Thursday, July 18, 2013

Backpacking adventure with my sons

This week I did something I have never done before. I took my eight and ten year old sons backpacking in the wilderness. No Daddy, no three year old sister to annoy them. Just Mama and the boys... and a sea of mountains. Apart from fearing for our lives during a fierce thunderstorm in the middle of the night, the trip was a huge success – a memory I will treasure for the rest of my life (and I hope they will, too).

Back in my wild motorcycle and hang gliding days, eager for adventure and solitude, I hiked and slept on mountain tops by myself often. This hike with my boys felt so different than those solitary experiences of my youth. For starters, would you believe how much food you have to lug on your back when you try to feed two growing boys? Wisely, I had packed many snacks for them, knowing they would come in handy for bribes when the boys' energy ran low. I don't know how many pounds of yogurt covered pretzels, trail mix, and granola bars they consumed on this trip, but I do know that after a mile of hiking, these extras felt mighty heavy!
We started out Tuesday morning, loaded with heavy backpacks. We all carried our fair share.   

Posing for the camera with our heavy packs before leaving home.  Here, we are still smiling.
We drove one hour East to Cutthroat Pass trail head.  I chose this hike because the first couple of miles to Cutthroat Lake are fairly easy, and from there, you can hike up to the pass.  The trail starts over a bridge and meanders through forest, which gave us beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.  The boys did great carrying their heavy packs, although they didn't fit us right at all.  My shoulders got bruised during these first miles, since I used Steve's old backpack.  Kai's pack didn't fit him properly either, since his hips aren't big enough for the hip strap.
Since the weather forecast predicted possible thunderstorms, and since our packs were such a pain, we decided to set up camp at the lake and then hike up the pass after lunch.  We found a perfect camp spot by a bubbling stream.

Starting the hike by the bridge.
We took many breaks to rest our poor backs and shoulders.
Walking over a log bridge close to our camp site.
Our scenic tent site.
After we devoured our sandwiches and pounds of treats, we headed up the mountain.  It was a typical hot East side day.  I had thought we would reach the pass after just two miles, but since I didn't bring the hiking book (additional weight!), I didn't know for sure.  It felt more than two miles, and the boys complained enough to make me realize this hike was longer than I had expected.  When we hiked out the next day, I read the trail description, and it said the hike up was  almost four miles, with considerable elevation gain in a short period of time.  So when the day was done, we had hiked ten miles!
With enough yogurt covered pretzels, my cheerleading, and the promise of going to the Twisp pool and bakery the next day, we made it up to the pass.  And - oh - what a view!  There were snow fields to roll our sweaty bodies in.

Up, up, up we go.  No pain, no gain.
Finally, the pass is in sight!
Do we look hot and sad?  I actually was blissed out the whole time!

You can see the tiny lake down there.

When we rested on the broad saddle that is teetering on the demarcation zone between the wet west and the dry east, clouds started rolling in.  Nice, fluffy clouds at first, but as the hours passed, they got darker.  Was this the precursor to the dreaded thunder storms I was so afraid of?
As we hiked down (Kai and Lukas being much more cheerful and talkative now), I felt my legs and knees being more and more ready to be done with hiking, wanting to soak themselves in the cold stream by our campsite.  And this is just what happened.  Once back by the tent, we soaked our feet, pumped fresh, cold water through the water purifier for immediate drinking, and then we headed to the lake for some "fishing".  The boys had looked forward to this event since we started the hike, and so we found ourselves dangling the fishing pole into the shallow lake, with small fish darting around it.  Of course, the boys didn't catch anything, but they had fun trying.

Tired and hungry, we headed back to camp, made some split pea soup, and played Black Jack (a sneaky way to get the boys to practice math).  The whole time, mosquitoes swarmed around us, but didn't bite because of the herbal bug repellent we slathered ourselves with every fifteen minutes.  They were plenty annoying, though, which made us retreat into the tent at 9:30.  Once horizontal, I couldn't keep my eyes open, and the boys soon followed my lead.
The whole night, intermittent rain drops fell onto our tent, but not until just before dawn did the storm break loose.  Lightning lit up the inside of the tent, and thunder shook the mountain.  Lukas sat up disoriented and asked how thunder could be so loud.  Kai slept through it all.
I have always been a terrible wuss when it comes to thunder and lightning.  Alone with my kids on this mountain, different scenarios ran through my head.  Should we squat on our sleeping mats to insulate ourselves?  Should I throw the water bottle out of the tent, in case the lightning would be attracted to it?  Were the tent stakes made out of metal?
Lukas had fallen asleep again next to me, and I held on to him (more for my sake than for his). Eventually, the nightmare passed, and I caught a few more hours of sleep.  In the morning, we packed up our soaking tent and backpacks we had hung into a tree, and headed down the mountain to get our breakfast at the famous Cinnamon Twisp Bakery.
As we hiked down, the boys trotted ahead of me, merrily chatting with one another.  My heart was so full of gratitude and love for these two beings.  I realized that these days and years are numbered.  The years when they still think that I am a cool person.  The days when they are their young and innocent selves, before hormones hit and make life so complicated.  These years when their lives are so intertwined, when they are each others' best friend.
Later in the day, we cooled off at the Twisp pool and ate ice cream in Winthrop.  I love summer.  I hope you love yours, too!

Can you see the dirt and dust on his face?  This was after backpacking and obviously before the pool.


  1. Fantastic account of your fabulous trip. Once again you have earned your star. This is the best way to spend your life, you're on the right path, as is so obvious to those fortunate enough to cross your path. Thanks for being you.

    1. Oh, thank you so much for your lovely comment! How did you find my blog?
      Blessings to you!

  2. What a great trip! The lightning would have freaked me out also. Way to go mama!

    What herbal repellent do you use? I would LOVE to know. I am always on the hunt for the perfect skin-friendly, non-cancer causing and effective repellent.

    Beautiful photos, what a trip! Someday we're coming out west because those mountains are just so spectacular. We make due with our eastern bumps but the pacific and rocky mountains tug hard at our hearts and imagination.


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