I have recently returned from my third annual backpacking trip in the Big Horn Mountains; camping for three nights at Lake Helen.
Being able to go backpacking was initially why I started to change my lifestyle. I had started smoking again and my desire to hike and camp motivated me to quit smoking…again. My desire to backpack stems from a childhood experience.
When I was about 13 years old I attended Y camp. One of the projects was to create a picnic backpack. I was to take a picnic blanket, lay the items I would need for my picnic on the blanket, and then use rope as arm straps. I was shown how to fold the blanket around the rope to keep everything in the pack and enable me to carry it to the spot where I would unfold everything and be able to sit on the blanket and eat. It was actually a brilliant idea for people who enjoy going a short distance into a park to have a picnic.
I got home that day and eagerly showed my mom and step dad what I learned. I believe my step dad was bipolar. He had very high moments and very low moments. He would at times spend an entire day not getting out of bed, or he would suddenly decide he was going to sell firewood and spend the entire day chopping it after buying all the necessary equipment to get it done. He saw my amazing new skill and wanted to put it to use. I don’t remember how many days it took for us to go on our adventurous backpacking trip, I think it was within a day or two, but he used what I showed him to make each of us a backpack to hike up to the Enchantments in Washington State. We laid out regular sleeping blankets onto the floor and filled them with pots, pans, articles of clothing, cans of food and some snacks, pillows, and I don’t quite remember what else. Mostly we packed what he considered to be essential items for our trip. We were simply going to boil water to sterilize it for drinking and I think we used a canteen filled before we left to drink on the way up. We folded all of these items into the blanket and used rope for shoulder straps, then headed out to the trailhead. This was my very first backpacking experience.
I am not sure which trailhead we started on, it may have been the Snow Lakes one, but our trip was to be a seven mile hike up to The Enchantments. The first mile of this hike was switchbacks. The switchbacks would go at a steady incline for 100 ft. to the right, switch back to the left for 100 ft., switch back to the right for 100 ft., you get the drift, for one mile up. Pots and pans clanged together and items shifted often, so we had to make several stops to adjust our blanket, non-water proof backpacks. We didn’t have rain gear either by the way. Eventually we hit what I would call a regular hiking trail that meandered, mostly at an incline, for the next five miles. I know I said The Enchantments were supposed to be seven miles from the trailhead and I suppose they were, but we only made it to the Snow Lakes area which I was told was six miles in. The reason we stopped there is because it was getting dark and we would not make it to the Enchantments before then and I think we only had one flashlight. One of the backpackers that was setting up camp saw us approaching and had a few things to say to my step dad about bringing a boy my age up an advanced hiking trail with no sleeping bags, tents, or survival gear in the event of an emergency. He told us that we should build a fire next to a bolder so we could keep warm from the radiated heat off the rock. It was supposed to get into the 34 degree range over night and we would likely die if we didn’t do what he suggested. The moment the sun came up we packed up our stuff and headed back down.
I promised myself after that trip that when I became an adult and had a son of my own, I was going to take him backpacking, but I was going to do it right. I would make sure we had all the gear, plan out our trip, and it would be a great experience. Over 30 years from my first backpacking experience I am living out my desire to do it right.
My step dad was shot and killed in the mid 80s leaving a bar. For many years I held resentment for some of the things he did, and even for taking me on that hike so many years ago. I have had time to discover though that the backpacking experience with him was necessary. It is the reason I have had the drive to get into nature with my own son and experience it. Every year I learn something new about the proper equipment to bring, how to endure the difficulty of the hike, and how to truly enjoy my surroundings when I stop for a break or to camp. My son looks forward to our trip every year and so do I. Thank you step dad for that difficult experience. It has led me to be become a better backpacker and father. You were a part of who I have become. I am grateful to you for the joy that backpacking brings me and for the desire to have a stronger connection with nature and my son. I hope one day to make the trip back to Washington and hike into the Enchantments, I am sure they are beautiful. This time we are going to do it right.
Go to this link on YouTube if you want to get an idea of what the Enchantments looks like. Thank you Kraig Adams for the wonderful footage of your hike.