Through the Portal-lands, camping with Charlotte

IMG_5863The boil-in-bag wild salmon backcountry meal didn’t have a date on it and I assumed no shelf life to speak of, no lot code, I got it at least a year ago, possibly two, probably still safe to eat. It came in a Mediterranean sauce of Roma tomatoes and green olives, you just put it in the boiling water over your camp stove and let it sit a few minutes in the bag (I let it go much longer and simmer in the pot, drooping over the side). Charlotte had a power bar for breakfast and when I opened my salmon pouch it crumbled to the consistency of oatmeal, smelled like canned tuna but tasted alright — I ate it with an articulated fork, sucked the juices dry, backed it with black coffee and vitamin C.

I’d been trying for a couple years to get Charlotte to join me on a dad/daughter bonding trip backpacking and finally, she agreed. You want everything to go perfectly on these trips in hopes they’ll enjoy themselves and want to come back, but things don’t go perfectly, that’s part of hiking, it’s the stories you bring back that make the memories.

We go to a river valley not far from Seattle over the east side of the Cascade mountain range, an area with a lot of car camping options by the river and more private camps a few miles up the trails. Once you get to the east, the weather gets drier and because you start pretty high, without much effort you can get to subalpine meadows, lakes, some jagged peaks with snow. It’s where I came with the Mountaineer club when I graduated from their scrambling course, climbed a peak called Volcanic Neck, the crux move a step at the end you have to get right, no ropes allowed.

Charlotte and I threw the football by the fire and I noted a headline on the old newspaper I used to start it: something about Obama taking Guam from Clinton, dated May, 2008. I showed her how to lace the poles through the tent sleeves and bought a fresh bag of anti-bacterial hand-wipes, which I caught her huffing, and realized later she’d been saving the old ones in her pocket, spitting on them to freshen up the scent, rubbing them on her cheeks.

In the past four weeks or so, Charlotte’s discovered the parallax view phenomenon when you close one eye and look at the tip of your nose and it looks a bit different than when the other one’s closed, so when she’s in her flow state humming or talking to herself, she toggles between the two views blinking and squinting and tilting her head side to side, skipping along the trail, twirling her poles.

I told her the same thing I told Lily on this trail, that along the narrow sections where it’s steep on one side, to always remember if you fall, fall into the mountain and not down the other side, because you could die. And I had her go ahead of me so I could keep an eye on her.

It was about three miles to the camp and I’d taken both her and Lily on this same climb before, when they were much younger, to where Charlotte couldn’t really remember the trail, though I reminded her it’s the place where they’d discovered some portals, and had to talk to faeries to gain access through the other side.

And we lost the trail a couple hours in; it disappeared beneath a swath of avalanche debris, of broken talus and clumps of soil and tree roots, and we mistook dried-up stream beds as trail and both got frustrated, and I had to actually get the map out but realized the altitude was getting to me, I wasn’t even sure if I had the right map, had to second guess myself, wondered if I had any business taking my kid out here with me, and the weather was sketchy, going in and out of spitting rain with a distant possibility for thunderstorms they’d said, but I didn’t pay too much attention because they’re normally wrong in their predictions for this area and it’s better than they think it will be — and the map suggested the trail just followed the creek so we climbed down to it but it was too brushy, and at last we saw a couple other climbers above us, climbed up to them, got back on trail, and Charlotte kept asking me what time it was and when we’d get there.

The camp is hidden off the trail across a tiny stream, and when we arrived Charlotte remembered the portals, a series of implied doorways framed by leaning lodgepole pines and silver fir, and Charlotte had me follow her through them, where she feigned pushing buttons with a code as you might a garage or a secured access door you scan with a badge, and we got the tent up before the rains came on, got inside, and she probably had one too many Junior Mints because she went slaphappy and started really grating on my nerves, getting way too close to my face with hers and commenting on features in mine, then repeating nonsensical phrases over and over again until I had to threaten her with violence and use bad language and she started to cry, and I chided her, I thought it was a put-on but it wasn’t — she missed mommy, missed Lily — and the tent started to leak, it gathered in a pool by our heads and our feet and I had to ball-up some gear to stop it, and I started crying too and we held one another and agreed we’re a lot alike, we feel things too much.

On Sunday we stopped at the Twin Pines burger stand by an RV park outside of Cle Elum, Cash Only, country music, Trump signs, muscle shirts, malt shakes in like 25 flavors, a rustic-looking sign saying something about the best memories are made around the table; I took a picture of Charlotte smiling by it with her fries and texted it to Dawn, drove the speed limit the whole way back over the mountains, not in any rush for it to end.


Categories: musings

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11 replies

  1. she’ll always remember this trip Bill…thanks for sharing! best,


    gregg s johnson cell: 206.399.3066 email:



  2. This is what I love about you, Bill: honesty. Other writers might have glossed over the irritation. You wade in. Yup, I know that scene. We all do. You don’t surrender to the kitsch. (Just finished Unbearable Lightness, can you tell?)


    • Hey, thanks for that Ross, that’s what I’m trying to explore here so I’m glad you called it out — trying to get inside this memoir/CNF format, and it’s those irritants that are most relatable for people and most interesting I think. I left Unbearable Lightness for my mom back in Germany. I was SO getting into it, then Dawn stole it from me on the train to Vienna, reread it, and by the time we got back I didn’t have time to finish it, thought there’d be something poetic about leaving it for my mom since she got it for me, for Christmas. I think she got me maybe a dozen classics like that I had on a list I hadn’t read yet. What an inspiration, his writing, that story. Thanks for the kind words about the kitsch, they call to you like puppies from behind the glass, all wanting a home. (How does Elton John do it, sentiment without too much? It’s adding enough vinegar I think.)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. journey into the soul – father and daughter. Remembered it will be.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s one I’ll keep in my head a long time: You and Charlotte both crying in the leaky tent. Thanks for that, Pops.


  5. she will remember this for a long time, the good and the bad, as in all of life, with a safe return home for both of you –

    Liked by 1 person

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