Scenes from the Backcountry

Trail Crew Yard Sale–gear drying in the sun by the Waptus River this morning

We set out on Monday with full backpacks and tools in our hands. Crossed Hour Creek on the log, helping each other crawl over the rootwad and up onto the bank. We made good progress. The afternoon grew darker, and the first drops of rain splattered on vine maple leaves. Thunder grumbled. It rained hard enough that we stopped to pull covers over our packs. Ten minutes later, it was time for raincoats. Lightning flashed and John counted to three before the thunder came. Just about right over us, so where did we want to be? Not in the open, not in tall timber. We didn’t have a lot of choices. It rained harder and the storm moved away. At that point we were intent on reaching camp and setting up shelter.

Rain came down for a day and a half. There was always the option of giving up and going home. We talked about it. I was concerned about hypothermia, since the weather forecast called for snow above 6000 feet and we were at 3000′. Not exactly balmy. But the crew was game to stay and work. There was very little whimpering, and actually some laughing. We cut brush, moved logs, dug drainage ditches. Observed three and a half feet of snow at the horse ford before Waptus Lake. Snow is lingering late along the Cascade crest.

In camp we huddled under a tarp to make tea, share food, tell stories. Hermit thrushes sang in the drizzle, and robins landed on the log jam in the river. Something we never did before–reading aloud after supper. Over twenty years I have been camping with trail crews, and we never thought of this till now. This has to be the right bunch of people…we had been talking about how enjoyable it is to be read to, especially while traveling. I had brought an old copy of Desert Solitaire that I’m re-reading. John is in love with the desert Southwest, goes to Utah every spring to backpack the canyons and pay homage to petroglyphs. Pam has also traveled there. So I read aloud the chapter about water in the desert. Three listeners relaxed into the ground and experienced Edward Abbey’s descriptions of flash floods, thunderstorms, poison springs, seeps on canyon walls, and thirst in the hot sun.

It was a wonderful thing to do. They chuckled at Abbey’s curmudgeonly humor, and hmmed at the poetical parts.

We did it again last night, and I read the chapter about a descent into The Maze near Canyonlands National Park. Afterward there was a discussion about the colored layers of rock, and the places that were unnamed when Abbey was there, but now have names. “What would he think of how things are now?” someone wondered. Edward Abbey’s feelings about growth, development, and progress were made abundantly clear in his writing, and I am sure that his restless spirit twirls in his grave because of what has come to pass. He saw much of it coming.

But here we are. We go off to our tents to listen to droplets ticking on rainflies and the last songs of thrushes in the long twilight. And the river gurgling through the logjam.

This morning I rolled out to see steam rising from the ground, and not a cloud in the sky. The world had shifted. When the sun came over the ridge, we scurried around placing wet boots and clothing where they might dry out a little. Mountain goats appeared on the bluffs across the river. We had seen two the day before, but now there were seven including three kids.

Hike out day. We worked on the trail for a couple of miles, then it was time to just walk. And walk and walk. We were all walking in wet boots. Somehow the last quarter mile was the worst. The brain knows the end is near, so one becomes hyper-aware of sore feet, the weight of the pack, the itchy mosquito bite. We made it.

It’s the little things that make it bearable. Knowing you’re going to live in spite of being wet and cold. So have that bite of chocolate, and share with friends. Love the songs of birds, the telling of tales, the hot tea in a cup. Notice the blooms of flowers. Melt with delight and relief at the feel of dry socks and a warm sleeping bag. Turn toward the sun. Throw another rock off the trail. Grin at your friends, cheer them on.

Celebrate the little things.

Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina)

2 thoughts on “Scenes from the Backcountry

  1. That was well put–I almost wanted to be there–almost. I will remember this the next I am inconvenienced by rain. JoAnn from the Forgotten Corner

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