I sat there by the bees in the lupine with my knees muddy and the birds singing and the sound of some far-away traffic like a low tide going out. I chewed on an apple in a nonthinking way and cleft off pieces with a satisfying snap. Nothing really happened, nothing worth writing about. But still I wrote, and it felt good, a way to tend to my little plot.
I made plans to go backpacking again, this time to the Olympic peninsula, a span of glacier-covered mountains, river valleys, rain forests and beaches. A new destination for me called the Enchanted Valley, and onwards to a high mountain pass.
For all the times I’ve climbed I never had the patience to learn my knots, which is a non-starter for any Alpinist. So I cut some lengths of nylon cord, burned the ends, and practiced a couple hitches using an app on my phone. I left lengths of cord around the house tied to various things. They said you should practice your knots with your eyes closed or in a dark shower, because that simulates the conditions you’ll be tying knots on the mountain. I ignored their advice.
And then after thinking about it for a few days I decided not to camp on the snow at the pass but instead stick to the lower valley by the chalet. The chalet was built in 1931 and now used as a summer ranger’s station. They say there’s a large population of black bear in the valley and they often claw through the chalet to get the ranger’s food. I had gotten less scared of bear, though I still have a healthy respect for anything that could kill, maim or eat me. Now that I don’t get high backpacking I’m hoping I’ll be less paranoid when I hear something at night, but we’ll see.
And the backpacking trips are always an excuse to spend a few hundred dollars on new gear at REI. So I loaded up on backcountry food, fuel, a new pair of trekking shoes I got for half off, a first aid kit, new socks, a lightweight backcountry shovel that has no handle, just grips where you hold the blade. Then I went back for the backcountry pass I forgot the first time and bought more clothes, just because.
And because I’m so excited to get out I started packing about five days early. I laid out my compression sacks and compared the size and weight of various sleeping bag configurations. I went through my maps and took pictures of route descriptions with my phone. I tested my stove and sniffed the insides of my water filters. And packed my bear canister full of food and snacks.
The bear canisters are required for backcountry camping throughout most of our local national parks, and while they’re big (the size of a large plastic bucket) they serve as a compact way to stow all your food and scented stuff like toiletries, cookware and fuel. And you can use them as a stool which is handy.
So I thought deeply about the route and tried to picture it from the route descriptions and maps. I’d go about nine miles in on the first day and set up by a river, get up early on day 2 and head for the chalet. Camp there and then that would be the day I’d venture on to the pass to see what I could see from up there. There was a high ford south of a trail junction leading up to the pass, and full-on winter conditions from there on. I got my micro spikes and ax, my gaiters and good gloves. I’d gone so far as to consider camping up there at a place called Camp Siberia because it has views of a nearby hanging glacier and I love the sound of glacier calving, the drama. But I didn’t like the idea of having to melt snow for drinking water or carrying a heavy pack that far. That would be 18 miles from the trail head and not much to do once I got there.
I have a new lightweight camp chair that weighs maybe a pound and I liked the idea of just sitting on that in the river valley with the nearby elk and bear reading a book with my mosquito net for a hat and my sleeping bag coiled around my legs. Not much to write or think about but the birds and the bugs, the alpine flowers and waterfalls, me and my tent. Not actually a tent, more a tarp. And a good little piece of earth to call my own for the night.