Where there’s fire, there’s smoke. A *lot* of smoke.

This week it was time for my second backpacking trip, another 2-night 3-day adventure.

Did you miss the first one? It had a regrettable ending, but hey, the photos were great!

Despite knowing that Western Washington would be congested with wildfire smoke during our outing, and that it would worsen each day, we opted to go anyway, knowing that if we waited for the perfect circumstances, we’d miss our window entirely. In only two more weeks, we’ve got to head back to Texas for our usual autumn round of visits.

We were hoping that we’d have cleaner air and better visibility once we got some elevation beneath us in the Mount Adams Wilderness, but as you’ll see below, that was not the case.

Mount Adams is right there. Get yourself about halfway between Portland and Seattle, then head east.

Day 1: Orange path from A to B
Day 2: Pink path from B to a point just west of The Hump, then back up to C
Day 3: Green path from C to A
Total mileage: 28.5

Point A: Killen Creek Trailhead, which we found after winding our way over a ridiculous number of bumpy forest service roads. The road that provided the most direct route was closed for construction, so we had to take a very elaborate detour.

The 12,280-foot peak of Mount Adams is right behind us, I swear.
The trail we were on was at about 6,000 feet, so it should have been imposingly visible.
Damn wildfire smoke.

Oh, there it is!
The air cleared just enough for a shadowy glimpse on our first evening.
The following two days? Not so much.

Campsite #1

Sunrise through the smoke, on Day 2

We filter our drinking and cooking water from clear, running streams.
Remember this for comparison.

This is a rushing river of glacial run-off, and you can see that it’s full of dirt particles and who knows what-all else that makes it murky. We could filter it and drink it if we had to, but… ew.

And after the river, an immense boulder field.
Wow, Mother Nature.

Evidence of death; evidence of new life

A hiking hippie chick showed me that wild blueberries were growing right next to the trail.
I ate about a dozen, and they were the blueberriest blueberries I’ve ever tasted!
Also? I have a feeling that hiking hippie chick could have shown me many other things I’ve never tried.

At the end of Day 2, I needed a rinse.
(OK, what I really needed was a hot bath with lots and lots of soap.)
This was yet another creek full of glacial runoff, but truth be told it was cleaner than I was, so I gave myself a quick splash-n-suds to the most offensive bits, and called it good enough.

And then I hung my clothes up to get some fresh air, convincing myself that the pines loved this chance to feel like Christmas trees.

A tale of two river crossings:
On Day 2, heading south, I crossed slowly, but upright until the very end, when I had to lean forward and brace myself with my hands for a few steps.
On Day 3, heading back northward, I lost my mojo. I knew I had to get across. I also knew that my confidence in my ability to maintain my balance was low.
So I got low.
And Tim — the only person around who could have helped me if I’d gone in the drink — made sure there was evidence. My hero.

We met this guy, trail name “Lost,” on Day 2. He’d been hiking the Pacific Crest Trail northbound since the end of March, from its start at the CA-Mexico border.
And he’d had enough of walking in smoke, which has been horrible for PCT hikers this season, ruining their views and clogging their lungs from northern California, all the way through Oregon and Washington. That’s about 1500 trail miles of misery, y’all.
In fact, parts of the trail have been closed, including the final stretch to the northern terminus.
We encountered many dejected northbound thru-hikers, trudging onward, knowing they will likely not be able to complete their journey the way they’d hoped.
“Lost” — who has also thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and Camino de Santiago — was looking for a way to get off the trail and re-evaluate his options.
We told him we’d be heading back toward civilization the next day, and would happily give him a lift if he wanted to meet us at the trailhead where we’d parked the BFT.
He took us up on the offer, and even beat us to the parking lot the next morning!
And that’s when we learned that he’s also an Army veteran, wounded twice in combat (legs shattered by a suicide bomber; shot in the head) and medically retired after 10 years of service. #Hero
We know he’ll be just fine, and we’ll be following his Instagram just to make sure.

That would have been a perfect place to close… but then I rediscovered this hilarious evidence of my own hiking history.

Come with me back to 1979, for a rainy hike along the C&O canal with my Girl Scout troop in Frostburg, MD. My mom thought to take before and after photos, and look at my face.

The quality of my outdoor gear and attire has definitely changed for the better, but I still make that hopeful “Off we go” face when we set off, and the “Poor, pitiful me” one after a long or stressful venture.

Ah, the 1970’s.
That track suit was pure polyester, the canteen made whatever was in it taste like metal, and let’s not even speculate about my backpack and shoes. I’ve got way better gear now!

Coming up next: We’re relocating to the Olympic Peninsula today, and we hope to squeeze in one more (less smoky) backpacking trip in Olympic National Park before we point our nose back to Texas.


Descriptions of our other two Washington backpacking adventures:

A virgin no longer: Emily’s first backpacking trip

I really didn’t think I’d ever do it.

Day hikes? Yes, please.

But… carrying all that extra stuff on my back and cuh-cuh-cuh-camping out? Overnight? With no shower at the end of a long hiking day? And having to… you know… in the woods?

I don’t think so.

Say hello to our backwoods poop kit.
1. Dig a hole at least 6″ deep. (That’s dirt on the trowel, y’all. Just dirt.)
2. Poop in it.
3. Use TP/wipes as needed.
4. Bury the human waste and biodegradable paper products.
5. Bag any non-biodegradable paper waste and carry it out.
6. Use hand sanitizer.

Backpacking has always been Tim’s thing. He’s been sending himself on long-distance walkabouts almost every year since he retired from the Navy in 2013, starting with a 3-month trip on the Pacific Crest Trail. He’s also done the entire John Muir Trail, parts of the Appalachian Trail, and a Grand Canyon down-n-up, among others.

I’ve always been the support person for these adventures, providing drop-offs and pick-ups at trail heads, mailing supply packages, and taking care of all the other things that need to happen when one’s spouse is temporarily living off the grid.

What made me change my mind? A combination of three things.

  1. Being in Washington for an extended period of time, with access to fantastic trails in both the Cascades and Olympics, during prime hiking season;
  2. Realizing that other than a proper pack for me, we had enough gear & supplies needed to outfit both of us safely; and
  3. Reminding myself yet again that life is short, so maybe I should fix my pony tail, set my squeamies aside, and find out what I’ve been missing.

    This.
    This would be one of the things I’d been missing.

So we bought me a big-girl pack, and we planned our first excursion: 3 days, 2 nights, about 27 trail miles.

Come along with us. The easy way.

Day 1:

We started there at the red pin, Tipsoo Lake, on August 6.
Thought you might like to see a map that shows where we were in relation to someplace you might recognize. Like Seattle.

Day 1 (orange): Parked at Tipsoo Lake (A) and camped for the night at Sheep Lake (B)
Day 2 (pink): Pacific Crest Trail to camp at Basin Lake (C)
Day 3 (green): Basin Lake alllll the way back to our Point A
Mileage by map: 23.4
Mileage by tracking app: 29.1.
Average of the two: 26.2 (Can I count this as my first marathon?)

Our home for the first night: Sheep Lake
Popular place.
We were definitely not alone. Lots of other campers, due to the fairly easy 2-mile hike from a main road.

We arrived mid-afternoon, and refilled our water containers from the stream that feeds the lake.
This is my “dirty bag” for collecting water, which I then filtered into…

This!
Delicious, cold, fresh and safe

That stream made for a good tootsie soak too, but only for a few seconds at a time. Icy!

One-pot dinner, served in…

… multi-use cup.
After a few minutes standing in hot water, that formerly dehydrated chicken breast looked and tasted like… dry chicken.

Home sweet tent.
It’s model name is Hubba Hubba, and we have made all the jokes.

Zipped in and ready for bed, yes, while it was still light out.
That 40-degree rated mummy bag? Nope. I got cold, even wearing jammies, and temps probably hovered around the mid-50’s.
We have since replaced it with a warmer bag.

Let’s start Day 2:

The best part of waking up is not exactly instant coffee in your cup (which is also used to hold your oatmeal, sports drink, rehydrated dinner, etc.), but it’ll do for the short term.

We trekked northward…

… and Mount Rainier watched over us.

That which we worship protects us …

… but we can’t always protect that which we worship.
This was our first evidence of recent forest fires.

Our first view of our home for Night 2: Basin Lake
We arrived at about 2:30 p.m., and had the entire basin to ourselves. There may or may not have been afternoon skinny dipping, and we didn’t even encounter anyone coming in as we climbed out the next morning!

Home sweet tent, this time with the rain fly added for warmth.
I missed seeing the stars through our roof, but I slept far more comfortably than I had the night before.

OK, put your boots & pack back on, and pick up your poles for Day 3:

We found our way through this haunting scenery.
Following the trail was difficult, with fallen trees and ash obscuring the route in places.

Found later on a live, still standing tree: one very old trail marker!

I took this screen cap at what might have been the highest elevation point on our trip.
Based on topographical maps, we probably hit about 6500.

Wanna watch how slowly I hike? Sometimes I cover a whopping 2 miles per hour. Oh, and you can probably tell I didn’t know Tim was taking video. Derp.

We made it back to our RV park by late afternoon for long, hot showers.
Look at my dirty pants!
And herein lies a shopping lesson.
These are boys’ REI brand mountaineering pants, priced at $39.95.
Comparable pants in women’s sizes started at $64.50.
The boys’ version fit me perfectly, and my psychological barrier to purchasing clothing marked XL instead of S was completely obliterated by my excitement over the money I’d saved!

And then we went out for a big, calorie-laden, non-dehydrated dinner, and I ordered a wild boar sandwich for the express purpose of being able to post, “I was so hungry, I ate a boar.”
And that is when karma made its move against my sense of hubris.
The boar attacked within about an hour, and I spent the next 2 days battling and recovering from food poisoning. That sandwich was the one and only item I took in that day that Tim didn’t, so we’re sure it’s the culprit.
Message received.
And no boar for me again, ever. Even pork is gonna be an issue for a while.

The illness was unfortunate, and I wish — really wish — it hadn’t happened, but it did not ruin backpacking for me.
I’m ready for more of this.


Descriptions of our other two Washington backpacking adventures:

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