As we flew into Seattle, the tip of Mt. Baker to the right pierced snowy and pristine through a sludge of atmosphere – a few pristine looking glacier piercing through air that was brown and grimy and disgusting. I’d left Boston weather in the 90s looking forward to the break the Northwest would surely give me, only to land in 95 degree dry heat in Seatac. Wednesday was a blur as all the Camp Grampers arrived, we fed everyone, we stopped to pick up some gear, and then the minute I’d finished the 8 hour journey to Mineral I hopped back in my mom’s car to head up the mountain to Longmire.
It’s a remarkable feeling, to have woken up in Boston and yet found yourself staring up the great rift of Longmire Valley, past Rampart Ridges to the Tahoma glacier. When I walked into the ranger station to get my permit, apparently my face transmitted my depth of feeling. “Are you ok?” asked the ranger?
Back in January, I came up with this scheme. For the first time in what feels like ever, I have a little more vacation than Adam does – 3.5 weeks this year and headed to a full 4 weeks next year. Woooo! And every summer there are three main vacation options: go international (like last year), go to my folks’ house and head down to Ashland, or go to my folk’s house and go backpacking. It’s been many long years since that last option was selected. This year, Adam really wanted to go to Ashland again. But I wanted to go backpacking. Then I had a genius idea – I’d go ahead of time without Adam and go backpacking without him. So I reached out to a guide group and signed up for a guided tour – since backpacking alone is dumb and not ok. Bliss!
In June, I got word from the company that no one else signed up for the tour. Cancelled. AAAAAGH! I came up with plans B, C & D, none of which panned out. So here I was, weeks before the trip, with no plan E. My gaze strayed over at my preternaturally tall 12 year old son. You know, the one who was the right size to carry a pack. And who was the same age I was when I first went backpacking. Hmmm…. I carefully felt him out on the topic “Man, I bet you wish you were a big strong adult who could go backpacking like me!” And … he bit! He said he’d be willing to come with me! Usually willingness to hike with me is a sure sign you’ve never hiked with me before (ask Erin) but then and there we arrived at plan E. Ha!
I was careful selecting my route. My natural inclination is to pick my favorite campsites that are available and hike between them, elevation and distance be darned. Many’s the deathmarch I’ve planned for myself. But I wanted to lure Grey in more slowly – maybe even get him to like this without the use of post-hike hypnotic techniques. So colluding with the Ranger, we picked a very scenic, very satisfying, pretty short trip. We’d spend two nights (so the plan went) at Upper Crystal Lake Campground – a pretty, alpine spot only 3 miles off the road – a dead end with two campsites. Then on the second day, we’d day hike out, and hike out the third day.
My way back I meandered – using the last light of the preternaturally long day to walk the trail of shadows and breathe the fragrance of firs. I noted with some unease just how haze-obscured Mt. Rainier was, even from the depths of the park, by the smoke. But hey, it beat the heck out of rain, right?
The next morning Grey and I set out at the crack of noon from the trailhead. His first discovery was how amazing water tastes when pulled fresh from a mountain stream, as we refreshed the water we’d brought with us. And oh, it does taste so very good.
We were about a mile up the trail (and by up I mean *UP*) when I realized that my carefully procured, conscientiously updated permit was, uh, back down in the car. I ditched my kid and my backpack and headed back down. And then back up again. Did I mention it was 95 degrees? There was a little bit of observational despair when my son learned that we were taking switchbacks ALL the way up the mountain (I’ve gotten smarter in my old age and no longer point out the distant high peak where I suspect we’ll be stopping), but we got past that and the conversation flowed.
And my, Upper Crystal Lake is a beautiful, beautiful place.
We set up camp. We napped. We read our books. We made dinner. (Hiking with a 12 year old sure changes how much food you go through a day!) He taught me how to play spit and Texas Hold’em. I proceeded to get two straight royal flushes and completely wipe him out of hard candy not once, but twice. We fell asleep that night, rain fly off our tent, gazing up at the stars. Before I took my glasses off and roll over, I got to see our tent overflown by the long, silent wings of an owl.
The second morning dawned just as hot. It had cooled off somewhat over night, but we hadn’t slept so much well as long and by the time the sun cleared the mountain walls, the temperature was rising again. There was little shade in the valley, and much bugs. I’d cultivated a blister. And the news from the boots making their way up the valley was that while the mountain – not 20 miles away from us – was currently entirely covered by haze, a cooling, cleansing rain was on its way to the mountains the next day. I prefer to experience my cooling, cleansing rains from indoors, when possible.
We took a walk around the lake proper, stopping as is traditional every five minutes to take another picture.
Then we broke up camp and headed back down. And as we got to the bottom, Grey insisted we fill up from that self-same delicious stream to take the water home with us – a precious commodity. And I knew that I’d hooked him.
You can see all my pictures here!