Thinking in the Woods

I hiked a short section of the Kettle Crest Trail this past weekend. It’s part of the Pacific Northwest Trail, a 1200-mile National Scenic Trail. This area has a reputation for not being as crowded as trails in the Cascades, and I’ve decided I want to explore more of it. Having touched a small piece of it, I’m ready for more!

There’s a trailhead at Sherman Pass. That’s about a 4-hour drive from home. I was at the trailhead a little after noon Friday. It was sunny but a bit cool when I started. There were about eight vehicles at the trailhead and a group of bike riders hanging out, but once I left the trailhead I had the trail mostly to myself.

This area suffered a significant wildfire a while back; one result of that is a lot of standing dead trees & a lot of downed dead trees. The first bit of trail from the trailhead is almost depressing as one is traveling through a jumble of downed & dead trees. Within a mile, though, the trail enters more appealing terrain.

This is a large camp area next to the trail – and largely surrounded by dead trees.

I hiked to the junction with the Wapaloosie Trail and decided that was a fine place to camp. Initially, I figured I’d try for Copper Butte, which lies about three miles past where I camped. But my glutes were beginning to feel tired, and given that this was my first overnight hike since last fall stopping was the wiser choice. And I’m really glad I did.

I stopped at spring a mile before and filled my water reservoir. Once in camp, I started filtering the water. My filter was really slow. I back-flushed it before I stored it last fall. I back-flushed — admittedly, I did a kind half-assed job — before this trip. No matter: I could barely get a dribble out of it. It took the bulk of the evening to get two liters filtered. Not cool, and I made it even less cool by spilling a half-liter of water.

And now, to decide where to set up my tent. Yes, a tent! Because there are places I want to hike where there are few or no trees, I purchased a tent. I brought it on this trip because a short trip gives me the chance to test it without really committing, and because of concerns about finding appropriate places along this trail to string up a hammock.

The area I chose for my camp had plenty of room, but many of the spots were in the potential fall zone of a dead tree. I selected a site that seemed pretty flat but had a very slight downward slope that seemed the safest. There was a clump of dead trees, but I was upwind of them, the predicted winds that night were negligible, and if they did fall there was a live tree that looked like it would protect me. Spoiler alert: No trees fell on me that night.

The SlingFin SplitWing bundle – mesh inner tent, tarp, and removable vestibule

With a hammock, I like a slight downward slope along the axis perpendicular from the hammock’s hang line as it makes it easier to get in & out of the hammock while still maintaining a safer, low hang (no more than 18″ from the ground). Lying on the ground, I figured I’d like the downward slope as it helps keep my sinuses clear. Makes sense, yes?

Alas, the material this tent is made from is very slippery, and I forgot my 1/8″ foam pad that goes under my sleeping pad. I kept sliding toward the foot of the tent. I noticed the stake-out line at the corners of the door was growing increasing more taut. A few times I tried to slide the entire rig back up toward the stakes. It only sorta worked because at about 4 a.m. the pressure became too much and the trekking pole fell over, collapsing the tent around me. *curse words*

It was chilly, as I was camped at 6800′ above sea level. And I’d also neglected to pack my headlamp. So there I was, in my bedclothes, at 4:00 a.m., trying to set my tent back up using the flashlight on my cellphone. It was a very quick & easy fix, but it’s a safe bet that I gained an appreciation for tentsite selection.

I slept really poorly, but don’t blame my gear. The sleeping pad is really comfortable, even when I’m on my side. And every time I use my Zenbivy I love it more & more. (The sleeping pad and pillow are from Zenbivy, too. All great stuff!) I think my not sleeping was due to being agitated about a family issue — sometimes, cell coverage in the back country is a curse — and my failure to take a couple of Tylenol & Benadryl before I went to bed. My legs were jumpy-weird all night.

I’ve been waking up anywhere between 4:00 & 5:30 each morning – even when tents don’t fall on my head – and this Saturday morning was no exception. I rolled over & went back to sleep. I finally rolled out of my comfy down cocoon around 7:30-ish. Because of the family issue, I’d decided I’d head home on Saturday; that meant a drive after hiking for hours, so I treated myself to my “mocha.” So tasty, even if it’s cold. I started breakfast soaking, and I took advantage of how cold my water was to mix up the last of the coconut-vanilla pudding I’d put together nearly two years ago. I figured it would make a fine treat when I got back to the truck.

Wapaloosie Trail with a dozen ridgelines in the background

I wasn’t in a hurry, so I didn’t try to rush to pack up. I finally left camp at about 9:30 a.m. Shortly after starting on the trail, I noticed this view to the east, of the Wapaloosie Trail. The camera in my iPhone SE cannot do this view justice. That was a common theme with this trail: I’d find myself thinking, “that’s really pretty, but there’s no way I can capture it.” I guess it’ll have to be enough to have those vistas in my memory.

After a half-mile or so, I saw a backpacker heading up. He was the first person I’d seen since seeing two dayhikers on their way out Friday afternoon. I saw four other backpackers heading up, including an adult & a child. I love seeing kids out on these trips, as I have some wonderful memories of hiking with my dad when I was a child. I also saw about a half-dozen each of riders & day-hikers. That was a shock after only seeing two people the day before, but that’s still not very many folks – especially considering how crowded trails are in the Cascades right now. (I chatted with a hiker at the trailhead who’d come from Tacoma to escape the crowds. Tacoma!)

I was unprepared to see all this sage at 6000′
Lovely rock garden

Based upon what I saw on this trail and my concerns about crowds on the PCT, I’ve decide this is not the year to hike Section J. A lot of folks delayed the start of their thru-hike, and they may be trying to get in as many miles as possible before the snow falls. I also don’t want to be part of a crowd in Stehekin. Instead of the PCT, I’ll do a section or two of the PNWT. I’m considering Northport to Sherman Pass as a start. I have a few more weekends I can hike before my vacation starts; that gives me time to firm up my plans.

Now, about my new tent: It weighs less than two pounds. It’s all modular: the tarp is separate from the mesh inner tent and the vestibule. The maker says that the tent can hold two people but they acknowledge it’s a very tight squeeze that only gram-conscious thru-hikers are likely willing to endure. Two full-length sleeping pads will not fit, but two 3/4 length pads probably would. I love that I can sit upright inside the tent. (The peakline slopes sharply, so it’s just at the very front by the door that I can sit up.) This means I can sit up with my legs out of the tent to take off my shoes, then spin around. It makes getting in & out of the tent easier. Being able to sit upright means it would be fairly easy to cook in the vestibule if one was so inclined. You can see in the picture to the right that there’s a lot of room in here. I could easily store my pack inside the tent (I generally don’t). While it’d be a squeeze for two adults to sleep in this tent, it looks like an adult & a small-ish child would be fine, and a human & a dog could easily share this space.

I can sit upright!

Look at all this room!

One quirk about this tent is that there’s no ‘bathtub’ floor. That makes it easy for whatever is on the ground near the door to get into the tent. But it makes it easy for a creaky old hiker to get in & out of the tent, and it makes it easy to clean out the tent. When I packed up, I removed all the stakes except the ones at the door. I picked up the foot end of the tent, held it up over my head & shook out the tent. No more dirt in the tent!

Back at the truck, I found the ice in my cooler kept a bottle of IPA very cold. It’s an odd pairing with coconut vanilla pudding, though.


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