This past weekend brought forth a brand new experience for me: it was my first time ever tent-camping!
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As Ryan and I became more and more enthralled with hiking in the Pacific Northwest, backpacking and camping quickly emerged as the next logical progression in our hobby. Many hikes in the Cascades are best done as multiple day trips due to the distance and elevation gain, and many of the hikes we have already done enticed us with serene and picturesque campsites along alpine lakes at the top.
In preparation for our first camping trip as a couple (Ryan has tent camped numerous times before), we slowly began amassing supplies from the REI. The initial investment in camping supplies can be pricey, but they’re mostly one-time purchase items, especially if you buy down instead of synthetic sleeping bags, durable sleeping pads, and a durable tent. We camped out early at REI member garage sales (which are a fantastic way to purchase gear without breaking your budget, especially since camping gear can get pricey) to snag our tent, backpacks, sleeping pads. Getting the down sleeping bags for our anniversary from my parents was an incredibly generous gift helped a lot as well!
One helpful tip: you can rent camping gear from many of REI’s locations. For Seattle area readers: the flagship store in downtown Seattle will let you rent tents, sleeping bags and pads, camping stoves, and backpacks – every item you could need for camping except for a good pair of hiking boots and some proper hiking clothes (see my recommendations of hiking gear here). ( I am not affiliated with REI; I just really value the company’s ethics and love all the running and hiking gear they carry).
Early on Saturday afternoon, we began our weekend of camping at Annette Lake in the Snoqualmie region of the Cascades, about an hour out of Seattle. We did this hike at the start of October, so we knew exactly what to expect with the terrain and campsites. My pack weighed 25 pounds and Ryan’s weighed around 35 pounds, as we carried our quarter-dome tent, a change of clothes for each of us, a camp stove, fuel, cooking wear, lanterns, food for three meals, our sleeping bags, three sleeping pads (two for sleeping, one for sitting outside), first aid kit, 3-liter packs of water each, and a couple coats each to adjust for the temperature or any possible rain. Of course, we had Charlie in tow as well.
The hike up to Lake Annette is 3.5 miles from the trailhead, with a 1800 foot elevation gain, and it took us about two hours to climb with our packs. While the additional weight of the pack does increase energy demands and therefore make hiking uphill more difficult, the packs also shift your center of gravity and distribution of mass, which requires a bit of adaptation. Thankfully, the shoulder and waist belts on our Deuter backpacks helped us carry them without any discomfort (which was important for me, since my backpack was only slightly less than a fifth of my bodyweight).
We noticed a bit of wind at the top of Annette Lake yet thought little of it as we proceeded to pick a spot directly by the lake to set up our tent. We ate our lunch by the lake, soaking in the views. The tent assembled in a matter of minutes, and then we hiked around the lake with Charlie.
Spoilers: we should have given more consideration to that wind.
Around 3 pm, we decided to make a campfire, as there were many pre-made stone firepits around the lake.. The wind made the mountain air feel rather chilly (I wore a Oiselle base layer, my REI down vest, and my Columbia winter jacket because I was so cold), so we thought a fire would be nice to warm things. Right as we began, the wind picked up at a blustery speed and we spent around 45 minutes trying to start our fire and prevent it from going out in the wind. We maintained our fire until shortly after 5 pm, but the winds were so harsh that smoke was blowing around, so we doused it with water, buried it, and then decided to make dinner before it got too dark.
The strong winds continued, which made cooking dinner a rather slow process. It took a long time for the water to boil and cook our Annie’s Organics mac and cheese (seriously the best camping food); by the time we ate, the sun had disappeared behind the mountains and it was dark out. The moon was bright, so we were able to sit by the lake and enjoy the views some more, even though the clouds obstructed any other stars.
We settled into our tent rather early in the night, since it is so dark up in the mountains and admittedly I was a bit anxious about camping for the first time. Charlie had no idea what was going on and spent the entire night walking in circles around the tent and growling at everything. The wind refused to cease, but overall our set-up was rather comfortable: the tent protected us from the wind, our sleeping bags were incredibly warm, and the inflatable sleeping pads made it feel more like we were sleeping on a mattress and less like we were on the ground. I actually slept incredibly well in the tent, minus the fact that Charlie woke me up several times (but that’s just a normal night) and at one point decided the most comfortable place to nestle was on top of my back. Such is life with a puggle.
I awoke with a start at 3:30 am in a noticeably chillier tent. The top flap had partially blown off our tent and was off to the side, only attached in a few spots. The winds raged with a harsh gale at this point; Ryan quickly reattached the flap while I attempted to soothe Charlie, who was convinced that the wind was attacking us (again, life with a puggle).
After a few more hours of sleep, we awoke to see the sunrise beaming over the mountains. The wind caused sharp waves across Lake Annette, which glittered as they caught rays of sunlight from between the clouds. The view was so exquisite that it made even the wind well worthwhile.
Like everything, camping can be a series of trial and errors, and I forgot to pack coffee filters. We were able to still make some weak cups of coffee using our percolator and we dined on warm oatmeal made for breakfast while the wind cut right through us with a deep chill. Eager for more coffee and a respite from the cold, we packed up our items; thankfully, we are able to get down our tent without it blowing away!
We enjoyed the hike down, especially once the trees offered us shelter from the wind. As we spoke to other hikers on the trail, apparently it was not just windy at the top of Annette Lake; many said they felt the winds on I-90 as well! After an hour and 45 minutes, we were back in our car and on our way to find the nearest good cup of coffee we could, which happened to be Starbucks.
Despite the wind, we all had a fun trip (well, we’re not completely sure how Charlie felt about it, but he’s even more of a baby about the cold and wind than I am) and are planning more camping trips in the future. It was so relaxing to completely disconnect all weekend (I put my phone in airplane mode from noon on Saturday to noon on Sunday) and just spend time outside. The wonderfulness of the whole weekend was only reaffirmed at Mass on Sunday night when the sermon was about finding God in the beauty of nature. We’re not sure how much we will be able to camp in winter, as snowfall will soon descend upon the Cascades and rainy season has arrived in Seattle, but we already have in mind a few goal camping trips for 2016 (such as that beast known as Gothic Basin).
Questions of the Day:
Have you ever gone backpacking and/or tent camping?
Are you a coffee drinker?
What did you do this past weekend? Any plans for this weekend?