As my wife Shannon has said, there is a special place in hell for fickle bloggers, and I suppose I’ll be spending at least some of eternity there. It’s been a busy year, and suddenly I realized that I had multiple sets of photos sorted out to go with blog posts that I never got around to finishing and posting. So, I’ll throw this one out there, and try to catch up with the others later. You can see the rest of my pictures from this trip here.
After a few years of trying in vain to shoot a deer in the thick, dense rainforest that I live in, I started yearning for a little more open country to hunt in, and started thinking of making a trip to the east side of the state to hunt mule deer. There is a special “High Buck Hunt” in Washington every September, in which you can hunt only in select wilderness areas. I had been looking at the Glacier Peaks Wilderness area maps, and when I found out that my neighbor Levi was also thinking along the same lines, we decided to do a little recon trip up there to see what it was like.
When I was in high school, I did quite a bit of backpacking, with the Boy Scouts and with the outdoor education program at Charles Wright Academy. And the last time I went backpacking was probably in 1982 or 83. So, there were a few issues to be concerned about. Much of my gear was from the seventies and early eighties, and not very light weight, my boots are not really backpacking boots, I am not exactly in tip-top backpacking condition, AND I decided that I might as well take a rifle and a bear tag, in case we found a bear that looked good. Oh, and a spotting scope and folding tripod, and a few other things here and there…
After a long drive up through Seattle and out over Stevens Pass, and a short time driving a few miles down the wrong Forest Service dirt road, we finally made our first night’s camp at the White River Falls campground, and the next morning, spent an hour and a half or so, repacking our bags, and leaving a bunch of stuff in the car. We finally got to the trailhead, loaded up and started walking around 10:30 AM.
The first few miles were along the White River, walking through some really beautiful old growth forest, and getting eaten alive by mosquitoes and biting flies. Eventually, we stopped at this crossing of Boulder Creek to put on some vile bug juice, and for Levi to tend to his blisters, since he had a pair of boots that didn’t fit quite right.
A little ways past this crossing, we came to the junction where the Boulder Pass trail #1562 takes off of the main White River trail #1507. There was a large group of tents there at the junction; we later talked to some kids who were on a trip that had been horse packed in and was camping there at the junction.
As soon as we left the White River behind and started working our way up the switchbacks, the work suddenly got a lot harder, but the annoying insects started to subside as well. Part way up this hill, at about 3500′ elevation, I “hit the wall” as they say, and ended up stashing all my hunting gear in the brush, so I could shed about 25# of weight. It did get easier after that, and we made it up to the campsite in the trees at 4000′ in short order. We checked out the river crossing beyond the campsite, filled water bottles, and I dropped my pack at camp and went back down for the hunting kit, and brought it up.
We camped there that night, and I ate a freeze dried backpacking meal for the first time since I was about 17 years old. The only deer we saw in person while we were up there showed up at our campsite soon after we settled in. It turned out she was very interested in the salt that we left behind wherever we had peed.
The next day we decided to get ourselves up to Boulder Pass and have a look around. I packed up optics and the rifle and butchering tools in case we ran across a bear, and we headed up. I started out wearing my crocs, and carrying my boots on the pack.
We went astray after crossing a snow field, and couldn’t easily find the trail on the other side. We knew we needed to start gaining elevation, so we started looking on the high side, and eventually found a trail, although it was much more overgrown than what we had been using. After a few hundred yards we saw “boulder pass” and an arrow pointing the way painted on a boulder, so we figured we were on the right track. But this was an old, unmaintained trail, and we ended up bushwhacking up through some timber, coming across the trail from time to time, but eventually we lost it altogether. Along the way, I finally had to put my boots on, as the crocs were not up to the task anymore. We came out way up high, and in a steep, open meadow, which we crossed, and up above we found the remains of the old trail, headed in the direction we wanted to go.
We crossed some more snow, but eventually made it back to the regular trail, just below the pass. At the pass itself, we had one more chunk of thick icy snow to cross and climb over, and then we were standing on the pass itself, looking down into Napeequa Valley.
We sat up there, had lunch and drank our Fort George beers after cooling them in the snow. We played around with the spotting scope, boggled at the scale of the Napeequa Valley, and then finally headed back down to camp, coming across some marmots, and finding our way on the regular trail.
The next day, we decided that we should move back down to the campsite at the trail junction and look for a bear down below. We hadn’t seen any ripe berries, or fresh bear sign near where we were, and we thought the berries might be better down by the river.
When we got down to the intersection of the trails, though, the big group was still camped there, and we decided to just pack out to the car, have a break in town, and then go check out the surrounding area. We ran into a group of young people headed in on the trail near the bottom, and one of the guys was clearly VERY bothered by the fact that I was carrying a rifle. The other three seemed friendly enough, but about a half hour later, they passed us headed right back OUT again. Apparently, we had ruined that guy’s day, and he wanted to get far away from us, and apparently, any place that we had even been.
We stopped by the USFS office in Leavenworth, hoping to find some more specific information about trails, and which ones allowed pack animals and which did not. The woman at the desk HAD a booklet that had all that information in it, but she said there were no more copies available when I asked to buy one. Apparently, the FS did not have a budget to print any more copies. We purchased a few maps, but generally, we got very little in the way of useful information, and the women working in the office seemed beleaguered and not well equipped to answer most of our questions.
After a burger and a beer in town, we headed out the Icicle Creek road, to the very end, where we camped just inside the wilderness boundary at the trailhead. Every single FS campsite on the Icicle Road was operated by a for profit company, and even just a simple tent site seemed expensive to me, especially considering how crowded with RVs many of the campgrounds were. We were happy to pitch our tents in the woods just off the trail for free.
There were LOTS of ripe thimbleberries here, and signs that bears had been there recently, so I stayed up until sunset with the rifle, wandering around and looking for a bear. About an hour after dark, and with me almost asleep, I could hear the bears moving around in the berries, about 50 yards away….
When I got home, tired and a little sore, I gathered up all my gear and weighed it. It turns out that AFTER we ate a bunch of food, burned some stove fuel and drank our beers, my pack and rifle still weighed 65 pounds. That sure did explain my sore hips and shoulders! Since then, I’ve been sorting through gear, setting aside the stuff that we didn’t end up using, and replacing a few of the heavier items with more modern, lightweight gear. I now have a couple of small, titanium pots that weigh less than half of what the pots I carried weigh. For now, though, I’m sticking with the Svea 123 stove, as it’s compact, simple and reliable, relatively light weight, and I already own it. There’s still a lot of weight shedding I need to do, both from my gear, and from my midsection. But it was a great trip, and my love of backpacking has been rekindled after 30 years of dormancy.
Ultimately, I want to get this particular set of gear down to something more like 35-40# with food. And Levi is in the same boat, in addition to needing to replace his boots. We just talked a couple of days ago, and decided that we aren’t ready for this hunt, this month. But, with a year to get ready, and a better idea of what we’re dealing with, we’ll be ready next fall for sure, and in the meantime, I’m going to apply the lightweight, bivouac style camping to my local deer and elk hunting this fall.