Yes, sigh, I was asked this a few weeks ago when I took my lady friends backpacking. We were not in any sort of trouble. We were not lost, injured, hungry, tired or struggling in any way, shape or form. We were just hiking along after a fun and adventurous night in the mountains. No need for men here, we weathered the storm perfectly well on our own, I said. The old man chuckled and I rolled my eyes as I kept on walking. Damsels we most certainly were not, thankyouverymuch.
After a few years of casually mentioning a backpacking trip with my friends, I finally decided to make it happen. I rounded up a few of the adventurous ones and we picked a weekend and a trail: Yellow Aster Butte in August. Some of them hadn’t backpacked since they were younger so we discussed what to bring and what to expect on the trail. I mixed up many dried meals into tiny bags and borrowed a big tent. I pictured group photos at the top of the butte with blue skies and jagged peaks behind us. I could not wait to see their faces as they watched the pink and orange sunset behind Shuksan. Everything was planned. And then I checked the weather.
The first rain storm was coming after a drought of a summer. I checked the weather everyday that week and every day the prognosis was worse. Chance of showers changed to 60% chance of rain with lows in the 40’s. Ok, fine, we’ll be cold and maybe a little wet. It will be an adventure. By Thursday it was 80% chance of rain and by Friday it was full blown storm’s-a-coming, 3-4 inches of rain and 60 mph winds. And it might even snow. I literally laughed out loud when I saw this. How silly of me to think I had it all planned out.
One out of the group bailed and others seemed hesitant. I wasn’t about to take them into that kind of rain. We would be miserable. I needed a back-up plan. I looked to the drier east side of the mountains. The North Cascades were experiencing unprecedented wildfires and huge areas of National Forest were closed to hikers, so that left few options. It looked like there would be less rain in Leavenworth and I thought maybe we could score a coveted Enchantments permit to some of the lakes in the area. It was a long shot on a weekend but I figured we’d give it a try. My friends were all on board, confident that their leader knew what she doing. They were certainly more confident than I was.
We met up Saturday morning and did last minute prepping. We checked for all the rain gear: jackets, tarp, backpack covers. And warm stuff: hats and fleeces and gloves. Check. We divided up the gear and most importantly, determined how much alcohol we would be sufficient without overloading our packs. We decided, realistically, that we needed very little. Sarah brought us freshly baked blueberry scones to fuel us on the long drive (check out her lovely food blog, Little House Pantry). After all the planning and re-planning, we were finally on our way and I was so excited for my first ever all women backpacking trip! Two hours later we arrived at the Leavenworth ranger station and asked for a permit. They said they only had permits left for Lake Stuart as they eyed us up and down. Have you checked the weather?
The hike started out great. We had sun, rain and clouds all in the first few miles. But we were hardly paying attention as we caught up on what was happening in each others lives. We stopped for a snack and covered our packs when the rain became steadier. Once in a while a big gust of wind would come try to blow us off the trail, reminding us that a storm was brewing. We were stopped by a duo of rangers asking to see our permit. Have you checked the weather? they asked.
We circled the lake until we finally found a camping spot, set up the tent and tarp and devoured a late lunch of turkey and avocado pita sandwiches. It wasn’t raining so we sat by the lake sipping cider with rum and cocoa spiked with peppermint schnapps. Later as it started to get dark we whipped up some backcountry biscuits to warm us up. Then we saw the most spectacular thing. We noticed a strange bright light coming from behind the mountains straight across the lake from us. We were mesmerized by it lighting up the bottom of the clouds. Suddenly the clouds parted just enough to see the top of the super moon cresting over the mountain top. It was so big and bright it felt like you could reach out and touch it.
It was getting cold so we snuggled up in our sleeping bags. It was quiet and there was still little sign of the forecasted storm. The tent was so bright from the moon that we didn’t need our headlamps. Someone said it was eerie and ominous, like the beginning of a horror movie. But we drifted off to sleep anyway. Later I woke up to the roar of the wind coming up the valley. I waited. One, two, three, four, five…it grew louder and then suddenly slammed into us. My eyes shot open to check the deflection of the tent poles. Then it was completely silent. This repeated a few times until the rain came. It rained and blew off and on all night, but we were cozy in our dry tent, the tarp deflecting the water away.
The next morning we took turns going in and out of the tent between rain showers. The wind died down and the rain came and went. We made oatmeal and ate it as we stood in a circle with our rain jackets on. The low clouds lifted enough to expose the tops of the mountains and they had just a touch of fresh overnight snow. We headed back and grabbed lunch in Leavenworth when we found out that the storms were bad in Seattle and that thousands of homes were without power. I was so glad I chose to go to the east side. But most importantly, we all made it through the storm and I am so proud of my friends. They are badass backpackers. They knew it would be an adventure with the weather but they didn’t back out. I think they even preferred the stormy weather since it makes for a better story. And no, we never once wished we had a man around to do something for us. We were perfectly fine on our own.
Backpacker’s Oatmeal Recipe:
1 packet or 1.5 oz instant oatmeal
2 Tbsp dried blueberries or cherries
1 Tbsp slivered almonds
1 Tbsp powdered milk
1 tsp brown sugar
Mix all ingredients in a ziplock bag (the snack bag size works great). On the trail add about 1/2 cup boiling water. Use less if you like a thicker texture and more if you like it soupy.
Bonus Camp Read!
Two in the Wild by Susan Fox Rogers
Solo journeys are great and I believe much needed, but sometimes you just want the company of a good friend. This book is a collection of essays about spending our valued outdoor time with others. There are stories of adventures with old friends, new friends, mothers, daughters and even ghosts. There are stories of finding friendship in unlikely places and encouraging each other to be brave. Anyone who has enjoyed the company of others on an outdoor journey will appreciate this book.
Car Camp, Day Hike or Backpack? Backpack
Share these stories with your best hiking buds on the trails.
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