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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Elkhorn Backpacking Trip 5/3-4/2014

Every year the first backpacking trip of the season is a, "did I remember everything and was that gear list I used from 5 years ago that I found on my blog complete?" kind of trip. Friday night I headed out after the hustle and bussle of work to the Elwha River Campground in the ONP. Driving around in the dark it always seems that the car camp is more "wooded" and "private" than it is when you wake up in the morning. It's part of the reason I have an aversion to car camping without a purpose.

After self registering for the trip, we were slowly gearing up at the trailhead, when I lifted the storage in my car and found a mouse! When I relifted the cover up, the mouse was gone with a nest of babies. The nest wasn't there earlier that week, and it explains the nibbles on my Cliff bar that morning, and the mice sounds in the middle of the night as I slept in the car...

Heading out we were blessed with only light intermittent showers, making fairly good time to the Humes Ranch area. The slight increase in gradient begins shortly after the cabin. Over all it is certainly not a long hard climb, but the couple spots that climb on this trail are consistent gradient.

Upon approaching Lilian River, I passed a guy that was carrying a kitchen sink in his pack I swear... I've been putting some weight back in my pack for comfort items over the past couple years after previously trimming down to a 6lb base weight. So I know what I actually use, need, and just plain want in my pack. On this trip I was carrying a more "traditional" Gregory pack with a vented panel instead of a 9oz MYOG pack. I figured I looked liked like I was carrying a tank... The guy asked me how far out I was day hiking, and no one ever likes my responses when I tell them, "day hiking? Nope, I'm backpacking out to Elkhorn, how about you?"

After Dani, Richard and I ate lunch, I stormed ahead like I tend to do, fully knowing I was going to pass that fellow again on the "Never Ending Ups." After Lilian River is the most significant incline on this stretch of the trail, albeit it's not super steep it makes up by staying that way for probably close to a mile or 2. At the high point I took a nice break playing around with the macro option on my camera. When that guy caught back up, his next question was, "Do your friends have your tent?" I just chuckled, "Nope, I am fully self sufficient and have my tarp and bivy in my own bag." I really just wanted to say, "Less is more dude."
In general in this spot I secure off my poles so I don't try to sacrifice them to the gods of the Grand Canyon of the Elwha a long long way below... Instead, I bumped one of the trekking poles and it tumbled off the edge about 10' or 15' down the steep embankment! Followed by my camera, but luckily it's roll was stopped by the flat portion of the trail. Crap! Luckily Dani saved my pole for me and off we went back down the trail!

Scoping out rapids along the way from Mary Falls to Elkhorn, cursing Nat the whole time because I could hear his voice in the back of my head, "You need to get a packraft." The river was pretty high coupled with the snowmelt and rain, which made the rapids look juicier than I've ever seen them. The section between Mary Falls and Elkhorn are beautiful with their winding moss covered paths that make you imagine you are wandering into a childs fairytale. Leaving you wondering when the mythical creatures are going to hop out of the bushes... The weird details and beauty of this hike keep me returning time after time.

Approaching Elkhorn never ceases to amaze me as well. The trail has this little weave through the trees with a crescendo opening into a beautiful grassy meadow with historical structures. Across from the shelter there are beautiful mountain views up into the range across the river accented with the meadow and Elwha River below. After setting up the tarp, we began cooking and the skys opened up considerably more! I was scouring around for dry tinder in the bushes and under the trees and found enough to get a small fire going. As I slowly realized everyone went to bed, so did I.

The next morning there was fresh snow on the hills above...

During the night the skies opened up and gave my sleeping system some of the most rain I can remember while being under that tarp. The pitter-patter on spinnaker is one of the most soothing sounds I can think of falling asleep to. Topped off with being bone dry afterwards is always a good sign! :-) I remember my first trip after sewing that tarp and bivy setup almost 6 years ago was "dear god am I going to break this?"... As daylight broke, I was having some of the best sleep I've ever had in the backcountry, so I found my beanie, covered my eyes, and fell back asleep. When I finally awoke, everyone had already eaten and pretty much packed up... :-) I guess I really needed that night with the insecent, yet soothing rain to destress after the work week.

Breakfast was warmed up, eaten, packed up and off we went! Slowly meandering through the mystic forests, and grabbing lunch on the way through Lillian River again.

Gear in review:

 So on this trip I added the old Gregory Z-45 that I used for hauling college books around campus. It is certainly heavier than my MYOG pack, but it carries well. The vented curved back panel is quite nice with how hot blooded I am vs the next to skin of the frameless pack. I think I'll certainly give it another whirl, and if possible try a smaller size, since I had way too much room with my UL gear packed inside. Probably could of fit a couple weeks worth of food on top of what I was carrying.

The semi-full length NEOair certainly sleeps a lot better for sure!

The poncho should be coupled with my rain wrap in conditions like we had on the second day. The voice in my head was telling me to pack it prior to the trip, but I still didn't grab it on the way out the door. The poncho is certainly more breathable and comfortable than traditional rain gear. For earlier season, or imminent rain trips I'll bring more rain gear.

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