I’ll be frank. It’s kind of miserable camping in the rain.
As most of you should know by now, I am preparing for a big backpacking trip in July. I am going to Alaska to shoot bears (not that kind of shooting – this is a photography blog, folks). And if you read my post on my first backpacking training hike, you’ll also know that I’ve never done backpacking before. I refuse to be the one holding everyone else up; I’m dedicated to getting my weak butt trained and prepped for this thing.
Phase I was a simple afternoon hike with about 23 lbs on my back. Phase II was car camping using only backpacking gear (41 lbs). And Phase III was a real, full-blown weekend of backpacking (50 lbs for 13 miles)… or so it was supposed to be.
This winter has been miserably wet – wetter than I’ve ever seen it (funny.. didn’t I say that last year?). And it hasn’t let up. But the trip’s still approaching, regardless of weather, and we still have to be ready. So we defied the rain and ventured out to the woods of Washington anyway, stopping by a rural home to purchase some firewood. It rained the whole way.
About a mile out from our intended campsite, the road was marked as closed. The pavement had sunk a full five feet or so in one section, creating a decent drop from one side, and a notable climb to get back out on the other. We deemed it passable, but the folks in the other vehicle were dubious. We decided to go ahead and check things out, and we’d return for the other car with a report.
It was still raining.
The campsite was nice enough – right on the Lewis River, downstream of Lower Falls. There was plenty of room for all of us, and it was conveniently located to our intended backpacking launch point.
We sent our car back to rendezvous with the other while we started to set up camp. While a bit wet, that section of closed road was the worst of it, and everything else should work.
Our driver came back to report the other car was going home.
We came all this way; a little rain wasn’t going to scare me away. I couldn’t believe that’s all it took to make them tuck tail. Oh well. We were perfectly capable of having our own adventure without them. I was actually excited.
Without the other car, the plan of through-hiking was out, but we opted to stick it out the one night, do a hike along the falls the next day, then likely go home early. Phase III turned into another Phase II, but I was ok with that; I’d probably be miserable with 50 pounds on my back anyway (I should figure out how to get that down).
And then we realized: the firewood was in the other car.
It was still raining.
With a little more than an hour of daylight left, our priorities turned to collecting firewood. Damp firewood. In a completely soaked forest.
We could knock a few dead branches off of the nearby trees (whatever we could reach), but anything on the ground was too wet to burn. Even the meager twigs we did find were quite wet. And any sizable logs were either likewise waterlogged or totally rotted through.
We managed a modest pile, dried some kindling over a stove, and we somehow started a respectable fire. We even hung a tarp for a bit of shelter, and we cooked up some freeze-dried meals and s’mores.
We retired to our tents, and I froze the night away in my hammock to the “plink plink” of raindrops hitting the fly.
The next morning was somewhat drier (although barely), but our poor tarp was nearly on the ground having collected two gallons of rainwater. A bit of oatmeal later, we broke camp, tossed all our drenched gear into the truck, and headed up to the waterfalls.
The weather finally started to cooperate, and the three-mile hike was actually quite pleasant. I got some photos of the waterfalls and took in all the fresh air of the wilderness. I still felt somewhat damp, but I was enjoying the trek.
We passed a grand total of two other people on the trail; we almost had the area entirely to ourselves (not surprising, really).
And by the time we made it back to the truck, it was raining again.
I’m glad we didn’t stay the second night, and I’m glad I didn’t actually have to backpack with all that weight. However, I’m also glad we stuck it out the one, wet night. It truly was an adventure, the hike was beautiful, and I now know how waterproof my gear is. I just hope Alaska is drier!
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