a few friends.

The first day, we were greeted with perfect hiking weather. It was overcast (which, for a pasty, freckled fellow like myself, rocks) and about 60 degrees. We started our journey near Quinault Lake, and our goal was to reach the Enchanted Valley, a mere 13 miles up the trail. The trail started off wide and level, almost like a logging road, but quickly narrrowed to the single-track, rock hopping type of trail I love.

I was amazed by the sheer amount of water flowing through this place. Countless streams and waterfalls fed the river that raged beside us. Huge trees covered with moss and mushrooms sheltered us from the rain, and the sounds of wildlife echoed through the valley. We hiked on for hours, skipping across puddles, traversing streams, and taking in the beauty of it all.

After about 5 hours or so of hiking, we stumbled across the perfect campsite. It was right next to the river, covered with trees, and had a big stack of firewood just waiting to be burned. After realizing that there was no way we were going to make it to the Enchanted Valley before sundown, we decided to bag it and set up camp there.

As we were talking about how this site was just too good to be true, a couple of guys walked up and told us that a scout troop had Such-and-Such campsite reserved, and that this might be it. Now, we didn't actually know the name of our site, but we weren't about to give it up on a rumor.

Once the hikers had moved on, we got out the map and tried in vain to find the reserved site. Not long after we had pitched the first tent, the scout troop came marching by.

Making small talk and avoiding eye contact, we politely waited for the scouts to pass. Eventually, the scoutmaster and his assistant came into view. As they approached us, one of them stopped and asked if this was Such-and-Such camp. Naturally, we replied with a confident "No." Now, we didn't actually know this in the 'factual' sense of the word, but we were pretty sure it wasn't our camp.

The scoutmaster went on to tell us that the kids were getting really tired, and that he didn't think they could go on much further. At this point, our able bodies felt kinda bad, and we reassured the scoutmaster that his campsite was probably really close. He grudgingly continued to hike, and I did a victory dance stoically continued setting up camp.

About ten minutes later, the scout leaders returned. They again told us how tired the kids were, and asked us if we could share the campsite with them. The scoutmaster assured us that all twelve kids were exhausted and would be asleep by 8. My friend Isaiah explained that we were looking to have a nice, mellow, evening, and the scoutmaster promised that the they would be really quiet. I reiterated that we really wanted to have a relaxed, mellow night, and if they really wanted the site, we could find another one.

At that point, the scoutmaster's sidekick turned to him and said, "Al, I think they might be saying that they won't be able to be as 'mellow' as they want to be with all the kids around." I fought the urge to burst out laughing, but it was really hard. Maybe he thought we wanted to smoke pot, or that we were couples who wanted some 'quiet time' together, but whatever it was, it went uncorrected. The scouts ended up at a campsite not far from our own, and we had a nice, peaceful night by the campfire.

After listening to the rain patter its way towards morning, I woke up warm, dry, and comfortable. The girls, on the other hand, woke up in a puddle. The seams in their tent had leaked pretty bad and their sleeping pads were soaked. Needless to say, we made excellent time on our way back to the trailhead. Three hours later, we were sipping lattes in the Lake Quinault Lodge.

After this experience, I will definitely be doing more backpacking trips this summer. I'd really like to see more of the Olympic Penninsula and the San Juans. Also, getting down to the redwoods would be great. Loooong story short, backpacking rocks. Do it.

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