Sunday, March 24, 2013

First backpacking trip of the year

Sunrise on the Skokomish
My daughter's first backpacking trip was when she was 4 month old.  By going ultralight I could carry the baby and her father could carry the gear.  Since she was breastfed we only had to pack diapers for her.  Life was good.  Then she got to that awkward stage where she was to big to carry and too small to walk.  So I had to stop taking her backpacking for a few years.  Now she is big enough to hike but her father is far too ill to hike, let alone carry our gear.  Since I backpack ultralight it's still not a problem to take her hiking as long as she is willing to walk.

My youngest daughter's first backpacking trip when she was 4 months old

Last year when I took my little one backpacking she did not do too well.  She made it 2/10th of a mile before she said she was too tired to go any further.  So I said okay, let’s go back to the car then.  She was shocked.  She thought that if she said she could not go on that we would stop and camp right there.  I informed her that it did not matter if we turned back or if we made it to camp; we were still going to have to do some more hiking.  Either hike back to the car and go home or continue on and camp.  Upon hearing that my little one said “well maybe I could go a little bit further” and she made ½ mile to our campsite.   Once at our campsite I was constantly afraid she was going to knock our tarp tent down and it was due to rain that night.  It was a very stressful outing for me and that was the only time I took her backpacking last year.

Yesterday I decided to test her out on the trail again and see if she could do any better.   The plan was to hike about one mile and then camp on the gravel bar of the Skokomish river.  This time she did much better!  She made it 2.5 miles before she said she was tired and she only told me because I asked her. 

On the morning of our trip we left the house at 10am.  I chose a late start because I figured we would not make it far before we camped and I did not want to sit around freezing to death in camp for hours and hours.  We hit the trail at about 11am and had a leisurely hike.  She kept asking me the names of lichens and there was a lot of discussion about Usnea longisimma. 

We hiked and hiked until it looked like we had found a good place to leave the trail and cut down to the river.  I spied the perfect tent site with soft sand by the river.  But when we got closer to the perfect site we found a  beaver pond blocking our way.  We brushed crashed through salmon berry to get around the slough and then crossed on a log. My little one got one of her feet wet, darn it and we never did see that beaver.

Our 40 ounce shelter
Anyway we reached the perfect spot and I pitched the tent.   I noticed that there was a lot of driftwood lying around and it looked like I would be able to start a fire.  I don’t normally like to have a campfire but it was really cold and I decided that a fire would be a good idea for this hike.  There was a lot of fallen cotton wood on the ground. 

 Cotton wood is funny stuff, it’s all water and then when the water is burned off there’s not much wood left.  It’s about the least efficient wood there is to burn, but because it is so light it can be easier to start a fire with than some other types of wood and it’s really easy to break up by hand.  I got a fire going with the help of some dried up Douglas-fir branches and once it was hot enough I piled lots of huge cottonwood logs onto the fire.  The fire was never huge but the pile of logs on the fire was enormous.   That’s how you build a lasting fire with wet cottonwood. 

Most of the wood on the fire is not actually burning, nope, it’s drying.  Then when the wood is dry it goes up really fast.  So you need to have huge pieces of wood on the fire if you want a fire that you don’t want to have to have to constantly babysit. 
getting over stuff like this it not too hard
when you go ultralight
With a pleasant fire and some vodka, the time went by quickly and I was not over annoyed at my daughter for knocking the tarp tent down twice in the first hour.  I pounded a bunch of stakes around the main stake to keep her from taking it all down a 3rd time.
 I was really pissed off  when my daughter threw a rock into the river for the dog right at bed time.  It was going to be long cold night for poor Patches, soaking wet and sleeping on the ground in March.  I really wanted to spank my daughter, but I did not want to destroy the trip.  It was hard to know what to do. 

 I threatened to make my daughter sleep out in the cold and to give  Patches her sleeping bag and spot in the tent.  I think my daughter got the point.  In the night she got up and put her own raincoat over Patches.
For dinner that night we had instant rice with chipped pork (or was it beef?) and home made dehydrated  hummus.  It was really tasty and my daughter ate a lot.  She must be on another growth spurt. 

With a nice fire to cook with I did not have to worry about conserving stove fuel so we had multiple cups of hot chocolate to keep us warm.  I cut off the liquids about two hours before bed time though. 

No use, her sleeping bag is in the dryer right now.

That night I was almost warm enough.  I sleep really cold and I have to do a lot just to try to stay warm.  For starters, I made sure I was warm before I went to bed.  When I went to bed I wore two pairs of wool socks with hand warmers between each pair.  I wore arctic mittens with hand warmers in them, I wore a warm hat and I wore three upper layers and two lower layers.  I also draped a down jacket over my shoulders on top of my sleeping bag.  All of that and I was just barley warm enough. 

My sleeping bag is a down Campmor bag rated at 20 degrees.  The temperature was probably close to 35 degrees.  I think I need to invest in a supersonic sleeping bag.  It does not help that I am too claustrophobic to zip myself all the way into a mummy bag.  I can pull the zipper all the way up, but I panic if I cinch the collar around my neck.
These flies loved this bag for whatever reason

In the morning a beautiful pink light filled the valley and lit up the snowy peaks above us.  I got up at 7:30 and took some pictures before I had to deal with my daughter.  She was cold after her accident and she could not put her mittens on by herself. 

To make matter worse the fire did not want to restart in spite of there being a pretty good layer of coals left over, and my stoking it up once in the night.  So I helped my daughter with her clothes and then I boiled water for hot drinks and cooked breakfast with my alcohol stove.  She felt much better after a hot meal.  After breakfast I managed to get the fire going and life was good again.  We hung around the campsite until about 11 while I slowly packed up.  Right before we left I cooked lunch and made another round of hot drinks.   

Our tarptent got soaked with condensations on the inside, my tarptent has never done that before.  I suppose the lack of a breeze was the problem.  I've had it stay dry while pitched on the ocean beach, but there is always a breeze at the beach.

We took a longer route on the way back so we could avoid the jungle of salmonberry canes.  We made it back out the car a 1pm and we were both pretty tired.  I swear my pack felt heavier on the way out than on the way in.  My pack should have been lighter after we ate the food and burned half the stove fuel.  I guess I was just tired after sleeping on the cold ground.

Tiny fire with massive amount of wood
When I got home I loaded up my track log and deleted all the erroneous waypoints and was surprised to find that we had hiked 5 miles round trip. 
My daughter is ready for backpacking this year!   I’m just going to have to force her to get up with me in the night so we can keep her sleeping bag dry. 

5 miles with about 300 feet elevation gain

Track and elevation log


Anonymous said...

another interesting trip report. I enjoy following your adventures. good job getting your girl out there. I've heard that the time kids spend with their families outside, are the best remembered times when they become adults. and remembered fondly.

Marcus Hampton said...

I absolutely love how truthful and accurate you trip reports are. I've had the honor of hiking with you and I know you recount the facts. If you put your tarp tent away wet that would have added weight. A emergency blanket will add a few degrees to your bag but they repack to the size of a basketball. A bivy can add degrees and keep you dry but I try not to breath in mine(condensation).