May 19, 2010

Osprey pack catalog and the Rattlesnake Wilderness

Osprey used one of my images in their latest pack catalog...

Hard to do the beauty of that creekside campsite justice with all the graphics on top of it. Here's another shot from the same spot:

This was one of my favorite trips of last summer — a four-day bike-and-backpacking adventure into the Rattlesnake Wilderness. My then ten-year-old son, Silas, and I rode from our front door, through the outskirts of town, and into the mountains...

The Rattlesnake is the closest federally designated Wilderness Area to a metropolitan area in the country. Here's a picture (from a different trip) of me looking down on the Wilderness from a neighboring mountain...

Though lots of people hike and bike in the near-town hills, the deeper reaches see surprisingly few visitors. It's wild back there. After Silas and I stowed the bikes and shouldered our backpacks we saw a bear along the shore of a lake and heard elk bugling from the mountainsides around us as we hiked to our high-mountain campsite...

We spent the mornings fishing and reading around the campfire with tea and instant oatmeal.

Silas also seems to have a magical knack for catching frogs. He's like a frog whisperer. (If any screenwriters want to use that for a movie, I'm available for paid consultations. It could be huge...)

The fishing was great near our campsite, but we wanted to check out the lakes in the highest reaches of the mountains. They were beautiful but barren. Figure they probably freeze solid in the winter. Made for great rock skipping though...

Our hike out was tough — it's hard to get very far when the trail is surrounded by the most delectable huckleberries the world has ever known. Silas was a huckleberry-eating machine. The kid could not be stopped. Just kept shoveling them in, handful after handful. Of course, I was doing the same. We both went to school/work the next day with purple-stained hands...

Here's an excerpt about the trip from a recent story:

After a brief debate with Jacqueline (Her: “It’s his first week of fifth grade!” Me: “This is way more important than a day at school.”), I pulled Silas from school just before Labor Day weekend to head deep into the Rattlesnake Wilderness for three nights of biking, backpacking, and mountain-lake fishing.

We spent our first night at the shady, water’s-edge campsite near Franklin Bridge where Silas was now staring open-mouthed at the place where a toothbrush handle used to be before it was broken off.

“Who did this?” Silas said, the disembodied toothbrush in his hand.

“I did,” I replied, turning away to hide my smile.

“But ... why? Why would you do that?” Silas said, incredulous that his father — who’d seemed so responsible until then — would do something so destructive.

“To save weight,” I said. “When you’re carrying all your stuff like this, you gotta trim weight wherever you can.”

Silas considered this for a minute in silence. Our equipment may have been the state of the art in ultralight camping gear, but given that we were also carrying a backgammon set, two bedtime books, fishing poles, and an obscenely heavy amount of camera equipment, my answer may have seemed dubious. I reminded Silas that we faced a big challenge right away that morning: the big talus climb that had defeated us last time. But whether he was contemplating the weight of whatever young-boy trinkets he had squirreled away in his pack (Matchbox cars? Cool rocks from the creek?) or considering the new reality of life with a toothbrush-destroying father, he stayed quiet as we packed up camp.

“We’re going to have to work together here,” I said as we began the climb, fully expecting to be off the bike in minutes and reinserting my lungs again. But something amazing happened. Silas really gave it his all this time, and we worked together, father and son, to pedal that rig up the mountain without stopping. It was like he was suddenly growing up, like our summer of riding was transforming him. There was some high-fiving at the top, but we didn’t waste a lot of time with celebrations. Silas was driven to reach the depths of the wilderness and see the lakes that rested in the high peaks.

“I can do it,” he said whenever I suggested we aim for one of the lower, easier-to-reach lakes instead of the high, distant lake he’d identified as our goal. And, to my surprise, and fueled by huckleberries and a desire to see, he did.

We left the bike at the Wilderness boundary and hiked high into the Rattlesnake Mountains. We saw bears, eagles, and pikas; we weathered hail, winds, and cold. We read stories by the campfire, listened to bull elk bugle from the mountainsides, and caught fish after fish after fish. When we made it home two hours after dark on the fourth day, after a monumental six-mile hike and a 22-mile ride out, Jacqueline gave Silas a hug and asked, “How was it?”

“Awesome!” came his immediate reply.

I couldn’t have felt a deeper sense of satisfaction if I’d just ensured permanent world peace. My son loved the mountains just like me.


Anyone interested in reading the full story can find it here.

1 comment:

  1. That is a simple and AMAZING story. The world needs more of that. Just plain and simple, that. A boy and his dad, camping. together. Awesome. Thank You for taking your boy out and teaching him about the mountains and the wilderness. Don't worry, he'll discover girls, beer, a sport, and other stupid stuff, but he'll come back to loving the mountains, and the woods, and wild places.
    Great story.
    I think we have some common friends. I went to college with, and was very good friends with, Carrie Davis, and I think her husband is a good friend of yours.