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This year’s annual Farnell family backpacking trip was to the Pasayten Wilderness in northern Washington state. We headed out from our house at about 7:30 on Monday, August 13th, 2007. There were 9 of us this time, ranging in age from 5 to 63. Our spirits were high, itinerary was planned, and packs were full.
We chose the Pasayten this year for several reasons, including lunker fish, campfires allowed, and numerous good trip reports we had read. Campfires are very important to us – how else can you BBQ fish, fight off hypothermia, and have a true camping experience? This wilderness is right on the border with Canada, just east of the North Cascades National Park. The scenery and terrain varies widely, with high rolling tundra to the east and jagged peaks and cliffs to the west.
Our first stop was REI to pick up a parking pass, map, and extra clothes for those who forgot theirs at home! The Seattle REI is quite impressive.
Next we had a beautiful drive over the North Cascades Highway. We stopped for the night at Klipchuck campground where some good friends were camp hosts. We had our last (motor)home-cooked dinner and breakfast before heading into the backcountry on Tuesday.
Shortly after leaving the trailhead we were walking through recently burned forests – charred, black trees and logs all around. It was quite interesting and made some nice pictures. Soon we left the forest and entered a wide open area of rolling hills of grass with a few trees here and there – almost like tundra.
Day after day we headed west, getting further and further from the car. The weather was awesome. We did forget our big tarp at our first camp, which we were pretty concerned about since it could rain, but we didn’t want to walk back 9 miles to pick it up. So we continued on without it…
This area was heavily mined in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and while we were off trail we found an old road, trail, shelter, and lots of cans and bottles around. We love going off trail and found some nice secluded areas. 19 miles out, we came to a tungsten mine complete with restored cabins and lots of equipment lying around. The cabins are rat infested and not inviting to spend the night in. Little did we know that these cabins would look much more inviting later on during our trip.
As we continued west, the landscape changed from grassy tundra to more rugged peaks and mountains. We saw quite a few people – way more than we expected – and some pack horse packers, dogs, and even a llama. We never found a lake without fish in it, and Dad and Suzanne even caught some nice golden trout!
Our food was good – but even good dried food gets old after a week or so. For breakfast we had things like oatmeal, granola, logan bread, dried fruit, and even cobbler; for lunch we always had trailmix and/or a granola bar; for dinner we had a variety of one-pot soup/stew things like split pea soup, black bean chili mac, vegetable soup, spaghetti, chicken noodle soup, etc. All of our meals were home-made with many home dried vegetables and fruits. Planning and making the meals at home is half the fun! The most popular meals were bread-on-a-stick and apricot cobbler!
By day five we were 30 miles from the car and having a great time. We had bushwhacked to a couple off-trail lakes, only to find secret horse trails right to them. Needless to say, the hike out of these lakes was much easier on the horse trails.
The evening of day five we were off trail and had our first rain shower. It lasted about 10 minutes and stopped just long enough for us to get our two remaining small tarps up. After the shower we all gathered around the fire and ate bread-on-a-stick hoping for no more rain. We went to bed around 10pm watching the stars fade in and out behind the clouds.
At midnight it started raining again, and this time not just a shower. We got all our packs and the kids under cover (with two small tarps) and three of us sat up the rest of the night keeping the fire going. At 7am we decided this was crazy and headed around the lake to a natural cave I had found the day before in a rock slide along the side of the lake. It was drippy, but not as wet as outside. We carried our fire over in the cooking pot and got it going in the front of the overhanging rock. We sat here and waited, hoping this storm would blow over soon like most mountain storms.
All day it rained. It stopped for the night, but we stayed under the rock just in case. We took turns keeping the fire going. Let me tell you, sleeping under a rock isn’t the most comfortable thing to do. Sparks burned holes in our clothes and sleeping bags while the smoke almost suffocated us. The rocks under us were hard and cold. Still, it was better than shivering out in the rain and risking hypothermia.
The next morning we decided to begin the long hike out, rain or shine. Shortly after sunrise the rain resumed. Around noon, after a half day of hiking, the rain turned to snow! A little over 10 miles and we were back to the mine with the cabins and woodstoves. What a welcome sight!
We made some new friends at the cabins, as they were popular in the rain! One gentleman had a llama and a dog with him, and he offered to leave his dog with us in the cabin overnight to fight off the rats. We gladly took him up on the offer! He and his son were sleeping in a tent nearby. We slept very well that night due to lack of sleep the previous two nights.
The next morning the sun came out and the storm broke up into scattered showers for the rest of our trip. We hiked 13 miles that day, eager to get back to civilization after being wet and cold for so long. Our tarp was not where we left it, but some horsemen loaned us a tarp for the night so we were ready for the rain – which never did come that night anyway.
We were planning on a nine day trip, but on day eight we decided to head out early. It was an easy six mile hike, and we stopped in the burn to pick morel mushrooms. That was a blast. Dad says they sell for $18 a pound, so we may have picked over $500 worth!
All in all it was a great trip. We are looking forward to next time. Maybe we can go to the John Muir Wilderness down in California next year!
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