Over the past two summers I've taken a few groups of friends backpacking and the more I do it, the more and more I find pleasure in doing so. Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy planning my own hunting and backpacking trips, but there are few things better than seeing the excitement and slight uncertainty in someone's face when we set off down the trail for the first time. What's even better is seeing that uncertainty turn into confidence and enjoyment.
To date, one of the best trips I've had thus far came in early May 2016. What began as an overnighter with a bunch of friends, eventually morphed into me taking four of my friends’ wives into the backcountry - alone. It wasn't until we were headed down the trail that I realized it was only me and a bunch of chicks. I wasn't all that concerned about it, but still, something was missing. I had everything I needed except no celebratory fist bumps or phrases like "dude, let's do this," had taken place. How in the world do chicks begin an adventure? I had no idea what to expect, but was now fully committed to a girls’ weekend and whatever "dude" tendencies I had going into it, were going to have to be checked at the door because I was significantly outnumbered.
The trip was planned for 4 miles in and 4 miles out with our camp being high up on the mountain where we would have an excellent view of the surrounding area. For the first mile or two, the trail was a nice gradual climb to the bottom of Butte Camp Dome on the SW portion of St. Helens. About the time we hit the beginning of the 3rd mile, we ran into snow on the trail and I began to wonder how much of it we were going to encounter the rest of the way. This past winter was much better than the previous one and given how early in the year it still was, we'd likely have more snow to contend with than I had anticipated.
The third mile was mostly snow, but the girls did a fine job of making their way through the drifts in their non-waterproof shoes. With about one mile remaining in the hike, we decided to take a break for lunch at the bottom of a big hill. What was supposed to be a meadow, was instead covered in deep snow, but we managed to find a few melted spots along the creek that provided a nice dry spot to relax. As we sat there snacking, I came to this realization that never in a million years did I think I'd find myself escorting a group of women on a backpacking trip by myself. I was about to enter into an entirely new experience. Being outnumbered 4 to 1, I was now preparing myself to experience the outdoors through the eyes of the opposite sex. Minus the whole peeing thing…
In that moment, I felt like a switch was flipped inside me. I immediately let go of any previously known hiking agendas and decided to let these mountain girls guide our schedule for the day. Since it was still early enough in the afternoon, even if we were to hang out in this meadow for a couple of hours, it would be perfectly okay. For the next hour or so, I listened to the girls do what girls do and settle in on the idea they'd be camping out in the backcountry for the night.
After a much longer break than what I'm used to (again..letting go of my agendas), we packed up and headed out. The next mile turned out to be somewhat unexpected. Once we climbed out from the basin, we were met with snow drift after snow drift and I began to wonder how in the world we'd find a clear spot for camp. For about a quarter of a mile, we trekked in what looked to be 10 foot deep snow. Eventually we found a big dry spot to camp for the night and before long our tents pitched and everyone was relaxing.
(This trip would be my first time pitching my new Seek Outside Redcliff tipi. If you're interested in how that went, you can read more about my experience by clicking HERE. I'm officially a fan of the ultralight tipi movement. For about 5lbs, I'm now able to stand up in my tent and have a vast amount of space to work with. They're able to be pitched in about 5 minutes and can hold up to some incredibly high winds.)
Back to the trip…
For the rest of the afternoon, I enjoyed playing around with my new tipi set up and making sure the girls were taken care of with their tents. As the sun went down, we were given one of the most incredible sunsets I've ever seen. It lasted for what seemed to be forever and about the time we thought it was over, it would change into something even more striking and beautiful.
Watching the sun go down was great, but I think I more enjoyed watching the girls revel in it. I don't mean to go too far into the romantic side of the outdoors about this, but I am realizing that some of the best moments in the wilderness may not always be where we think they’ll be. The wild places we visit do something to us inside that sometimes can't be put into words. For however long that sunset lasted, I could tell that whatever personal issues the girls were dealing with in their lives back in town were completely forgotten about. Their focus was only on the sunset and however deep their connection to it was, it was enough to allow them to forget the world they left for a night and actually be in the moment, on the mountain, with friends, and with themselves.
As the sun went down, we gathered firewood and enjoyed ourselves around a campfire until the wind kicked up enough to force us to the shelter of our tents. From the time the sun went down to the time it came back up, the wind hammered us all night long. Not a single person got a wink of sleep that night, however the following morning it was smiles all around. Puffy eyes and everything, the girls joined me in the tipi for a hot cup of coffee and a couple of cat naps while the tent warmed up from the morning sun.
After warming up and getting some energy back from our sleepless night, we packed up camp mid morning and headed down the trail. There's always that moment on the way back to the truck that I realize how much I love the backcountry. That feeling of coming back to your everyday world is hard to describe, but it feels so freaking good.
Every adventure into the backcountry is different. If you think it's going to be perfect, think again. If you want it to be controlled, change your wants. The backcountry is there to challenge us and if you allow it to - if you roll with the punches - you'll have a far better experience than what you thought you originally came for.
My unexpected girls weekend turned out to be something I'll likely never forget. Seeing the backcountry through their eyes was not something I anticipated happening, but I'm incredibly glad that it did. Until now, all my experiences in the wild were male driven so it was great to see how women create their experiences.
I say this with all confidence in the world - I would gladly repeat a trip with these girls any day of the week. Without knowing it, they showed me how to notice the small things, how to take my time, and how to enjoy each moment differently than I had previously had.
The mountains don't have an agenda or time frames so why should we? The moment you set foot down the trail, all bets are off so if the situation changes, change with it. If you don't, you might miss out on something incredible.