Backpacking to Middle Rock and Serene Lakes

We hadn’t yet backpacked this summer and I was feeling the urge to get out into nature with the kids, especially with Leini being so petite and ‘packable’ at this age.  So after some research, we thought that a two-night trip to Serene Lake would be perfect.  Our plan was to get out early on Saturday morning and hike 4 miles to the lake and spend our two nights enjoying this beautiful, Oregon lake while the kids ran around and got dirty.

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All throughout the week, we were committed to going.  That is, until Friday rolled around and I was feeling lazy from two days of work (rough, I know), Leini had just gotten sick and Curt clearly just wanted to relax and drink beer.  But, at 9 pm on Friday, I convinced Curt that it would only be summer for a month longer and we wouldn’t be able to do this again for another 12 months. After that reality check, we quickly began throwing things into our packs, setting aside food and forcing ourselves to pretend that we enjoyed it.  Yes, we will have fun.  It will all be worth it.  It’ll be great.

The next morning, Leini was even worse.  Her nostrils were covered with crusted green boogers, she was congested and it was obvious that the she wasn’t feeling well at all.  I asked Curt, “Should we just bag it?  She looks so sad.”  Not being entirely convinced that he wanted to pack 50 lbs worth of camping gear, food and water on his free weekend, he replied, “Yeah, let’s just stay home.” So we went to Laird, “Hey Laird, we’re not going to go camping today.  Leini is sick and isn’t feeling very well.”  The smile on his face quickly disappeared.  The sadness and disappointment in his eyes crushed my heart.  “But I want to go camping,” his voice cracked on the verge of crying.  Curt tried to get him excited, “Well, we can go camping in the back yard.  It’ll be fun!  We’ll still have smores. I promise, it’ll just be like real camping!” But Laird wasn’t buying it, “That isn’t camping.  Camping is only when you have to hike a long ways.”  I looked at Curt, “Okay, then.  I guess we’re going camping.”

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We pulled out of our garage at a record 9:15 am and after 5 stops to pick up various supplies from friends, the store, gas and ranger stations (where Laird did get an ice cream bar) we finally made it to the forest roads that would take us to the trailhead.  By then, Laird had been told that he would know when we were close, as the road would be extremely treacherous and bumpy for the last 4.5 miles.  We eventually reached that road and it was worse than we both had expected.  I thought, “Really?  Well, we can’t turn back now.”  Curt carefully navigated around sharp rocks and deep craters while I prayed that 1) we wouldn’t get a flat and 2) that a car wouldn’t be driving out.  Thankfully, after 40 minutes, we made it to the trailhead at 2:15 and were in shock.  There were cars everywhere.  There was nowhere to park.  WTH?!!!  After 8 years of backpacking, I really have no reason to be surprised that an Oregon trailhead during the summer, no less to a pristine lake, would be crowded.  People love the outdoors here.  That is great.  It just sucks when you want a serene lake to yourself.  But now we were contending with 20 other cars worth of people.

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After quickly unloading and heading down the trail, Laird immediately started falling apart over a worm he had found that we didn’t want him to carry.  After all, we were planning on hiking 4+ miles and there was little chance he could walk down the rocky path and attend to his worm at the pace we needed him to go.  Not if we wanted to arrive that night, that is.   After a quarter mile of crying, he finally calmed down and I suggested to Curt that maybe we should just check out Middle Rock Lake.   A smaller lake just a mile down the trail.  Curt replied, “That seems so short.  We packed all this stuff for just a mile.”  I quickly said,  “I’m okay with it.  I just wanted to get away.  I don’t need to hike 10 miles.”  This is what 2 kids and a 14-yeard old dog does to you.  Four years ago, I, too, would’ve laughed at backpacking one mile.  Why bother.  But, we had two toddlers to deal with; one who was boogery and miserable, and the other who was whining and emotional.  We also had Mango dog.  Old, tired and on anti-depressants.  It was an easy decision.  And it paid off.

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A view of our campsite

We discovered a beautiful, clear lake.  Quiet and serene, just what we wanted.  After walking the perimeter of the lake, Curt found the perfect campsite set along the lake’s edge with a bench, campfire and two entrances where Laird could wade around.  It didn’t take long for Laird to find the salamanders and crayfish that call Middle Rock Lake their home.  And, to my surprise, he quickly waded into the water and snatched one.  This would entertain him for the remainder of our weekend.  I’ve never seen him quite so content and proud of himself.  He was the Salamader hunter (not really, all were safely released).

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L and his friend

We ate our dinner by the fire and had our customary smores for dessert.  Bed time was rough.  As it turns out, Leini is quite the troublemaker.  It happened more than once that I had to pull her from her brother after hearing Laird cry, “Leini, stop pulling my hair!” or “Leini is scratching my face!  Leini, no!  No, Leini!”  This all occurred while Curt and I sat giggling by the fire.

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The next day was beautiful.  We witnessed an osprey dive into our lake and catch a trout for breakfast and hiked two miles to Serene Lake.  Being it was Sunday, we passed most of the backpackers on their way out and had the lake all to ourselves.  We spent a relatively quiet 4 hours basking in the sun and wading around in the water.

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It was emotionally and physically tiring for Laird (and all of us, really) as we hiked back to our campsite.  Gummy savers really were our lifesavers that kept him motivated and continuing to walk.  Four miles of ascending and descending elevation is difficult for some adults, let alone a 3.5 year old.  Laird was glad to be back, there weren’t any salamanders to catch at Serene lake.  The rest of the night was a repeat of the first: Dinner, smores and a long-winded bedtime routine.  I felt sorry for our neighbors across the echoey lake.

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The next morning was again beautiful and peaceful.  However, by this time, Leini’s cold and lack of sleep was finally catching up to her.  She didn’t want to be put down and I could tell she was feeling awful.  Yet somehow she and Laird managed to still have fun chasing each other around and exploring.

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We packed up our camp earlier than we had initially planned and hiked the single mile back to our car.  The once-full trailhead was completely deserted with just our dusty blue Honda remaining.  I wasn’t looking forward to the 4-mile, Mars Rover mission to get out again.  But, we made it after passing one family of 5 on their way in.  They would get the whole lake to themselves.

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When I reflect on if our backpacking trip was worth it, I think of a conversation I had with Laird shortly after arriving at our campsite the first day.  As we sat by the water’s edge looking at the salamanders and crayfish, he asked, “Mommy, are we going to stay here?”  “Yes, Laird, we’re going to camp here for two nights.  Why?  Do you want to stay longer?”  He looked a little sad and replied, “Yes, I wish we could stay here forever.”
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Backpacking in Jeff Park

At the trailhead

To close out the summer backpacking season, we met our friends at Jefferson Park over Labor Day weekend.  The Jefferson Park Wilderness Area sits at the base of the craggy Mt Jefferson and its numerous alpine lakes made for a relaxing and picturesque weekend backpacking escape.

Our friends, expecting the masses to converge on this beckoning wilderness, opted to leave early friday morning to hike in with their two kids and secure us an ideal camping spot.  Having a Timbers game to go to on friday night (which they amazingly won), we told them we would plan to leave early saturday morning (I think we actually said 8:00 am) and radio them once we were headed up the trail.

Of course, we didn’t get home from the game with L&L until 10:00 pm and finally collapsed on the bed close to 11:00 pm.  We slept in and tried to overcome laziness as we both regretted having agreed with our friends to meet them.  “We could just not go,” I said.  Curt replying, “We can’t not go.  They’re expecting us.”  I also added that in a couple of months, the weather would be crappy and we would’ve wished we had gone anyway.  So, at 11 am, we drove an hour to Salem, where we dropped our dogs off at a pet-sitter and stopped by the grocery store for last minute essentials (i.e. chocolate, mac&cheese, etc).

We eventually pulled into the dusty trailhead parking lot at 3:30 pm and, already weary and exhausted, hit the trail at 3:45 pm.  It was a beautiful, cool day, without a cloud in the sky.  Amazingly, Laird hiked the ascending first 2.5 miles entirely on his own before Curt realized that at our pace, we probably wouldn’t make it to the lakes until after dark.  So, having Leini already strapped to his chest, he packed Laird onto his shoulders (in addition to his 30+ lb pack) and we tore up the trail for the next 1.5 miles.  For the last mile and a half, I carried Leini while Curt attempted to calm our overtired and tantrum-ing son, as we passed gorgeous views of the mountain and its glaciers.

After connecting with Ian on the radio, who then met us at the trail leading to our campsite, we arrived at our weekend getaway at nearly 7 pm.  For the next day and a half we delighted in gazing at the looming peak, throwing rocks, foraging for huckleberries, taking a cool dip in Scout’s Lake and staring at the bright yellow glow of the full moon.  It was a perfect finale to our reintroduction into backpacking and, just as we expected, it was definitely worth it.

**I apologize for the poor photos.  I brought my point-and-shoot and haven’t bothered to edit them yet.

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Backpacking…..with kids

When we first moved to the Pacific Northwest from Nebraska a little over 7 years ago, we immediately fell in love with the outdoors.  We were raring to explore the extinct volcanic peaks like Mt Hood and lose ourselves in acres upon acres of ancient trees.  After a couple of visits to REI and some crazy-crowded hikes on a sunny weekend to break us in, we quickly jumped into backpacking.  From the months of July through September, our incredibly short summer window, Curt and I (and our doggies) spent every free weekend hiking or backpacking.  The most we ever spent camping was two nights, due to our school and work schedules, but just enough to get away from the business of life and unwind in some of the most beautiful natural settings.  I’ll be honest, I hate camping in the middle of the woods, so most of our trips were to spots with worthy viewpoints or some type of body of water, and most were within a distance that little wiener dog feet could travel without getting too sore.

Car camping with Grandma

Of course, that all changed when Laird was born.  No longer did we have the energy, desire or time to pack up all of our gear and a baby into the middle of the forest.  And so we stopped backpacking.  It wasn’t a conscious decision, we just stopped doing it.  Instead, we became car campers.  After all, it suited us well; we still got to enjoy the outdoors and had everything we needed in the trunk of our car.  Yet, even though it was much simpler and equally as fun, I still yearned for more freedom.  Freedom from noise, freedom from distraction, freedom from people.

This summer, however, we met another couple in our church who backpack with their two kids (ages 5 and 2).  “What?!  People still backpack with their kids?  How are we not doing this?!!” were thoughts flying through my head.  I immediately started picking their brains about the logistics of it all and we soon planned our first “trial” backpacking trip.  Mainly a test to see how far Laird could walk, we headed out on just a short 2 or so miles to our camping spot on a drizzly Saturday morning, spent the night and returned the next day.  It wasn’t idealic weather conditions, but we all had fun and the kids did great.

On our way to Goat Rocks at 9:00 pm

We headed out again this past weekend to Goat Rocks Wilderness Area in Washington, a place I’ve been wanting to visit since we arrived here.  Stuck in rush hour traffic trying to get out of town on friday night, I wondered whether this short two-night trip would be worth it.  And I had pretty much convinced myself that it wasn’t as we pulled into our car-camping spot that night just after 10:00 pm with a screaming baby and irritated toddler in the back seat.  We settled in for the night after listening to the blaring mix of 80’s classic rock and Tracy Chapman coming from our neighboring campers, which served as a reminder of why we were backpacking.

Ready to head up the trail holding graham crackers. The first course of many snacks to get our kids to our campsite.

Future REI model

The next morning was sunny and warm and we headed to the trailhead with 4 kids in tow.  It’s mind-blowing for me to even write this, but Laird (just shy of 3 years old) and our friend’s daughter, Hannah (5), hiked about 5.5 miles…entirely on their own.  It’ll be a sad day when bribing kids with candy no longer works, as that along with peer-pressure are probably the only reasons Laird made it up that far without being carried.

Our lunch spot. Snowgrass Flats.

Lounging at our campsite. Well, almost, if it weren’t for those $@^(*&@! mosquitos!

We ate lunch at Snowgrass Flats and took in amazing panoramic views before heading a little further to find our campsite.  After setting up camp and getting some water, we chilled out for a bit.  Incredibly, the 3 kids still had enough energy to run around and wrestle in the tent.  In fact, we continued up the trail an additional half a mile to get a better view of the mountains and valleys.  It was just as I pictured.  Simply breathtaking.

Admiring Goat Rocks.  Lots of rocks, no goats though. 😦

Hiking buddies

When we got back to our campsite, Curt and Ian started a fire to ward off the incredibly-annoying mosquitos and we all had dinner around the fire.  After smores, we put our kids to bed and just enjoyed some quiet time around the fire.  There were no other noises, but the sound of the creek nearby.  There were no cell phones or internet.  There were no other people.  Just us and the stars.  Yes, this was totally worth it.

Indian food for dinner

We forgot our spoons in the car, so Curt is improvising with a piece of bark.

The next morning we ate our oatmeal by the fire and hung out on the snow bank by the creek.  I wasn’t ready to go yet.  Camping, rather backpacking, isn’t for everyone.  Why would you subject yourself to hiking with a heavy load on your back, dealing with hoards of mosquitos and just being filthy?  Let alone with kids?  For me, there is nothing more beautiful than seeing nature untouched and creating memories with the people I love within this setting.

Me and Leini Bug headed back to the car

As we packed up our gear and headed back down the trail to our car, all I could think of was Laird and Leini.  How I hoped that Laird would somehow remember this little trip we took and will both have fond memories of our future backpacking trips.  More than anything, I hope they will also grow to love the outdoors and to love nature, just as much as we do.

Getting a lift from Daddy

Laird’s poor little legs finally reached their aching point with just about a mile and a half left to go.  Curt, our sherpa, gave him a short boost on his shoulders and inspired him to run the last quarter-mile back to the car by bribing him with….ice cream. 🙂

We made it! Offf to get ice cream.

The Wendler’s, our backpacking companions 🙂

Backpacking trips should always be completed with ice cream

Not chicken pox, just a ton of mosquito bites

Mosquito bait